He has never been shy but he is retiring. Ken Bates, Chelsea's bombastic overlord for more than 20 years, announced last night that he had stepped down as the club's chairman with immediate effect.
The end of his involvement in Chelsea's day-to-day affairs comes only eight months after Roman Abramovich took over the club. Under the terms of the takeover, Bates could have stayed on as chairman until the end of next season, but he has decided that no role is preferable to the powerless one he had assumed.
Bates made his announcement in a speech to fans, staff and directors at his monthly Chairman's Supper Club. Only hours earlier, Chelsea had emphasised their new direction by confirming they had agreed to buy Arjen Robben, PSV Eindhoven's 20-year-old Dutch international striker, in a £12m deal that will be completed in the summer.
Peter Kenyon, the club's new chief executive, was an instrumental figure in that deal. Since Kenyon's appointment, Bates had found himself increasingly marginalised at Stamford Bridge. His infamous programme notes have been unceremoniously dropped and Kenyon is clearly in control of all the major decisions.
The Robben deal will come as a personal blow to the manager at Kenyon's former club, Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson had coveted Robben and spent months trying to woo him to Old Trafford. It is also a further sign that United, for all their riches, are at risk of not being able to compete with Abramovich's billions.
Whereas United made one firm offer of £5.5m for Robben during the transfer window and did not increase it, Chelsea have happily agreed to pay more than double that price. Moreover, Kenyon was the man whom United were unable to retain as their own chief executive last year when Abramovich came calling with a fistful of blank cheques.
Kenyon's work at Chelsea will have further repercussions for United. He has been a key figure in the establishment of a new "special relationship" between PSV and Chelsea that will allow Chelsea preferential access to PSV players. There will be no formal contract between the clubs but a PSV spokesman said yesterday they had made a "gentlemen's agreement" to co-operate over football matters.
The pact will give Chelsea first refusal on signing PSV players, including the exciting 21-year-old Brazilian defender Alex, who will join PSV from Santos on a five-year deal in the summer.
Chelsea and PSV are also likely to become involved in player exchanges and PSV could even act as a "holding club" for Chelsea, allowing young non-EU players to acclimatise to the European game and become naturalised Europeans before being transferred on to Chelsea. Manchester United have a similar arrangement with Royal Antwerp in Belgium but PSV whose alumni include Ruud Gullit, Romario, Ronaldo, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy are in a different league.
"We have a very good relationship with Peter Kenyon," a PSV spokesman said yesterday. "We know him well from his time at Manchester United and we've always been delighted to do business with him. That is one of the reasons we are so happy about our agreement with Chelsea."
Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, said yesterday that Robben will be a "fantastic addition" to his squad. Yesterday's purchase takes Ranieri's spending to £130m since Abramovich took over.
As little as a month ago, it seemed an unlikely move after Robben had made a visit to Old Trafford. Ferguson then made a special trip to Amsterdam on 18 February to watch Robben play for the Netherlands against the USA. Chelsea evidently made an offer that neither PSV nor the player could refuse.
"This is a great signing for Chelsea," Kenyon said. "It's an excellent example of how Chelsea is appealing to the new wave of European talent and our commitment to bring the best young players to Stamford Bridge."
Youth was the watchword of the day. Ken Bates is 72.
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