James Lawton: Kenyon is ridiculous as a moral crusader

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If you toil long enough in the vineyard of sport you get to see things you never would have believed possible. Things like Muhammad Ali and Diego Maradona giving their versions of the art of the possible. Or Brian Lara cracking a cover drive to the fence before the bowler has completed his follow-through.

Rather less inspiringly, you also get to see Peter Kenyon, the chief executive of Chelsea, presenting himself as an arbiter of football values.

This he has been doing for the last 48 hours as the leader of the Moral Majority so furious that the Football Association didn't throw away the key to any realistic possibility of redemption in the misbegotten career of Adrian Mutu.

Kenyon the football vigilante is the most preposterous picture. It's bit like Tony Blair turning up for Prime Minister's question time dressed as George Washington. Kenyon is not charged here with telling porkies. It is with holding a soaring belief in a system that over the last few years has decreed that while a handful of football clubs get infinitely richer, the vast majority are reduced to gasping for their existence.

Here is Kenyon on undoubtedly the most shocking issue in all of football, far more damaging indeed, than the mistakes of a single errant player, "I don't think we should get over-prescriptive in what everyone should pay [to agents] because that's where your competitive edge gets eroded."

Whose competitive edge? Those, of course, who are able to make the biggest pay-offs. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United.

Kenyon also said - and take note of his emphasis, "Any entertainment business or sport has agents involved, and they are part of making a transaction happen. How much you spend on the agent is down to the club. It is ultimately their view in terms of how much they can spend."

When he was at United - in the same position he now occupies at Chelsea - he told us how devoted he was to the club. Yes, he might be a heavy-hitting business type, but United was in his blood. He was, emotionally speaking, as fervent as any Stretford Ender. Two weeks ago some of the United faithful passed their own verdict on Peter Kenyon's deepest football instincts. They derisively waved £5 and £10 notes when he took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box for the United-Arsenal game. Of course, any man is entitled to advance himself - Kenyon was after all reported to have received a £3.5m signing-on fee and a basic salary of £1million a year - but he will have to forgive those who find it impossible to stomach his crusade against the self-destroyed Mutu.

When Kenyon, who believes that the FA's seven-month banning of the Romanian was a kick in the teeth for football, made his impassioned argument for unfettered payments to agents he had had just arrived at Stamford Bridge after completing "gardening leave" following his resignation at Old Trafford. His former club were facing no less than 99 questions about their conduct of transfer affairs from their chief shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus, and the investigation revealed some quite astonishing figures, not least in payments to associates of Sir Alex Ferguson's agent son, Jason. Kenyon was the man in the charge at the time.

Some might also say his stewardship of Chelsea has not been an example of how to put the affairs of football into a new and shining light in the eyes of the jaded public.

His first declaration was that Claudio Ranieri was required to win a trophy, and that what was really required was jubilant fans leaving Stamford Bridge rejoicing not over hard-won victories but 5-0 blow-outs. This was not exactly compelling evidence of Kenyon's realistic feel for the game in which he has waxed so prominent, no more than what, in the opinion of Ferguson, was his bungling of United's bid for Ronaldinho, the man whose brilliance for Barcelona is currently illuminating all of Spain. Nor was Kenyon's football acumen exactly endorsed by reports from inside Real Madrid that he had given the impression that the departure of Ferguson, the man who had turned United into one of the richest franchises in of all sport, would have been less of a blow than the transfer of David Beckham.

All in all, Ranieri was granted no more dignity by Kenyon, who briefed against the Chelsea manager, than he might have received had he grown up a pickpocket in his native Rome rather than a football man of great charm and considerable achievement.

There was then the business of the chief executive's overtures to the reigning and firmly contracted England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson. Appalled at the FA's lack of vision over the Mutu case, and the damage it might be doing to the national game, he was apparently unperturbed about leaving the England team without leadership in the run-up to the European Championships. This was perhaps not the behaviour of a natural leader of football reform and propriety.

Here, though, was Kenyon on the mountain top this week: "Chelsea is extremely disappointed with today's verdict. We believe it is far too lenient and sends out the wrong message about drugs in football. It is also indicative of a lack of direction within the FA at this time."

This from the man who proudly announced that having targeted Mutu for testing, Chelsea were firing him at the cost of any possible recouping of his £16m transfer fee. This altruism has somewhat collapsed now that Mutu may just have a chance of reshaping his life and his career.

Chelsea now say they will sue the player who succumbed to the temptations of the fast lane. Many of course will cry their approval and argue, as one newspaper did yesterday, that it is outrageous Mutu gets a mere seven months for cocaine use while Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand was required to serve eight months.

Here the point is completely missed. Ferdinand casually defied a system designed to stamp out performance-enhancing drugs, a matter to concern everyone in the game.

Mutu's problems were something for Chelsea to deal with, as any employer is obliged to do in the face of misconduct by an employee. It was Chelsea's right to do as they pleased. That they chose to place Mutu against the wall was entirely a matter for them. That the rest of football eked out a degree of compassion is no longer any concern of the richest football club in the world.

Peter Kenyon should put away his crusader's sword. In the wrong hands it is a weapon that in the long run can provoke only ridicule.

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