James Lawton: Kenyon's myopia ignores football's blinding inequality

Chelsea chief executive's stance on agents smacks of greed and will uphold Premiership's uneven playing field
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The Independent Football

At a time when the faces of men like Sir Alex Ferguson, KevinKeegan and Claudio Ranieri tell stories of terrible pressure, the beaming countenance of Peter Kenyon is a remarkable and, it is hard not to say, troubling exception.

The picture of the Chelsea chief executive as he starts his duties by turning the screws on the embattled Ranieri ­ and side-footing Ken Bates ever deeper into the Chelsea shadows ­ oozes a rare sense of well-being. Kenyon, prised away from Old Trafford with a £3m signing-on fee and a basic salary of £1.5m by Roman Abramovich, is photographed in the stands surveying his new empire. His smile stretches almost from ear to ear, and why not?

No one can ever have had such a charmed existence in football, moving from Manchester United to Chelsea with his reputation as a giant of wealth accumulation. He shrugs away the 99-question probe into the affairs of his old club by John Magnier and JP McManus, saying that the chairmen under whom he served at Old Trafford, Sir Roland Smith and Sir Roy Gardner, are icons in the City, which means, apparently, that "corporate governance is not an issue".

Perhaps not to a Kenyon ensconced amid the Abramovich billions, but certainly to quite a number of the rest of us, and notably United's chief shareholders. Kenyon also says that there is quite enough "transparency" in the matter of quite how many millions of pounds agents continue to draw from a game which, at the highest level, has become non-competitive for all but three clubs ­ the two with which Kenyon has been associated, plus Arsenal.

After some analysis of Kenyon's opening statements as the working head of Chelsea, it is just possible to summarise his position in the game and his fundamental belief in the best route for its future.

His first conclusion is pretty self-evident: if Chelsea are to push further into the football stratosphere, it will be almost entirely due to the efforts of not the chief executive but the team manager, be it Ranieri or Sven Goran Eriksson.

"It has to start on the field," Kenyon says. Of course. But it is his second point that curdles the blood. Alarm bells ring throughout Kenyon's treatise on why the Football Association should NOT, even as we speak, be bringing in a whole raft of regulations on the activities of agents and the conduct of transfer deals, rules which are utterly fundamental to the running of the big North American sports leagues, all of which make evenly spread competition a cornerstone of all their work.

Says Kenyon: "Any entertainment business or sport [note the emphasis] 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. Would anybody involved in football like to see less fees involved in a deal? Of course, I fully subscribe to that, but there are no two deals alike and I don't think we should get over-prescriptive in what everyone should pay, because that's where your competitive advantage starts getting eroded."

Translation: new regulations would be a bad thing because they would stop big clubs, like Manchester United and Chelsea, screwing little clubs like Charlton and Fulham.

The erosion of competitive edge in America's National Football League, where every stadium is sold out for regular league games, is not a worry but an ideal. That's why last week the New England Patriots were considered miracle-workers for winning their second Super Bowl title in three years and why no one got too excited by the fact that the Carolina Panthers had reached the big game just two seasons after losing every game but one. For a parallel here, we would have to imagine Leicester City or Wolves going down to the wire with United, Arsenal or Chelsea in season 2006-07. A more realistic question is whether they will still exist.

One of the troubles with greed is that it can make you irrational. In not one of Kenyon's recent utterances has there been any hint of concern at the greatest problem facing both English and Scottish football. It is the existence of two hopelessly unbalanced major leagues. In Scotland, Celtic lead second-placed Rangers by 11 points and third-ranked Hearts by 28. Fourth-placed Dunfermline are 30 points off the pace. Yesterday they gave their players a straight choice: pay cuts or administration.

Meanwhile, Kenyon burbles on: "What will constitute Chelsea next year will be different to what it is this year. We are always looking at talent but it is too early to talk about transfer funds. It's up to me to justify what we spend, but for the right projects we are a well funded business, and that's a nice position to be in."

Nice for Chelsea, winners of the Russian Oligarchy Lottery prize. Nice for Mr Kenyon, who waxed so professionally strong on the efforts of the currently embattled Ferguson. Not so necessarily nice for Claudio Ranieri, who is allowed roughly the same dignity as a hungry fruit-picker. And, for all those clubs who have already passed the point where they seriously hope to compete? Just a hellish dig from the guy with the saucer of cream.

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