Peter Kenyon has been pretty much universally disliked over the past decade, increasingly developing a reputation as football’s anti-christ. Much of this isn’t his fault, however – Kenyon’s skills as a deal-maker made him ‘famous’ just as football started to commercialise in the 90s and, ultimately, against a backdrop of an industry whose main players only pretend to behave like businesses.
Kenyon’s move from Man Utd to Chelsea didn’t help him, either. Almost as if he were a player or manager, fans of other clubs refused to see anything but a man making a big money move and jumping onto the blue band-wagon rather than pledging loyalty to one club. Meanwhile, many Chelsea fans have been unable to get past the red devil in him.
But he made mistakes, too. Kenyon played a major role in the Ashley Cole tapping up affair, and in Chelsea’s supposed courting of Sven-Goran Eriksson. He also pushed through the disastrous appointment of Scolari in 2008, and his tenure coincided with the complete disintegration of Chelsea’s relationships with UEFA and FIFA. Whether he could – or should – have prevented Kakuta-gate remains to be seen.
Kenyon also didn’t appreciate that Chief Executives of football clubs should be seen and not heard (or perhaps neither). Too often he played too vocal a role at the club – the infamous ‘the league will be won from a small group of one’ and his over confident posturing over the Robinho transfer spring to mind – and with a less than attractive character he did himself no favours.
Above all, Kenyon alone set the tone for Chelsea’s corporate behaviour over the last five years, and is responsible for Chelsea’s aggressive policy both in the transfer market and with the media. This aggressive approach laid the foundations for all of his mistakes, and certainly contributed to Chelsea rising as quickly up the ‘most hated’ league as it did the Premier League table.
But a lot of these faults – and those judged to exist by football fans – are failings of character, and aren’t necessarily behaviours that would be unsuccessful outside of football. Kenyon has certainly had successes too. As witnessed by the recent US tour, Chelsea have made real inroads into the North American market. The sponsorship deals with Samsung (among others) and have been of great benefit to the club. The club has in some areas become a force for good in his time too – under Kenyon, Chelsea became the first football club to clearly define its corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and publish annual reports on its progress.
He didn’t do badly by the fans, either. Season ticket prices have been frozen for the past four years (I for one am very grateful for that) and cheap/ free train deals to away patches were also introduced while he was in charge. On the whole, Stamford Bridge looks a hell of a lot better, too.
On balance, I would agree that it’s a good thing that Kenyon has left, and would hope that incoming Chief Executive Ron Gourlay can swiftly set about patching up the relationship with UEFA and carving out a less aggressive character for the club. As he leaves however, it is important to remember that Kenyon is a businessman, not a celebrity – if we Chelsea fans are going to despise him, let’s do it for the right reasons.