The 44-year old chartered accountant originally played for Liverpool and was on the team which beat Belgian rivals Bruges FC in the European Cup final in 1978. But he gave up football at 23 to study accountancy.
Since he took over as Chelsea’s chief executive, Birch has built a name for himself as a financial tough guy, keeping a close eye on cash-strapped Chelsea Village.
He is currently in talks to keep Icelandic player Eidur Gudjohnsen, who is said to be demanding a higher than expected salary and is also said to have turned down a £10m approach for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from Barcelona.
Birch has refused to buy any new players for manager Claudio Ranieri this season despite the availability of five European stars.
He told national newspapers: ‘No one will be signed unless we have sold a player first. We’ve always been determined to reduce our wage bill and we are sticking to that policy.’
Before joining Chelsea in February 2002, Birch was head of Ernst & Young’s North West corporate restructuring team based in Manchester. He had been with the Big Four firm for 18 years and was part of the team appointed to the administration of food producer Snackhouse last year.
Of his appointment Birch said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity for me and I am looking forward to combining my football experience with my accumulated business knowledge to provide some real value to Chelsea.
‘The experience could only be better if I was actually signed as a player!
‘I have enjoyed a successful and interesting career at Ernst & Young but know I am leaving the team in safe hands and am now looking forward to my new role and working with Ken Bates and the rest of the management team in shaping the club’s strategy going forward.’
Chairman Bates appointed Birch as the majority of football clubs – both in the Premiership and the League – are in a period of unprecedented difficulty.
And Birch’s appointment has prompted much speculation about the weakness of the club’s finances. The national newspapers have written about the £97m debts which the club’s listed parent Chelsea Village has accumulated.
But supporters say the quoted figure does not take into account Chelsea’s wider businesses and property assets.
The club would say it decided to appoint the insolvency expert because he has an astute sense of business and is a top accountant with a love of football heightened by his experience as a professional footballer.
That said, at least Birch is struggling with finances in the Premiership and can rely on a bit of TV money.
That’s a lot more than can be said for clubs in the Nationwide League.