The defending Premiership champions and 15 points clear at the top this season, Chelsea are not obliged to answer to anyone, but their chief executive Peter Kenyon has said for the first time that he regrets the controversy that surrounded his approaches to Sven Goran Eriksson and Ashley Cole and would rather the club "be liked than disliked".
Speaking to The Independent this week, two years after he began work at Chelsea, Kenyon admitted that his club had "elbowed" some of their rivals on their way to breaking up the "cartel" of English football. Relations are good enough now with Arsenal that Kenyon has toured their new Emirates Stadium although he had much less sympathy for his former employers Manchester United and their conduct in the dispute over the Nigerian prodigy John Obi Mikel.
"I don't think we want to be seen as arrogant, we don't consciously go out there to be controversial," Kenyon said. "We'd be disappointed if that was a tag that stuck. I know that we pinned our colours to the mast when we said we wanted to win. That was important and right from day one we talked about creating a winning culture. My first six months was really concentrating on restructuring the football side.
"There are certain people who would take great pleasure in being hated but we'd rather be liked than disliked. But equally we are committed to making Chelsea one of the very best clubs in Europe ... it would be arrogant if I was to say I wouldn't do anything differently. Of course I'd do things differently. We didn't set out to create those headlines; being in a restaurant, whether it's [tapping-up] Sven, whether it's Ashley, you wouldn't want to do that again. But that wasn't through arrogance, that's always the justification, really, if you pull it off. It takes time to work and live through these things. From that point of view if we were arrogant we'd say we're not bothered and we're not sorry. Well, actually, we are bothered and we'd rather they hadn't occurred."
The perception of Chelsea in the transfer market certainly did not sour the enthusiasm of schoolchildren at the Linford Christie stadium in west London on Thursday who chanted John Terry's name when he arrived to open a new football complex funded by his club. Kenyon was also there to see the opening of the site to which Chelsea, with Premiership sponsors Barclays and the Football Foundation, have given £1m.
The sight of aspirant young footballers is a reminder of the latest controversy to engulf Chelsea - the dispute with United over Mikel, whose contract with the Old Trafford club is the subject of a Fifa investigation. Kenyon makes no secret of the fact that he would like to sign the 18-year-old and that Chelsea have decided to "go for it" in their recruitment of young players.
"We are catching up. The quality of our youth was behind. Manchester United were the best at it, Arsenal became very successful through it. We couldn't afford to ignore it... We decided to go for it in our own inimitable style. There's an element of catch-up, and we elbowed a few. We are doing what they have been doing forever. There is just another club breaking up that cartel. We have been dragged into this on the basis that the player [Mikel] wants to come to us. If all that gets sorted out, and he becomes available, we would like to sign him."
It has meant a stand-off with Kenyon's former deputy at United, David Gill, who handed the Chelsea chief executive and his chairman Bruce Buck a letter of complaint in the Old Trafford boardroom last season. It was an awkward moment and Kenyon is critical of Gill, his successor as United's chief executive, with whom he worked for six years before leaving for Chelsea in September 2003.
"It is not the way you do things," Kenyon said. "There has been a sea-change in terms of becoming too litigious. The rules have always been there... dealt with in a football way. We are in danger of things going outside to be resolved. Rather than legal letters, [they should] pick up the phone."
Does Kenyon still regard United as the same financial force they were before the Glazer takeover? "I'm not sure," was his response, although he described United as a financial "Utopia" before the buyout landed £535m of debt on the club. "I am far more comfortable with Roman [Abramovich] than under the others. Overall, the way the finance structure is put together, Manchester United was recognised as one of the best businesses, apart from its footballing achievements which were fantastic."
Abramovich he described as "totally committed" and "emotionally attached" to the club which he does not regard as a "straightforward investment". Chelsea has also been built, Kenyon explained, around a plan that would give the club two years to reorganise their finances to cope without their Russian billionaire owner.
"The way we structure the finance of the business is secure," Kenyon said. "He [Abramovich] has converted a load of the investment debt into equity which is a great sign. The loans are structured in a manner that if, for whatever reason, he walked away, there are two years before there is an issue. None of us foresee that, especially him."
Kenyon described Jose Mourinho as "arguably" the best manager in the world and admitted that he does "worry about losing him" but he "would expect him to stay" if Chelsea won the Champions' League.
"We are in a good position for potentially our second Premiership. Only one team in England has done it back to back. Hopefully another one. Doubles, trebles, look at the success of the biggest teams: Real Madrid, Ajax, Liverpool, Manchester United. We are playing football in the best league in the world. We are in a capital city. In a club that has got resources to continue that success. Why would you not want to continue to be part of it?"Reuse content