Kenyon quits leaving Arnesen to rule at Chelsea

Club denies chief executive's departure is linked to Kakuta as rival wins power struggle
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The Independent Football

Chelsea plan to announce director Ron Gourlay as the successor to chief executive Peter Kenyon today but under the new hierarchy the football side of the business will be overseen by the all-powerful sporting director Frank Arnesen.

Gourlay is currently the chief operating officer but in his new role he will not enjoy anything like the power and influence Kenyon once had. Kenyon quit as chief executive yesterday having lost his power struggle with Arnesen but it is understood that he would have gone sooner had it not been for the Gaël Kakuta affair.

Like Kenyon, Gourlay also came to Chelsea from Manchester United. He was recruited by Kenyon five years ago from Old Trafford where he worked as the commercial director of United's merchandising department. Before he was at United, Gourlay spent 16 years at the sportswear company Umbro – where Kenyon worked before he joined United.

Gourlay had been part of the four-man executive board alongside finance director Chris Alexander, secretary David Barnard and communications director Simon Greenberg, all of whom answered to Kenyon. However, with the departure of Kenyon the power has shifted dramatically within the club to Arnesen who has the ear of owner Roman Abramovich.

Kenyon, 55, was ready to leave the club on 3 September when the announcement was made that Chelsea had been banned from player transfers by Fifa because of their conduct in the signing of Kakuta. At that point Kenyon was asked to stay on temporarily at the club as they came to terms with the punishment and the task of framing a legal defence.

However, since then Kenyon has decided to go ahead with his departure, six years after he controversially left Manchester United to join Chelsea in the aftermath of Abramovich's takeover. The chief executive has become caught up in the Kakuta affair which has been a huge embarrassment to Chelsea and there are fears at the club that more cases could be brought against them for poaching junior players from European teams.

Kenyon has fought a long battle against the influence of Arnesen at Stamford Bridge but yesterday's announcement confirmed that the former Denmark international is the man closest to Abramovich. Despite having been behind the signing of Kakuta that caused Chelsea to be banned from transfers until 2011 and having spent an estimated £62m on teenage footballers – none of whom has graduated to the first team – Arnesen is now the most powerful figure at Chelsea outside Abramovich's circle of Russian aides.

Since his promotion to sporting director in the summer – he was previously chief scout and director of youth development – Arnesen has been taking over duties that were once Kenyon's. It is understood that he has had a hand in agreeing contracts for members of the senior squad including the deal for Ashley Cole earlier this month.

Although Kenyon's differences with Arnesen were not a secret in football, he managed to keep the timing of his departure under wraps. He was at Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea beat Porto 1-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday night and had dinner with friends before the game but he did not make any announcement.

There will be few tears for Kenyon among the wider English football fraternity where his fondness for treating the national game like a business was not universally appreciated. His defection from United to Chelsea undermined his early claims to be a lifelong United fan. He produced many memorable pronouncements – including the promise that Chelsea would "turn the world blue" – born of a boardroom culture that jarred with football fans.

The real power will continue to reside with Abramovich and his two most trusted aides: the Russian-Canadian club director Eugene Tenenbaum and Arnesen. That group have control over all the major decisions at Chelsea.

Kenyon is still crucial to Chelsea's appeal against the Kakuta ruling which is why they have retained him as a non-executive director. While his influence has waned at the club, it has grown in European football where he is a leading light in the European Clubs' Association, and Uefa, where he will continue to represent Chelsea.

The Kakuta saga was initiated by Arnesen, who was responsible for the scouting and acquisition of the player from Lens, but it was Kenyon who was brought in to tidy matters up. To jettison him now would be to weaken Chelsea's case against Fifa considerably.

Consequently there were tributes yesterday from the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, praising Kenyon's "football knowledge and acumen". Kenyon officially leaves the club on 31 October having started work there in February 2004. Buck said: "Peter has done a fantastic job for Chelsea in the last five-and-a-half years and has been absolutely central to the success on and off the field we have had during that time."

Rumours persist that Kenyon may join Manchester City. It would certainly persuade United fans – who believe that Kenyon, the son of a Cheshire businessman, was a City fan all along – is the ultimate football chameleon. He is tipped to take another high-profile role in sport, possibly in connection with the 2012 London Olympics.

Kenyon described his time at Chelsea as "one of the best" he has had in football which given that he has only ever worked for United and Chelsea is not saying much.

"I think we have really built a club, in a relatively short space of time, that can be in the forefront of European football for many years to come," Kenyon said. "That is a major achievement. I intend to take a little time off but I am certain I have at least one major challenge left in me."

Turning the world blue: Kenyon in quotes

"We don't want to be seen as arrogant. We would rather be liked than disliked. But we're committed to making Chelsea one of the best in Europe"

February 2006

"It was painful but Claudio was not going to be successful with us. Having worked with Alex [Ferguson] for seven years, that was great training for someone whose job it was to have the best manager at his next club"

March 2006, on Claudio Ranieri

"He surrounds himself with the best people"

March 2006, on the secret of Roman Abramovich's success

"It can't be coincidence that the two most successful teams in England have some staff continuity. You don't want to sack a manager every year"

February 2009, after sacking three managers in 18 months

Compiled by Alex Sharp