Ron Gourlay: Chelsea are an internationally 'loved team'

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Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay has suggested that the Blues international fan base is now second to Manchester United.

Chelsea have a long and turbulent history in regards to their public image.

From the ‘lads club’ of the 1960’s, to the hooligan filled terraces of the 1980’s, the Blues have struggle to maintain an image that is both respectable, and successful.

However, in recent season, tours of America and Asia, and the inclusion of well-respected international players, have seen the club build up international support - thanks to both head coach Jose Mourinho, and chief executive Ron Gourlay.

Whilst the 51-year old is well aware that changing support of the national fan base is nigh-on impossible, he told the Evening Standard that, internationally, the club have blossomed into a well loved team in recent years.

"When I took over, we were under a little bit of pressure about our image. Do they love Chelsea? Do they hate Chelsea? Now Chelsea are massively respected around the world. Internationally, we are a more loved team.

"Nationally is very tribal, isn’t it? You’re never going to change a fan in England from a Man United fan to a Chelsea fan.

"In Asia, you might. Our fan base has grown dramatically worldwide, from 26million to just under 400m, second to Manchester United. If you go to a Chelsea game in Asia, you’ll see a lot of families, a lot between the ages of 19 and 32.”

Manchester United have long been the most recognised club in Asia, and the colour red is so associated with football that Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan forced a change of style at the Bluebirds to increase the fan base in his home country.

With enduring success now a consistent achievement for the Blues, Gourlay, who worked for the Red Devils before succeeding Peter Kenyon five-years ago, has orchestrated the appeal for international support, built around increasing the love of football in previously untouched areas.

"We’ve worked extremely hard in communities in Asia where the kids didn’t have anywhere to play. We now have 13 blue pitches in Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, all operated and run by Chelsea coaches and all non-profitable. It’s important we make sport available in these communities.

"Chelsea providing these communities with something is vitally important. We want to make a positive difference, and we are, to huge numbers of kids on a daily basis.”

Building an international fan base is just as important in football nowadays as having the core group of local supporters, and whilst United still hold domain over Asia, with the success that is likely to head to Stamford Bridge in the future, it may not be too long before the blue overtakes red as the dominant colour.

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