For 20 months it had been the most embittered, vicious and divisive transfer saga in the Premiership's history; yesterday it was supposed to reach a kind of resolution. But Ashley Cole's arrival at Chelsea from Arsenal was not an ending, it was hardly an explanation and at times it would have been no less surreal had the player announced that he had decided upon a move to Barnet instead.
Straight-faced, Cole said, when confronted with the question of his departure from Arsenal, "I don't want to look back on my life." He would not discuss that infamous meeting with Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea manager and chief executive, at the Royal Park Hotel on 27 January last year. He was not for addressing the subsequent Premier League inquiry which handed out a total of £600,000 fines - reduced on appeal - to Chelsea, Mourinho and Cole for their part in the whole sorry affair.
Later he even added: "It's over now, there's no looking back." Perhaps he should have said no looking back until Monday, when the exclusive newspaper serialisation of his autobiography My Defence begins with its series of allegations - one of which, the hysterical promotion warns, is Cole will blame Arsenal for "hanging me out to dry". For a man who wishes his past to be forgotten, publishing his life story is surely the most unusual step to take.
Also listening to Cole was his agent, Jonathan Barnett, the man whom the original Premier League inquiry said had "manipulated" his client while considering it a "matter of regret" that it could not punish him too. Barnett's role yesterday was unclear but it was evident his client was not to stray into the more salacious detail that has made the serialisation rights to Cole's book so lucrative. It was a touching example of the agent-client relationship.
Cole accepted that "probably some of you think I'm a greedy pig" - he also added, "it's nothing like that." The move had, he said, "never been about money." He said he needed a "fresh challenge" and "a new lease of life. I can look at myself in the mirror and say that I'm not a bad person," he added. "I do owe Arsenal for giving me the chance to make it but I feel I repaid them a lot."
But the single most stupefying aspect of it all, and perhaps the saddest, was that Cole, at the age of 25, seemed unable to take a scintilla of responsibility for his part the whole, unpleasant saga.
It is clear that he will make allegations in his book that Arsenal reneged on an agreement with him, that he felt let down - perhaps justifiably - at a proposed pay rise which never materialised after Euro 2004. There may be more, but one thing that this complex tale tells us is that responsibility does not rest solely with one party.
There was no acceptance that his meeting with Mourinho and Kenyon might have been ill-advised, however strong his feelings about his treatment from Arsenal. "It's not down to me," he said. "I sat down and waited and was pleased to get the call from my new club." He accepted that he was "going to get stick" from supporters. "It is going to be hard for me," he said. "I've just got to deal with it now, haven't I?"
Most of all, however, regardless of the club he had left or the one he had joined, it was a pity that such a brilliant young footballer from modest beginnings would end up so embattled. Presented with two contradictory statements he made last year - one in which he said he would refuse a new contract with Arsenal even "for £200,000 a week" and another in which he subsequently signed a new deal - he admitted with exasperation that he had "said certain things in anger".
Only there did we witness Cole admitting to some culpability, although he argued, with some merit, that by extending his contract he had increased the value Arsenal could sell him for. As to the logistics of the deal, he said that when he told Arsène Wenger, in May, before the World Cup, that he wanted to leave it was the Arsenal manager who suggested he should be sold to Chelsea.
By then, however, Wenger had a player he knew he had to sell and the Arsenal manager confirmed yesterday that he would have done so regardless of whether William Gallas had come in the opposite direction.
"In everybody's life, time helps you to see who really helped you," Wenger said. "And one day, certainly not this year, or next, but in 10 years he [Cole] will see that Arsenal was not as bad as that for him."
Certainly, Cole appeared to hold no grudge against Wenger, who he said had "been great to me and supportive to the last minute". For those at Arsenal, such as the vice-chairman, David Dein, whom Cole blames above all for reporting him and Chelsea to the Premier League and thereby triggering the inquiry, there was, somewhat remarkably, the prospect of peace, although that seems unlikely given the revelations likely to emerge next week.
"I will forgive them," Cole said. "What happens with me and David Dein has happened now. I wrote about it in my book, I have said things that I meant at the time and certain things I do mean but I don't want to keep going back."
Asked for one word to summarise the whole saga, Cole's incisive reply was "boring". That said just about everything about the attention of the protagonists to the finer moral details, although it is hardly a recommendation for his autobiography.Reuse content