Byline: Mihir Bose
WAS THE departure of Peter Kenyon as the Chelsea chief executive yesterday yet another act in the high-octane Russian drama that has been the hallmark of the west London club ever since Roman Abramovich took it over six years ago? The constantly revolving door of arrivals and departures has seen the club get through five managers since the summer of 2003, in addition to Kenyon's predecessor as chief executive.
Or is it a more prosaic, less exciting story of Kenyon deciding he wanted to do something else? After all, for 10 years he has been at the heart of running two of English football's most successful clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea. He has a young child and is expecting another, and at 56, is not growing any younger.
Friends of Kenyon to whom I have spoken insist his departure does not mean a falling-out with Abramovich and is not remotely comparable to the intrigue that surrounded the departure of Jose Mourinho, the manager who won the club two Premiership titles, nor the sacking of the Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari earlier this year.
The Chelsea chairman, the suave lawyer Bruce Buck, has said warm words of farewell. It was announced today by the club that Kenyon will be replaced by Ron Gourlay, 46, who had been the club's chief operating officer and who Kenyon brought with him from Old Trafford when he first joined Chelsea.
Kenyon will remain on the board as a non-executive director and will act for Chelsea in its dealings with international bodies such as FIFA and UEFA. These are likely to be increasingly fraught after a ban on transfers until January 2011 imposed on Chelsea by FIFA, which held that the club had breached transfer rules in recruiting teenage striker Gael Kakuta from French club Lens.
While Kenyon himself has said nothing, his friends have told me his side of the story of when and how he decided to leave Chelsea.
According to this version, his departure has been on the cards since May. That was when Kenyon's five-year contract with the club ran out. Kenyon made it clear to Abramovich he did not want another long-term contract. It was agreed, however, that he would not leave immediately, but rather use his marketing skills to oversee the renewal of deals with sponsors Samsung and Etihad, and leave some time after the season had started. Last month it was decided that this would be in midSeptember.
Now this could be just the sort of version Kenyon would like to circulate and while it is plausible, it does not completely erase the suspicions that are inevitably aroused when a person in a high-profile job leaves and the word is put about that he has done so in order to spend time with his family. It sounds too much like a politician fleeing an inhospitable place and seeking to occupy high moral ground which he hopes will distract from his unfortunate predicament.
Yet there are marked differences in the manner of Kenyon's leaving and the drama that attended the other departures during the Abramovich regime.
In many of them, the assassin has been Abramovich's right-hand man, the Russian-born Canadian-qualified chartered accountant Eugene Tenenbaum. And he has acted with a ruthlessness that has brooked little argument.
It was Tenenbaum who in the autumn of 2003 strode into the offices of Trevor Birch, then chief executive, and sacked him. Just months earlier, Birch had negotiated the sale of the club to the then unknown Abramovich and felt confident the deal had not only secured Chelsea's future but also his own.
At the end of that season, Tenenbaum did not even confront the man he was sacking. He just picked up the phone, placed a call to Italy where the manager Claudio Ranieri was, and told him he was no longer wanted. Ranieri, who Abramovich had inherited and was known as "the Tinkerman" for his habit of changing his team, had failed to deliver and had to go. Tenenbaum later explained it had to be done that way as the very next day Mourinho was due in town and the decks had to be cleared before the Portuguese, who had just won the Champions League with FC Porto, arrived. …