Kenyon feeds dream of a lasting dynasty

Champions' League: Chelsea chief salutes Mourinho's team and work ethics as club aim to make a habit of success
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As Manchester United were presented with yet another Premiership trophy year after year, nobody actually yawned, but there was inevitably an air of routine about the proceedings. The celebrations have never been as exuberantly joyful as when Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson lifted the first bauble of a new era into the air in 1993 to end that 26-year drought. By the time of the eighth in 11 years at the end of the 2002-03 season, Peter Kenyon up in the directors' box was smiling broadly and clapping politely rather than pumping his fists in jubilation.

As Manchester United were presented with yet another Premiership trophy year after year, nobody actually yawned, but there was inevitably an air of routine about the proceedings. The celebrations have never been as exuberantly joyful as when Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson lifted the first bauble of a new era into the air in 1993 to end that 26-year drought. By the time of the eighth in 11 years at the end of the 2002-03 season, Peter Kenyon up in the directors' box was smiling broadly and clapping politely rather than pumping his fists in jubilation.

So it is with Chelsea, who have not only had almost twice as long to wait but in a not undistinguished 100-year history have only achieved the feat once before, in 1954-55. That is why Kenyon is looking forward as impatiently as any Shed-dweller to the moment when his new club, once derided as "The Pensioners", become champions of England again.

Two home victories this week will confirm a first title for half a century. Deliciously, the two games are on Wednesday against Arsenal, their nearest pursuers, then on Saturday lunchtime against Fulham, their closest neighbours, 50 years to the day since the previous triumph was secured.

There was genuine excitement as Kenyon spoke about the prospect last week in his first extended interview for many months. The recent shenanigans with Uefa were not on the agenda, nor was taking tea with Ashley Cole or bumping - more innocently, it genuinely appears - into Rio Ferdinand in a London restaurant, but what was refreshing was to converse with a leading Premiership chief executive for so long without hearing a mention of marketing, sponsorship or commercial concerns.

It did not harm his mood, either, that Chelsea had held off Bayern Munich's challenge to come within three matches of emulating United's Champions' League triumph. In the aftermath of that result the subject was football, and the tone that of a fan: "We're performing like a team, and when it gets tough we seem to be able to dig in and find that extra run or whatever. It's fantastic the team spirit Jose [Mourinho] has managed to get out of the whole squad. Everybody's playing for each other, and I think that comes through when it gets a bit close, like against Bayern. I have to say the last four minutes of the game seemed like 10; it was all getting a bit too close, but we earned it over the two games because we were fantastic."

Ah, Jose: a brilliant appointment, let it be acknowledged, though the brutal sacking of Claudio Ranieri last summer left a bad taste at the time, especially in view of the unprecedented briefing against him from inside Stamford Bridge, which was hardly discouraged by the new chief executive. Given the way the Tinkerman subsequently failed with Valencia - he is now to be found as an amiably bumbling pundit on Sky Sports' Spanish League programmes - Kenyon might feel strongly tempted to offer a "told you so" to his critics.

To his credit, he declines to speak of vindication, preferring instead to concentrate on the special qualities of the Special One: "There has been a transformation since Jose arrived. We knew we had good players and a good squad, and you have to say there has been a transformation and that is why we are back in the semi-final and top of the League.

"The difference from last season I think from the offset was the preparation under Jose, the team ethic, the work ethic, everybody playing for each other. No individual is bigger than the team. And just some great personal performances along the way."

It appears, too, that the manager's self-confidence has rubbed off on those in the boardroom. Kenyon might have been expected to shy away from the notion of creating a new dynasty, but he met it head on. "You have to start somewhere. I think this was the first year of what we saw as a very long relationship, of getting Chelsea up there for a long period of time, and that has always been the way we have been thinking. We have never thought of a one-off. There has been a lot of effort, a lot of investment in youth and facilities and, if you like, the non-sexy end of football. Get the basics right and we think it will pay dividends in years to come. This has never been about winning the Premiership or the Champions' League once. It has been about creating Chelsea as a top team in Europe for the long run."

Rather like United, then? "At Manchester United, they were a great team over long periods of time, but there were expec-tations and people had seen it before. What is particularly rewarding and more enjoyable here is there has clearly not been a lot of it at Chelsea.

"From that point of view the players appreciate what is going on, the fans appreciate what is going on. Chelsea have massive potential and it has been long overdue to deliver it. And I think that is the difference. But we never expected success so quickly. We said early on that Jose was not about what happened this season, that it was a much longer project than that. But I think, to be fair, what has happened is ahead of schedule."

Not too far ahead, since it would be naïve to think that merely repeating Ranieri's achievement of a Champions' League semi-final and second place in the Premiership would have constituted progress. But the quality of football, and improvement in organisation on and off the pitch, have been far enough in advance of expectation to justify not only Mourinho's appointment, but a new contract that even Sven Goran Eriksson must envy.

Whether two more trophies or only one are added to the Carling Cup in the next six weeks, the task is to ensure that the manager puts down firmer roots than he has done previously. As Kenyon says: "I think if you look at the really successful teams there is an awful lot of continuity. We had that with Manchester United, and you've certainly had that with Arsenal. Jose is only 41, he wants to win things, he wants to operate in one of the top leagues in Europe.

"We want to win things, he is the right age with the right young squad. Of course it can get better, by doing it more than once. That is what Jose has signed up to do, and that is what we all contemplated from day one. I think it is not about contractual negotiations. Why can't Jose be here for the next 10 years? I am sure he will be our manager for many years to come."

Arsène Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson; Barcelona and Bayern; gentlemen of Uefa and the Football Association: You have been warned.

Comments