Charity begins away from home for divided club

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The Independent Online

Michael Ballack pursued by anonymous backbench MPs for autographs. Andrei Shevchenko contemplating the view across the troubled waters of a choppy River Thames from the Commons Terrace. And Peter Kenyon pressing the flesh. Only Chelsea could come to Parliament and still trump the politicians when it came to intrigue and infighting.

Chelsea's biggest names were out in force yesterday for an announcement to show that the new power in English football had a heart - and even star-struck ministers of state turned up to applaud politely at the speeches and get their photograph taken with John Terry and Frank Lampard. For one afternoon, at least, the team so many love to hate had become the one that they all wanted to love.

Even the Sheffield United-supporting Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, looked impressed at the size of the charitable donations Chelsea have published in their corporate social responsibility report. But the club's manager, Jose Mourinho, was unsmiling when the minister jovially promised that the Blades would avenge their October defeat to Chelsea at Bramall Lane. There is, after all, a limit to charity.

The club announced that Chelsea's total annual investment in corporate giving was £4.34m, almost enough to buy Tal Ben Haim from Bolton Wanderers. That figure included donations, money raised, community schemes and benefits in kind and, as a percentage of Chelsea's turnover, the figure was four times the United Nations recommendation.

For Kenyon, the charity numbers were the easy part of the afternoon. For a club that has, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday, not been "endearing themselves to everyone in the game", this was intended to show that Stamford Bridge is not all about trophies and disgruntled managers. Chelsea also announced that "Right To Play", a charity which uses sport to help children in the poorest areas of the world, was their new global charity partner.

The difficult part came when Chelsea's chief executive was asked why his manager had been driven to criticise his own club for failing to back him, and address the reports of a serious rift between Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, the club's owner. "Categorically, the owner and the board support Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager," Kenyon said. "Jose has made it quite clear he loves Chelsea, he loves living in London and we have a contract with him until 2010 and that is a clear position. Can I just make clear we have never, ever, ever interfered with selection of players, purchasing of players or who he has around him.

"There has been a lot of suggestions and lots of speculation but we run ourselves properly, and we are not and will not interfere. We do not force players upon him."

The response to Kenyon's last point was to remind him of the troubled face of the Chelsea manager yesterday and ask if that was the case, then why did Mourinho look so upset? In the traditions of the building he was in, Kenyon chose not to answer that one. He might as well have referred us to the answer he gave earlier.

The afternoon was about the new caring face Chelsea are eager to show the world and yet, for all their good work, it is the politics, characters and ruthless pursuit of glory that have marked the Abramovich years which make the life of the club so enthralling.

"The emphasis is to get back to concentrating on where we are," Kenyon said. "Where we are is not a crisis position. We are probably the only team still in contention for four trophies, that is not a bad position."

There were certainly plenty of grateful people around who would agree. It will be convincing Mourinho of the same that Kenyon may find more difficult.

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