Chelsea's extraordinary transfer ban has sparked a bitter power struggle at the heart of the club between the chief executive, Peter Kenyon, and sporting director, Frank Arnesen, over the responsibility for the disastrous train of events that led to Fifa sanctions over teenage prodigy Gaël Kakuta.
The two men have battled for influence since Arnesen's arrival from Tottenham Hotspur four years ago and the stunning news that Chelsea have been banned from buying or selling players for the next two transfer windows until January 2011 because of their conduct over the transfer of Kakuta, 18, from French club Lens has brought into focus the differences between the club's two highest ranking administrators.
Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, who appointed both men, has steadfastly backed Arnesen despite the Dane's woeful record at producing young players for the first team. He was even promoted from chief scout to work with the first team as sporting director this summer, but the feeling at the club now is that either Kenyon or Arnesen will have to take the rap for the Kakuta debacle.
The decision came as such a surprise to the club yesterday that Arnesen was still on his summer holiday in Puerto Banus in Spain. The mood at Stamford Bridge was that, despite the many expensive duds he has signed to the Chelsea academy, his influence was growing to the extent that he would force Kenyon out. The situation is expected to be resolved soon.
Fifa made the announcement yesterday that Chelsea would be fined £113,000 and banned for two transfer windows for what Fifa's rules call "inducement to breach of contract". Kakuta, who was just 15 when he joined Chelsea from Lens, has been fined £680,000 for breach of contract and banned from playing for four months. Chelsea have agreed to pay his fine if it stands.
The Lens president, Gerard Martel, told The Independent yesterday: "It is a logical punishment for a club that goes to intermediaries who turn the heads of young players on behalf of them. Someone who worked for Chelsea must have told them there was a way of getting him out of here. I have got my idea who it is, but I am not going to say.
"I have worked for football for 21 years and there has always been respect from clubs when we sit around a table [to discuss transfers]. But when Chelsea steal a player that is not acceptable. I was the president of the UCPF [body representing French professional football clubs] for 15 years. I know what we are doing is exactly right."
It is an enormous embarrassment for the club, who have been accused of illegal transfer procedures before, most infamously in the case of Ashley Cole when at Arsenal in 2005. Chelsea last night described the ban as "totally disproportionate and extraordinary" and announced their intention to appeal, which will be heard in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
The Independent has learnt that, more than two years ago, Martel sent his then managing director Francis Collado to ask Chelsea for €5m (£5m in today's terms) in return for Kakuta but was turned down. Collado said: "I said to Kenyon, 'He has a contract with our club, you have to pay us the right money'. Kenyon said: 'It's my information that he does not have a contract.' I said to them 'Please reflect on this and call us back.' They never, never, never called."
Kakuta was one of the most highly rated players in France when he was signed by Chelsea in 2007 as part of a massive recruitment drive by Arnesen. The player had been at Lens since the age of nine where the club had an agreement, ratified by the French football federation, that he would sign a professional deal on his 16th birthday.
Lens submitted their complaint to Fifa in July 2007, which resulted in a dispute resolution chamber case that opened on Thursday. By yesterday lunchtime, the five-man committee, chaired by Tunisian Slim Aloulou, had come to a decision.
Didier Roudet, Lens' general secretary, said: "We told Chelsea the player was under contract. They argued that he was not. All I can say is that our lawyers are very confident of their position and so are Fifa. Lens are a little team. Chelsea are a big team with a lot of money and for sure the player's family were offered a lot of money. We couldn't keep the player."
The ruling was made so rapidly that the club have not received the detailed "legal grounding" from Fifa from which they will launch their appeal. Chelsea said yesterday that they would "mount the strongest appeal possible". The club said: "The sanctions are without precedent to this level and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence. We cannot comment further until we receive the full written rationale for this extraordinarily arbitrary decision."
The usual procedure for bringing a foreign teenager into a club involves payments to his family and the promise of a professional contract when he turns 17, the youngest age a player can sign terms.
The transfer ban is worrying for Chelsea given the age profile of their squad. It is widely believed that the club will need to rebuild their squad over the next two years.
Manchester United may also wish to settle their differences with the French club Le Havre over the teenager Paul Pogba. The club's president Jean-Pierre Louvel has threatened to report United to Fifa.
Age concerns: Why Blues may suffer
* Chelsea's starting line-up this season is the second eldest in the Premier League, with an average age of 28.9. With only one of those players under 28 at the end of the ban, Carlo Ancelotti may be forced to look to the reserve and youth teams...
* Most-selected starting XI Cech (27 years, three months); Bosingwa (27, 0), Carvalho (31, 3), Terry (28, 9), A Cole (28, 8); Lampard (31, 2), Essien (26, 9), Ballack (32, 11), Deco (32, 0); Drogba (31, 6), Anelka (30, 6).Reuse content