The political manoeuvrings behind the scenes at Chelsea have taken another twist after Michael Emenalo chose to end his 10-year association with the Premier League champions by resigning as technical director.
Emenalo, 52, who joined as an opposition scout under Avram Grant before progressing up the hierarchy to become a member of the football club board, was one of Roman Abramovich’s most trusted lieutenants at Stamford Bridge, with the owner understood to have made efforts to convince him to stay. His decision to quit, which he had first floated over the summer, represents a blow to the owner.
Emenalo had attended the midweek defeat by Roma and Sunday’s victory over Manchester United, shaking hands with the players as they left the field at the end, but is understood to have made clear his decision to leave on Monday morning. The Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, said Emenalo’s resignation had been accepted “with regret”.
The former Notts County and Nigeria defender, who earned 14 caps, had slapped Antonio Conte on the back near the mouth of the tunnel as he celebrated that win over United, albeit the technical director was not acknowledged by the Italian. Emenalo, who secured his Uefa Pro Licence this summer, had of late been broadly supportive of Conte, whom he had helped to appoint in the summer of 2016, despite pressure mounting on the head coach. However, the Italian had expressed frustration at recruitment over the summer, an implied criticism of Emenalo and the influential director Marina Granovskaia.
The club lost out in the pursuit of their former forward Romelu Lukaku, when he chose to join Manchester United from Everton. Other moves, for players such as Alex Sandro at Juventus, came to nothing while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain preferred to move to Liverpool and Ross Barkley opted to remain at Everton.
Emenalo, whose duties included leading the club’s international and domestic scouting network, could eventually pursue a similar role at Monaco but, for now, he wants to spend more time with his three boys, aged 11, nine and seven, after a draining decade in the job. Vitesse Arnhem, who have a close relationship with Chelsea, also lost their technical director on Monday after Mo Allach opted to move to Maccabi Haifa with the head scout, Marc van Hintum, stepping in on a temporary basis.
“This has been a very difficult decision to make, but one I believe is right for both myself and my family, and the club,” Emenalo said. “I have had the privilege to work alongside some of the most talented people in the world of sport over the past 10 years, and I will depart incredibly proud of the achievements we have made. I wish Chelsea every success and look forward to following the club’s future triumphs from afar.”
Emenalo’s decade at Stamford Bridge coincided with the club claiming three Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Europa League and, in 2012, the Champions League while 10 managers have come and gone. He oversaw the technical programmes of the club’s academy and international youth network, helping to instigate a policy of loaning young players out to gain first-team football at home and abroad – they have 38 out on short-term deals – with two of their loanees, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham, having linked up with the full England squad on Monday.
Abramovich, who was not at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, did visit the club’s Cobham training ground the previous week after the 1-0 victory against Bournemouth to watch Conte put his players through their paces. He is likely to have spoken to Emenalo, whose office is opposite the head coach’s at the training complex.
Granovskaia said: “We are extremely grateful to Michael for his tireless work over the past 10 years. He has played an important role during the most successful period in the club’s history, helping make Chelsea the club it is today. We will now be reviewing our management structure, and Michael will be a part of that process as we look ahead.” Chelsea are expected to seek to appoint a replacement, with the Hull City manager, Leonid Slutsky, a potential candidate, though Granovskaia will take on Emenalo’s duties in the short term.
Emenalo joined the club in October 2007 and worked as an opposition scout under Grant – for whom he had played at Maccabi Tel Aviv – and assistant first-team coach under Carlo Ancelotti, replacing the popular but sacked Ray Wilkins. He was promoted to the role of technical director in 2011 with a heavy input into recruitment. The champions have signed, among others, Eden Hazard, César Azpilicueta, Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku in the period since, with the last two later sold having struggled to make an impact under José Mourinho.
Some of the less successful signings with which he was associated included Papy Djilobodji from Nantes who failed to make a Premier League appearance before being shipped on at a profit to Sunderland. Emenalo preferred to remain out of the limelight, though he did conduct an interview on the club’s in-house television channel on the day Mourinho was sacked in December 2015 in which he claimed there had been “palpable discord between the players and the manager”.
Reacting to Emenalo’s departure Conte said: “I am very sorry to see Michael leave Chelsea, and I would like to thank him for all his help and support since I arrived at this club. I have enjoyed working with him very much, we celebrated a Premier League title together in May, and I wish him the very best for the future.”
• The Guardian UK