David Dein: A shrewd investor and the brains behind Wenger's appointment
Saturday 03 June 2006
When David Dein paid £292,000 for 16 per cent of Arsenal in 1983 the club chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, said: "I think he's crazy. To all intents and purposes it's dead money."
Dein could not have invested that "dead money" more wisely had he put it in Microsoft shares. For sure, the computer company would have made him richer, but he has done very well out of Arsenal, around £24m plus salary at the last reckoning*, and also become highly influential within football's corridors of power. However, people who knew him at the time believe he invested in Arsenal not to get rich and influence people, but because he supported the Gunners.
What is the reality? Only Dein knows, but probably there is truth in both. That is the case with David Barry Dein, he is harder to categorise than most.
This is the man who makes agents swear on the Bible when they are conducting a deal, who sought to tighten restrictions on them in the wake of Nicolas Anelka's departure from Highbury, but who has been brought down, in part, because of his opposition to more transparent dealings, and because too many questions surround Arsenal's conduct in transfers.
This is the man who was behind the bond scheme which angered Arsenal supporters, but also who campaigned for Uefa to enforce a minimum ticket allocation for travelling fans.
A pillar of the game, vice-chairman of both the Football Association and its most establishment club, his beginnings were more humble. His father owned a tobacconist's shop and his mother ran a grocery stall, specialising in serving the Caribbean community in Shepherd's Bush market.
Dein went on to study French and economics at Leeds University but is thought to have dropped out to concentrate on his business career, starting, at 21, in partnership with his brother, Arnold. They were importers but struggled to turn a profit, not that this put Dein off raising his salary significantly.
By the time he joined Arsenal he was well-set, married and living in Totteridge, a successful businessman. However, that year a trading partner went bust owing Dein's company more than £10m. London & Overseas (Sugar) Co never recovered though it has been claimed, by "anonymous sources", that Dein's creditors were eventually paid in full.
Meanwhile, he was working the boardrooms of the Football League winning election to the management committee in 1986. A seat on the FA Council followed.
By the start of the 1990s Dein was well-placed to be a leading figure in the creation of the Premier League.
At this point most Arsenal fans saw Dein as little more than one of football's many greedy arrivistes getting rich off their backs. Then he persuaded the board to hire Arsène Wenger. Dein had a greater interest in the global game than most English club directors, and knew exactly who "Arsène who?" was.
A few years later he combined with Adam Crozier to produce Sven Goran Eriksson. This appointment is increasingly criticised but Eriksson is the only England manager to secure three successive qualifications, and since it is in qualifying the FA makes its money, he has certainly fulfilled part of his remit.
But when Dein went for the treble, and pushed Brian Barwick towards Luis Felipe Scolari, he overreached. His many enemies pounced. Do not, though, expect him to disappear.
*p75 The Beautiful Game (Yellow Jersey, 2004) by David Conn.
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