Kenedy has no future at Chelsea, but has put his petulant past behind him

Matt Law
·6-min read
Granada's Brazilian midfielder Robert Kenedy Nunes do Nascimento "Kenedy" fights for the ball with Napoli's Italian striker Lorenzo Insigne (C) and Napoli's French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko (R) during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg football match SSC Napoli vs Granada CF - LightRocket/KONTROLAB 
Granada's Brazilian midfielder Robert Kenedy Nunes do Nascimento "Kenedy" fights for the ball with Napoli's Italian striker Lorenzo Insigne (C) and Napoli's French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko (R) during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg football match SSC Napoli vs Granada CF - LightRocket/KONTROLAB

For a player who shares a name, albeit a different spelling, with the famous American dynasty, it is perhaps only natural that the football career of Robert Kenedy Nunes Nascimento has been heavily influenced by politics.

It has never been confirmed whether or not Kenedy was indeed named after the brother of the 35th President of the United States, John F Kennedy, but the Brazilian will not be remembered for his diplomacy at Chelsea.

Still contracted to Chelsea until 2022, Kenedy is on loan at Granada and will attempt to use Thursday night’s Europa League quarter-final first-leg tie against Manchester United to remind those at his parent club why former managers Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte felt he had the raw ingredients to succeed in England.

United are the last club Kenedy scored against while on English soil, on October 6, 2018, and another goal against Chelsea’s rivals would underline the feeling that the boy from Brazil, with a name steeped in American history, might finally be growing up – even if any chance of a Stamford Bridge redemption is long gone.

The politics that kept Kenedy at Chelsea after he had arrived from Fluminese for £6.3 million in the summer of 2015 and then an international incident, at least in football terms, sparked by the player on a pre-season tour of China two years later effectively eradicated any hope of him making a success of his Chelsea career.

The plan had been for Kenedy to go straight out on loan after he had been signed by Chelsea as a 19 year-old to mature both on and off the pitch, but Mourinho took an instant liking to his pace, power and versatility, and demanded that he remained with the first-team squad.

Chelsea proved to be a comfortable environment for Kenedy to settle in as he became the ninth Brazilian, including Diego Costa, in the squad and he played 20 times during the season in which Mourinho was sacked, appearing as a winger and as a full-back.

“There were many Brazilians there [at Chelsea] and that helped me a lot,” said Kenedy. “There were David Luiz, Diego Costa, Oscar, Piazón – one felt more at home.”

Following the dismissal of Mourinho, Chelsea resorted back to what had been plan A for Kenedy, but by that time he was not keen on the prospect of leaving behind his Brazilian home away from home and perhaps viewed a loan move to Watford as a sign of failure, rather than an opportunity.

Having made just one appearance for Watford before his loan was cut short halfway through the 2016/17 season, Kenedy showed Conte enough in training and in two Chelsea appearances to be included in the Premier League title-winning squad for the summer tour of Asia.

Chelsea's Kenedy (left) and Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne (right) battle for the ball - Darren Walsh /Chelsea FC 
Chelsea's Kenedy (left) and Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne (right) battle for the ball - Darren Walsh /Chelsea FC

Conte believed Kenedy had the strength, technical ability and endurance to become a top player, but he and Chelsea were to find that the maturity those at the club had hoped would be cultivated out on loan was still lacking.

It proved to be an expensive lesson for the club and player, as Kenedy was sent home in disgrace after two social media posts caused outrage in China and threats that Chelsea could even have been banned by the country.

Chelsea offered a long, grovelling apology for the posts in English and Mandarin, but the People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of China's Communist Party, wrote a stinging editorial that said: “China does not welcome a player like this, nor does China welcome a team like this. Kenedy’s absurd comments are not only impolite but also uneducated. He has created an incident that has humiliated China, an incident that so many fans simply cannot tolerate.”

The fact Chelsea last year announced they were the second-most followed football club across all social media platforms in China would suggest that their diplomatic response to Kenedy’s blunder worked, but the player’s career has taken some time to start to recover.

A proposed loan to Newcastle fell through on transfer deadline day in the summer Chelsea had arrived home from China without Kenedy. But, having scored in his comeback game against Nottingham Forest, he blew his hopes of a second chance under Conte by yawning during a bad-tempered team meeting following a defeat to Roma in the Champions League.

One source said: “Kenedy was a good kid at Chelsea, but he was too young and the group of Brazilian players at the club was not good for him when he needed to listen to what he was being told and work hard to learn.”

Newcastle United's Robert Kenedy (left) and Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool - PA/Anthony Devlin 
Newcastle United's Robert Kenedy (left) and Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool - PA/Anthony Devlin

The three games Kenedy played after being given a dressing down for yawning remain his last for Chelsea. A loan to Newcastle was revived in January 2018 and Rafael Benitez was seen as the right manager to try to take him out of his comfort zone and improve his tactical awareness.

It worked for six months, as Kenedy won rave reviews on Tyneside for his exciting wing play but the good times proved to be short lived. Having returned to Newcastle on a season-long loan, he made a nightmare start to the 2018/19 campaign that set the tone for his second spell at the club.

Lucky to avoid a red card for a kick at Victor Camarasa, Kenedy became the first player since 2010 to play a full Premier League first-half without completing a pass against Cardiff City and his penalty in added time – to win the game – was saved by Neil Etheridge.

His goal against United at Old Trafford, in a 3-2 defeat, was his first and last of the season and he has since tried his luck away from England, first on loan at Getafe, where he made 27 appearances, and now at Granada, where he has already played 35 times – the most in a single season during his career – and scored seven goals.

Now aged 25, Kenedy’s form has prompted reports in Spain that Granada could try to sign him permanently and the player himself seems settled and enjoys his position on the right of a forward midfield three from where he will go up against United full-back Luke Shaw and can cut in to shoot with his stronger left foot.

“I am living my best moment here at Granada,” he said. “I am very happy and very happy with the season and with my best version. I am very well and happy with the whole group that is helping me a lot.”

And on the prospect of facing United and reminding Chelsea fans what he is capable of, Kenedy added: “How can I explain it? It will be a very good game. A different and unique party.”