Monday, June 29, 2009

Blue Is The Colour (Of Money)

For almost every football fan on the planet, the 2008 Champions League Final was a nightmare in prospect, featuring Manchester United and Chelsea. Franchise Utd vs Chelski – if only both teams could lose. In reality, there was much to cheer us up with both Ronaldo and England’s Brave John Terry missing their penalties, but the icing on the cake arrived during the presentation ceremony, when Chelsea were lead up to receive their runners-up medals by Peter Kenyon, their Chief Executive, demonstrating a total lack of class to the watching world.

Clearly, Chelsea fans had not suffered enough, as their humiliation was completed by the bizarre sight of Kenyon accepting a medal from Michel Platini and wearing it round his neck without a hint of embarrassment. What made this even more shameful was United’s Bobby Charlton, England’s all-time leading goal-scorer, declining his medal in the knowledge that he had not played a part in the match. What a contrast between Charlton’s calm, dignified stance and the podgy, grinning face of Chelsea’s corporate machine.

"Let me show you how to take a pen, JT"

Of course, this is not the first time that the Uncle Fester look-alike has stepped out of the back-office to get involved in football matters, nor is it the first time he has embarrassed a club that needs no help in the unpopularity stakes. Boasting of his prowess in the transfer market, Kenyon referred us to the astute signing of Deco:

Remember, we got Deco for £8 million and that looks to be the buy of the season.

Deco went on to start 17 games for Chelsea, scoring just one more goal after that ludicrous statement. Kenyon managed to outdo even that when he refused to accept that Andriy Shevchenko was a failure, despite the £30 million striker only scoring nine goals in two seasons. He tried to defend this purchase with a weird economics lecture that achieved the tricky feat of sounding simultaneously both patronising and wrong:

I’m not giving a lesson on accountancy, but you do write money off over the term of a contract. What we pay is an investment. During that period you have a player who is doing a job and in this industry you buy and sell players.

Er, right. But shouldn’t you “buy and sell players” who “do the job” rather better, so that your “investment” does not completely lose its value “over the term of the contract” ? No doubt Kenyon would classify the £28 million signing of Juan Sebastian Veron as good business, because he only had to write-off £13m in the two years the Argentine struggled to establish himself at Manchester United.

As well as being responsible for numerous over-priced transfers for Chelsea and United, Kenyon also possesses a great ability for cocking-up major transfers that appear in the bag. He was so confident that Chelsea had secured Robinho, that it was not enough to brag to the media at any opportunity, not enough to parade the player and his agent at a well-known paparazzi haunt in Madrid, but the club’s official website actually gave fans the opportunity to pre-order Chelsea shirts with Robinho’s name on the back.

Kenyon has form here, having been responsible for letting Ronaldinho slip through United’s fingers and end up at Barcelona. Apparently, he learnt that Barcelona were offering less than United, so he decided to act the smartarse and dropped the price previously agreed with PSG by £1 million. A furious PSG President then sold Ronaldinho to Barcelona for less than United had offered on a point of principle, something that Kenyon is unlikely to recognise.

"You don't know what you're doing"

So why did these transfers fail ? In a world full of double-talking agents, somehow Kenyon has managed to develop a unique reputation for being incompetent, deceitful, disloyal and arrogant. For a man whose career has been all about building the brand, it is strange that he does not seem to understand that his smug visage and slimy conduct are not conducive to promoting a trustworthy image.

When Kenyon was Chief Executive of Manchester United, he made great play of his loyalty to the club and his “dyed-in-the-wool” support for the Reds, and then defected to Chelsea as soon as a significant pay rise was dangled under his nose. The infamous tapping-up of “Cashley” Cole was explained away by Kenyon as Jose Mourinho and him just happening to walk into a restaurant for a meeting with agent Pini Zahavi and just happening to see Cole sitting there. Right.

Chelsea’s managers should get used to a stabbing sensation between their shoulder blades, especially when Kenyon gives them the dreaded vote of confidence. He twisted the knife firmly in the popular Claudio Ranieri’s back while courting Sven Goran Eriksson. He expressed “absolute confidence” in Avram Grant two months before he was sacked. Most recently, Kenyon took every possible opportunity to publicly back Luiz Felipe Scolari:

It can’t be a coincidence that the two most successful teams in England have some continuity in their staff. You don’t want to sack a manager every year. First and foremost, you want some continuity.

This came two months before “Big Phil” was handed his P45, becoming the third manager sacked by Chelsea in eighteen months.

Despite this patchy record, Kenyon’s arrogance is mind-blowing. He condescendingly told clubs like Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton and Aston Villa to pull their socks up:

It should be more about them getting their houses in order rather than us coming down to their level.

This is pretty rich, coming from a club whose balance sheet relies entirely on the largesse of a Russian gentleman who thinks nothing of writing off an interest-free loan of more than £500 million. Talk about throwing stones in a glass house.

But surely the financials are Kenyon’s game ? Maybe not, as last year he had to admit that his five-year plan that the club would be able to pay its own way by 2010 was off target. One obstacle to breaking-even is the ever increasing wage bill, the club’s salaries being handled by the great negotiator himself, Mr. Peter Kenyon.

Admittedly, Chelsea’s revenue places them in the top five of the Deloitte Football Money League, but this is actually one place lower than the previous year, despite Kenyon’s grand plans for “global brand domination” and his desire to monetise all things Chelsea. Although this policy has meant Kenyon pimping his team to American, Chinese and Russian audiences, it did allow him get involved with the Beijing Olympics, courtesy of Chelsea sponsors Samsung. Whether the rest of the world needed to see Kenyon puffing along with the Olympic torch is another question entirely.

"Swifter. Higher. Faster."

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, Kenyon’s self-belief is not dented at all. When asked about the reason’s for Roman Abramovich’s success, his answer was more than a little self-serving:

What has made him a multi-billionaire? He surrounds himself with the very best people. He’s got a lot of good professionals around him.

Certainly, Abramovich surrounds himself with the very best lackeys. What Chief Executive worth his salt would allow Abramovich to appoint his good buddy, Avram Grant, as Director of Football, then agree to him replacing the “Special One” ? What Chief Executive with any pride would remain in position when the club sacked the manager while he was absent on holiday in Barbados ? It would appear that Chelsea need Peter Kenyon about as much as Manchester City need a bank loan.

The poster child for the odious side of modern football, Kenyon is clearly a very fortunate man. Even now, he is still head-hunted by other clubs like City, though any muppet would be an improvement on the absurd Garry Cook. Maybe they are seduced by Manchester United’s success during his tenure, though some argue that he “just happened to be there when United won the treble” and United have hardly struggled after his departure.

Although it is easy to hate a man who describes the beautiful game as “the industry” and sprinkles his conversation with terms such as “delivering eyeballs” and “building communications platforms”, it takes a special kind of man to unite the fans of Manchester United and Chelsea, who in a match at Old Trafford both chanted, “Stand up, if you hate Kenyon”. On your feet yet ?

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