Reputation check: Chelsea score badly in image terms

Chelsea Football Club are successful on the pitch, but have some work to do on their reputation, writes David Quainton.

Chelsea are the reigning Premiership champions: but they are not exactly winning the nation's hearts and minds. Since Roman Abramovich bought the club in June 2003, manager Jose Mourinho has steered them to two successive Premiership titles and the London side has become firmly established in the European elite.

High-profile signings continue to arrive at the London club, courtesy of Roman's billions, with the latest - Ashley Cole - in  controversial circumstances (he has since been widely dubbed ‘Cashley Cole').

Mourinho is a journalist's dream, often engaging in amusing press ­banter after games, but some would argue that the ­mercurial coach is a PR man's worst nightmare.

Fans and media ‘fed up'
The club's CEO, Peter Kenyon, is ex-Manchester United, while head of comms Simon Greenberg is a former journalist. Both arouse strong feelings among the media that PRWeek talked to - some believing these figures must adopt a lower profile.

‘When [Ashley] Cole arrived, there were pictures with the player, Mourinho and Greenberg,' says one.

The Independent's chief football writer Sam Wallace believes other clubs give better access to their
players instead.

‘Arsenal have proved that if you allow reporters to speak to the players, the team takes on a personality that is distinct to that of the manager or the owner,' he says. ‘Reporters will feel much better disposed to a player they have chatted to for an hour than someone who walks past them after matches with a phone to his ear.'

See 'Related Stories' below for Simon Greenberg's response to our poll

ANALYSIS 1: the PR professional's view

Henry Chappell
, managing director, Pitch PR: 

‘Chelsea aren't in a popularity contest. Even though they raise ire because of the way they are financed, and because of their success, their only duty as a football club is to win matches.

‘That said, if they want to turn public perception around they could start by giving more access to their A-list players. Lampard, Cole, Terry and co should be encouraged to do high-profile evangelical work, which would make Chelsea look good against other clubs.

‘Because Chelsea don't always sell out their home matches they could put the spare seats to use by giving them to underprivileged kids or for charity link-ups. It would show a softer side of the club, which currently has a very hard image.

The club should also partner the London Development Agency and the Olympic authority, creating greater links with London.

‘And more work needs to be done with Abramovich - he's put a lot of capital into British football, much of which will have filtered down to lower-league clubs. This should be emphasised - his contribution to football isn't all bad. And on the Russian theme, how about free vodka shots for away fans?'

ANALYSIS 2: the journalist's view

Kevin McCarra, chief football writer, The Guardian: 

‘The flippant solution to Chelsea's unpopularity would be to lose several games. Invincibility is never endearing and people seem to have forgotten how disliked Man U were. Abramovich has no obvious interest in even attempting to charm the general public. A PR adviser may believe that a few more public appearances and interviews would let the world see him as a normal person, but Abramovich prefers to keep a low profile.

‘Chelsea's most feasible approach would be to behave more endearingly. It seems to have developed an embattled mindset. When William Gallas left, Chelsea said he had threatened to score an own goal if he was forced to play for them. There was a lack of corroboration and this strategy inspired scant sympathy.

‘Of course, it is Jose Mourinho who defines Chelsea's image more than any footballer. As a journalist I cannot attack him because he is extremely gifted. But he would help Chelsea if he were more gracious. He is brilliant at changing the subject and conjuring up a diversionary controversy, but that strategy palled with the general public a long time ago.'

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