Chelsea's prospects of fulfilling their ambition of staying at an enlarged Stamford Bridge may depend on an improbable relationship at present being forged in an equally unlikely location. Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, are together in China on a trip designed to enhance links between Britain's 2012 Olympic venue and Beijing, site of the 2008 Games.
In between presentations promoting London, Kenyon, the arch-capitalist, has been courting Livingstone, the one-time left-wing firebrand. "Red Ken" is not known to be a fan of football but he is aware of the beneficial publicity successful football clubs can bring to his city.
He can also, as Mayor, be an influential figure in helping Chelsea overcome the planning issues which forced the club to consider moving. In a similar vein, Livingstone has the power to block the 300 biggest planning applications made each year in the capital
It was reported from Beijing yesterday that Kenyon had told Livingstone that Chelsea want to stay at the Bridge if they could raise capacity by 12,500 to 55,000. This has always been their preferred option but there are several difficulties, notably the lack of exit routes from the stadium. At present all fans have to enter and exit via three entrances on the Fulham Road. There are also potential difficulties with local residents and, through them, the local council, Hammersmith and Fulham. The previous expansion of the stadium was significantly delayed while both parties were placated.
Finally, since the only way Chelsea can increase capacity to that degree appears to be by knocking down the Chelsea Village hotel, restaurant and accommodation complex developed by the previous chairman, Ken Bates, there may be a problem evicting some of the residents. These include Bates, who is understood to own the penthouse above the hotel and has previously indicated he intends to retain it.
Chelsea had been linked with a number of possible stadium sites, from Earl's Court and Olympia to White City, but Kenyon said: "If we got everything we wanted, we could get to 55,000. We have got to live in the confines of what we have got."
That capacity may seem small given Old Trafford now seats 76,000 and Arsenal's new stadium, which opens in August, will hold 60,000. The record gate at Stamford Bridge, which first hosted football in 1905, is 82,905, achieved for an old First Division fixture against Arsenal in 1935. Unofficially, between 90,000 and 100,000 attended a post-war friendly with Moscow Dynamo.
Chelsea's attendances have always shown wide fluctuations, though. In the inaugural season at Stamford Bridge they varied from 6,000 to 67,000 and even in the Jose Mourinho era some midweek cup games have attracted poor crowds prompting heavy price-cutting. Kenyon said that he felt the large number of televised matches, and the fact so many games were no longer played on Saturdays, meant anything over 55,000 was unrealistic.
Ballack in 'serious talks' with Chelsea, says agent
Chelsea yesterday moved closer to enhancing their already impressive team when Michael Ballack's agent admitted: "We are in serious talks with Chelsea." Michael Becker also responded angrily to the claim by Uli Hoeness, Bayern Munich's general manager, that Ballack's motivation for such a move was financial.
"That remark is weak," said Becker. "I am surprised and astounded. In the price range where Michael finds himself it is not only about money. He has to make a sports-related decision.
"We are in serious talks with Chelsea."
Becker also criticised the Bundesliga leaders for demanding the midfielder pledge his future to the club before the January transfer window. He said: "I never understood why they wanted a decision from Michael by November, whereas other team leaders were asked to make a decision by January."
Ballack, added Becker, was being made a "scapegoat" for the club's poor recent form. Having been well clear in the Bundesliga, Bayern's lead was to four points at the weekend.