Ashley Cole told the Premier League's lawyers yesterday that his infamous meeting with Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon at a London hotel on 27 February took place by accident when the two Chelsea men walked in on a discussion the player was having with another football agent.
Cole, 25, is understood to have said that he was in a meeting with his representative Jonathan Barnett and Pini Zahavi, the Israeli agent who has been at the centre of many of the biggest English football transfers in recent years. Barnett had arranged to meet Zahavi to discuss Cole's options for a move after talks with Arsenal had failed to yield a pay rise commensurate with the player's new status after Euro 2004.
The meeting was arranged in order to talk over the possibilities for Cole. Zahavi, who has a reputation for being the best-connected agent in world football, was the natural choice to consult. He helped assemble the first group of players that Roman Abramovich brought to Stamford Bridge and worked closely with Kenyon when Chelsea's chief executive was at Manchester United.
However, Cole claimed yesterday that he did not expect Mourinho to be at the meeting but the Chelsea manager, who was also due to meet Zahavi, came into the room at the Royal Park Hotel before the Arsenal player had left.
Mourinho also faced the Premier League's lawyers yesterday and told them that the meeting with Cole was initiated by the player's agent Barnett. The lawyer Nick Fitzpatrick of City firm Denton Wilde Sapte is collecting statements on the alleged illegal approach from individuals at Chelsea, Arsenal and national newspapers to put before the Premier League board later this week.
It will be the board who decide whether the case then has to be heard by a three-man commission appointed by the Premier League to decide the punishment. The player's agent could lose his Fifa license if he is judged to have broken rule K5 contacting another club while under contract.
While a move to Chelsea now seems improbable for Cole, the player is still understood to be unhappy at Arsenal where he believes that his wages of about £30,000 a week are far below what he is worth. The most serious interest has come recently from Real Madrid who will have to replace their veteran left-back Roberto Carlos.
Cole, who did not play for Arsenal against Bolton at the weekend, will have two years left on his contract in June and has reached the stage at which his club will want to begin negotiations over a new deal. There has been some discontent among Arsenal players at the packages their club have been offering, and Arsenal risk losing key players for free, as they will with Edu this summer.
Zahavi will not give evidence to the lawyers because he is not registered in England. The Israeli has been at the centre of some of the most embarrassing Chelsea episodes, including the occasion in which Sven-Goran Eriksson was invited to the home of Abramovich.