Daily Telegraph

THE Premier League’s independent commission called into question the honesty of witnesses at the Ashley Cole ‘tapping-up’ inquiry because of astonishing contradictions in the evidence, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

Last night the commission said in their judgment that they had “grave difficulties” in giving any credence to evidence submitted by Cole, his agent Jonathan Barnett, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho and the club’s chief executive, Peter Kenyon.

I can also reveal that Arsenal made a claim for £7 million compensation on Chelsea at the hearing, and claimed it would cost them £37 million to replace Cole should he now leave.

The Daily Telegraph has exclusive details of what happened behind the closed doors of the hearing, which took place over two days in FA Cup final week. The real battleground was the contradictory evidence given by Cole and Barnett, on one side, and Kenyon, on the other, when they were questioned by the commission about their meeting at a London hotel in January. Even when cross-examined, each side stuck to their story about whether the meeting was planned and how long it lasted.

In statements submitted to the inquiry, Cole and Barnett claimed the meeting with Chelsea was quite by chance. They said that, following the breakdown of wage negotiations with Arsenal, Barnett wanted to explore possibilities of Cole going abroad and rang Pini Zahavi, the ‘super agent’ who is a close friend of his.

Zahavi asked Barnett and Cole to come over and, while they were talking to him, Kenyon and Mourinho walked in. According to Cole and Barnett their presence was a total surprise and the meeting lasted a mere 10 minutes.

Kenyon, however, said Zahavi had arranged the meeting some days earlier, then confirmed it on the day – and that the meeting lasted 50 not 10 minutes.

Cole and Kenyon were questioned at the hearing on their recollections but both stuck to their version of events.

The commission clearly believed the meeting was planned. They have dismissed Chelsea’s claims that they had no intention of signing the player and, more importantly, they found Cole and his agent had breached the rules having approached Chelsea – which they denied – for which the player was fined £100,000 last week. Add to that the £200,000 legal costs he has incurred so far over the case, and it is clear the whole affair has soured relations between the defender and the club he has been at since a boy.

During the hearing, Arsenal claimed that they expected to get a massive £30 million if they sold Cole. They said an adequate replacement left-back would cost the same amount but estimated that it would cost a further £7 million in additional costs to secure their new player. This would include higher wages – a new defender would have to be paid much more than the £28,000 a week that Cole is presently on – agents’ fees estimated at around £1.5 million and other levies payable on the transfer.

This £7 million was the sum they claimed as compensation from Chelsea during the hearing – a claim rejected by the three-man Premier League inquiry headed by judge Sir Phillip Otton.

Arsenal were not actually party to the hearing – they observed proceedings from the periphery of a room laid out like a courtroom. On the second day Arsenal’s lawyer, Nigel Boardman, a partner in the City legal firm Slaughter and May, came forward to make his case to Otton and his fellow commissioners who were sitting in the centre of the room.

Boardman outlined four possibilities as to what might happen to Cole and Arsenal. He said the first possibility was Cole could sign a contract for £55,000 a week, which the Arsenal board had offered before his fateful meeting with Chelsea. But, even if Cole accepted that offer, the meeting between the player and Chelsea had led to legal costs and management time on the part of Arsenal and they should be due some compensation from Chelsea for this, though he did not put a value on it.

The second option was Cole refusing to sign a new contract unless he was paid much more than £55,000 a week, and if this was a new five-year contract this would mean additional wages for which Chelsea should compensate Arsenal.

The third option was Cole seeing out his existing contract and leaving on a free transfer in two years’ time.

The fourth option, said Boardman, was Arsenal selling Cole and finding a replacement, which was when the possible £30 million price tag and the claim for £7 million compensation was mentioned.

It was after Boardman’s plea that Otton and his fellow commissioners retired to consider what penalties they should impose. It took them an hour and half to decide on the penalties for Cole and Chelsea, though I understand they quickly dismissed Arsenal’s case for compensation.

In deciding the penalties for Chelsea, Otton’s commission had various options. They could have stopped Chelsea dealing in the transfer window which has just opened but felt this would have been subject to a legal challenge which Chelsea could have easily won. Had the hearing taken place during the season, soon after the January meeting between Cole and Chelsea, then the commission might have deducted points. But a points deduction for a new season was not felt to be appropriate and a suspended sentence of three points was passed.

As for Mourinho, the hearing found him going back on his public claim that he could not have met Cole as he was in Milan on that day. When asked about it, he said that was in answer to another question and he admitted he had met Cole.

David Dein, the vice-chairman of Arsenal, gave evidence as he was in charge of the wage negotiations with Cole. He spoke of feeling like he was a father-figure to Cole, expressing sympathy for the player while criticising Barnett, who he felt had led him astray.

As Cole ponders his next move what is clear is that he does not hold Dein in the same affection. Whether he still holds Arsenal Football Club in the same affection as he once did could decide his future.
© Mihir Bose


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