Furious Cole to fight on in court after £100,000 fine

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The Independent Football

The Ashley Cole tapping-up scandal ignited in extraordinary fashion yesterday when the player vowed to launch a legal battle against the Premier League after it imposed unprecedented fines of £600,000 on the England full-back, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.

The Ashley Cole tapping-up scandal ignited in extraordinary fashion yesterday when the player vowed to launch a legal battle against the Premier League after it imposed unprecedented fines of £600,000 on the England full-back, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.

In a series of surprising measures, Cole was fined £100,000, Chelsea were hit for £300,000 and Mourinho for £200,000 for their infamous meeting at the Royal Park Hotel on 27 January.

In an added humiliation to Chelsea, whose chief executive Peter Kenyon was also at the meeting, they were given a suspended three-point deduction that will be activated if they re-offend over the next season.

With Cole immediately announcing his intention to appeal, his lawyer Graham Shear said that the tapping-up rules preventing contracted players from talking to prospective new clubs amounted to a "master and servant" relationship. Cole's legal team will go to the courts to fight a case which, should they win, will change the relationship between players and clubs as profoundly as the Bosman ruling that allowed players to become free agents at the end of their contracts.

Shear said that the player and his agent Jonathan Barnett, who was also at the meeting, were "absolutely furious" with the ruling. He added that it did "not seem to bear any relation to the evidence given" and was instead based on "assumption upon assumption".

The punishments, which were accompanied by equally damning judgements on the behaviour of those involved, were delivered by a commission whose chairman, Sir Phillip Otton, said they would act as a "deterrent". The severity of the measures demonstrates that the national game's administrators have run out of patience with the furtive manner of conducting major transfer deals.

However, of all the parties involved, only Arsenal announced they were content with the ruling and the Premier League must now brace itself for a second battle through the appeals process which could prove equally destructive to English football. Despite the commission's call for the London clubs to cease their hostilities, yesterday'sruling means their relations have sunk to a new low.

For Cole, it now seems that the likelihood of him staying at Arsenal beyond the two years left in his contract is highly remote. Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein said that, although the player had been "silly" to attend the meeting, they still hoped that he would be willing to sign a new contract, but the 24-year-old's relationship with his club has now gone beyond repair.

Dein said: "We hope Ashley does not leave. We did not want to see him punished. We all make mistakes but we move on. We want him to be part of our future."

The commission said Cole's attendance at the meeting was the "only blot on a hitherto exemplary professional career" and expressed hope that he would be able to rebuild his relationship with Arsenal.

Given the anger Cole feels about Arsenal's initial complaint, which triggered the commission's inquiry, that would now seem unlikely.

The player's agent Barnett came in for trenchant criticism from the commission, which said that he had "manipulated" the player and it was a "matter of regret" that it could not discipline him and the Israeli agent Pini Zahavi, who was also present at the meeting. They will be dealt with by the Football Association.

The Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor described the £100,000 fine for Cole as "very punitive". Taylor said: "My information is that he did not know Chelsea personnel were going to be at the meeting. His advisers knew he was going to be put in an impossible position. I am sorry for Ashley. He was badly advised on this occasion."

The judgement against Chelsea was uncompromising in its condemnation of the club, which it found to have behaved in a "rash and dangerous" manner. The commission launched an attack on Mourinho's integrity when it said that he had acted with "blatant disregard" for his obligations and was a "key component" in the discussions.

Chelsea will appeal and their chairman Bruce Buck said the club was "shocked" at the ruling, saying that it was "disproportionate to the alleged sin". The basis of Chelsea's appeal will be that the verdict did not find them guilty of directly initiating the meeting which, the club's lawyers believe, means they have not strictly made an illegal approach to Cole.

"We went to the meeting to listen and that was it," Buck said. "Our view is that it breaches the rules if you make an approach with the intent of entering into a contract with that player. We had no intention of entering into a contract with that player." Buck said that he felt "particularly sorry" for Mourinho and Cole and that the Chelsea manager had not been an "active protagonist" in the meeting. "We feel it was inappropriate to charge Jose," Buck said. "Ashley Cole is a fine young man caught up in a situation he didn't have to be."

Buck said Chelsea would have handled the situation differently if the roles had been reversed. "The player's current club decided not to talk to him, not to try to resolve any issues, but made it into a public spectacle," Buck said. "That was inappropriate, not in the best interests of that club, not in the best interests of that player and not in the best interests of football."

However, the option to dock Chelsea points was one that the commission was not expected to implement and, although it is a suspended sentence, there could be no greater sign of dissatisfaction at the club's conduct.

The commission refused Arsenal compensation for Chelsea's behaviour and it is understood that it also turned down an appeal by the Highbury club to impose a transfer embargo on their rivals.

While Buck, whose club will foot the bill for Mourinho's fine, said relations with Arsenal would now be "difficult", Dein said he hopes they can put aside their differences, starting today at the Premier League's summer meeting, which he and Kenyon will attend. "We'll be sitting down at the same table as Chelsea and it's important that good relations are resumed," Dein said.

The Premier League verdicts

ASHLEY COLE Fined £100,000

"Arsenal ... were entitled to expect loyalty from a player who they have nurtured from boyhood to a glittering football career."

JOSE MOURINHO Fined £200,000

"Played a pivotal role. He could and should have realised the implications of the secret meeting and declined to go. Acted in blatant disregard of the rules."

CHELSEA Fined £300,000

Docked three Premiership points (suspended)

"We consider it unacceptable that Chelsea saw fit to respond to an invitation extended by Pini Zahavi and Jonathan Barnett. It was a rash and dangerous course to take."

THE AGENTS

"It is a matter of regret that two of the most involved participants are not eligible to be dealt with. We recommend the responsible bodies concerned should investigate the roles of Pini Zahavi and Jonathan Barnett."

Key figures in 'tapping-up' saga

ASHLEY COLE

The Arsenal left-back was yesterday found guilty of breaching Premier League Rule K5 that no contracted player shall approach to another club for contract talks without permission from their club. Cole met Chelsea officials.

JONATHAN BARNETT

Cole's agent, who verbally agreed a £60,000 per week contract extension for Cole at Arsenal but was later told they would not go above £55,000. Initially denied Chelsea meeting took place. Agents fall outside the Premier League's remit, but gave evidence.

DAVID DEIN Arsenal's vice-chairman triggered the inquiry via a complaint to the League on 5 February. This followed a statement in which he said there was a "huge credibility gap" between media reports about the meeting and what Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, had told him.

JOSE MOURINHO

The Chelsea manager, who was at January meeting with Cole, was found to be in breach of the Premier League's Rule Q, governing managers' conduct. He had said: "The facts are there. I know nothing about it. I'm not worried with it."

PETER KENYON

Chelsea's chief executive, present at the January meeting and ultimately responsible for the club's conduct. The Premier League yesterday found Chelsea to be in breach of Rule K3 which prohibits a club making an approach to a contracted player without prior permission.

PINI ZAHAVI

Chelsea's "super agent", also present at the infamous Lancaster Gate meeting. Like Barnett, he does not fall under the jurisdiction of the League, and could not be charged, although the League could pass its findings to the Football Association.

SIR PHILIP OTTON, QC

The former Lord Justice of Appeal chaired the disciplinary commission, alongside former Football League secretary David Dent, and Malcolm George, who was on the panel for the Liverpool-Ziege tap-up case.

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