Kenyon drops Zola hint to woo fans

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The Independent Online

Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, last night raised the possibility of a return to Stamford Bridge for Gianfranco Zola, the supporters' hero, in a non-playing capacity.

Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, last night raised the possibility of a return to Stamford Bridge for Gianfranco Zola, the supporters' hero, in a non-playing capacity.

Zola is currently playing in the Italian League with the Serie B team Cagliari. Kenyon, speaking to a group of 200 fans at the Supporters' Night Out dinner last night, said: "We all understand what he represented. We'd like to bring him back here and somehow we would like him to become involved with Chelsea Football Club."

Any move to bring Zola back to the club could be seen as an effort by Kenyon to placate supporters on what proved to be an awkward evening for him.

Ken Bates, the club's former chairman, who is seeking £2m from Chelsea for alleged breach of contract, arrived unannounced and Kenyon was heckled by fans for giving only partial answers, especially on the subject of the treatment Claudio Ranieri, the manager, has suffered during the season regarding the public search for his successor. Kenyon has courted Sven Goran Eriksson, the England coach, who decided to remain with the national team, and Porto's Jose Mourinho.

In the face of criticism Kenyon branded the club's season a failure even though Chelsea finished second in the league and reached the semi-final of the Champions' League. He said that although they had done well, "now we want to do better".

Kenyon also confronted questions on who would be Chelsea's manager next season, saying that no one had been appointed. "We have conducted discussion with Claudio Ranieri throughout this process privately and I am not about to change that," he said.

Bruce Buck, the chairman of Chelsea Village, the club's holding company, added: "There has been a lot of press coverage suggesting that we have already agreed a deal with this or that manager but it is not true."

Kenyon said that Chelsea would bring in several new players over the summer but he declined to reveal the size of the club's transfer budget. Last summer Chelsea spent more than £100m yet last night many fans expressed concern about the prospect of a new influx this time close season that it would not allow time for a new team to gel.

Kenyon, who was booed by both sets of fans at Old Trafford on Saturday - he used to be the chief executive of Manchester United - said that he wanted to start up a fans' forum but he said that there was no prospect of Chelsea appointing a fans' representative to its board.

On the subject of Bates' lawsuit, Buck said: "We intend to defend our position. I have the utmost respect for Ken Bates and what he has done for the club but we believe we have fulfilled all our obligations to Ken."

Bates, however, has the power to slow the club's development of Stamford Bridge. Bates owns an apartment within the Chelsea hotel and in order to increase the ground's capacity from 42,000 to 50,000 the hotel would have to be knocked down, which would require permission from the residents. Bates was vehement that he is unwilling to comply.

Back on the pitch, it seems that Jesper Gronkjaer may be one of the players on his way out. The winger is wanted by the Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce, in a £3.5m move.

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