French 'clique' runs Arsenal: Cole's revelation to Chelsea

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The Independent Online
Ashley Cole's future at Arsenal was made untenable last night when it was revealed that he told the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon that his club were run by a French clique and lacked leadership from Arsÿne Wenger, during their infamous meeting in January.

Ashley Cole's future at Arsenal was made untenable last night when it was revealed that he told the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon that his club were run by a French clique and lacked leadership from Arsène Wenger, during their infamous meeting in January.

According to the Premier League commission which ruled on the tapping-up scandal on Wednesday, Cole pulled no punches in his conversation with the Chelsea hierarchy when he said that Arsenal had no team spirit, was run by the French players and he would rather be at Stamford Bridge.

It would be almost impossible now for Cole to face his Highbury team-mates next season, but all evidence would suggest, in any event, he has no desire to return.

The evidence gathered by Sir Philip Otton, chairman of the three-man commission that delivered its ruling on Wednesday, said that Cole had not only expressed his dissatisfaction with Arsenal but his desire to join the new Premiership champions.

The full sorry story of the breakdown in talks between the Arsenal board and Cole over a new £60,000-a-week contract was laid out in devastating detail in a 24-page verdict released last night.

Sir Philip, who handed out fines of £600,000 to Chelsea, Mourinho and Cole, also comprehensively dismissed Cole's defence that the rules banning players talking to prospective new clubs without permission of their employers were unlawful. However it is Kenyon's evidence, which verdict quotes from at length, that has been at the root of Arsenal's anger over the episode.

Of the meeting at the Royal Park Hotel on 27 January, Kenyon told the commission: "He [Cole] was concerned that the relationship with the manager [Wenger] was not good, that there was definitely a series of cliques and the team was primarily run by the French boys. So the relationship, to our surprise, he articulated very strongly that he was not happy with it.

"He then seemed very unhappy about the way that the contract negotiations had taken place, with the distinct impression that the manager did not support it and that there had been some sort of backtracking, that he thought they were getting somewhere and for some reason, which he did not go into, there had then been a fairly major turnaround in the negotiations themselves.

"That is what led to him and Jonathan Barnett [Cole's agent] reiterating on numerous occasions during the meeting that he would not be staying at Arsenal after the end of his contract.

"He was also concerned that he did not feel that there was a team spirit and it was clear from the outset, obviously from being on England duty with some of our [Chelsea] boys, that he felt that there appeared to be a very good team spirit at Chelsea. And that was why we [Chelsea] were doing so well.

"He also showed some concern about the lack of investment in the [Arsenal] team going forward. Clearly, he was a player who was still young, ambitious and wanted to win things. Those were his primary reasons for being there."

The verdict tracks the talks over Cole's new contract which began in May last year and hit problems in December when there was a misunderstanding over whether agreement had been reached between Barnett and Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein over a new £60,000-a-week deal. The commission's verdict then describes an extraordinary exchange between Dein and Barnett on 19 January as relations between the two sides deteriorated.

When they met at Barnett's offices that day, the agent showed Dein a text message from Patrick Vieira to Cole in which the Arsenal captain had told his team-mate "not to accept less than £80,000 [a-week]". Vieira last night categorically denied, in statement issued by Arsenal, sending a text.

But Barnett threatened Dein that he had reached what the report describes as "take it or leave it time" with the inference he already knew Chelsea would pay £20m for Cole and provide the wages he wanted.

The meeting that precipitated the inquiry, between Cole, Barnett, Mourinho, Kenyon and the agent Pini Zahavi, took place eight days later. Mourinho told the commission that he did not intend to sign Cole because he was below his height requirement (1m 80cm) for a full-back and only went to the meeting in order to "gain intelligence" on Arsenal. The commission threw out this claim.

The commission rejected Cole's lawyers' claims that the rules forbidding players talking to prospective new clubs without the permission of their employers were a restraint of trade and said instead that football required "rigorous and sophisticated control". The rules contributed to "contract stability" and the relationship between "players, supporters and the club".

The commission is scathing in its assessment of the agents' behaviour and the report says that without the Premier League rules on approaches to players, the balance of power would "tilt significantly in favour of the agents (and their incomes)".

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