Wenger fearful Cole’s agent will lure him away

ARSENE WENGER has revealed his fear that Ashley Cole’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, is trying to lure the England full-back away from Arsenal.

The two-day hearing into Cole’s alleged tapping-up by Chelsea concluded yesterday, with the three-man panel expected to give their decision on June 1.

Gunners boss Wenger admitted his wish to appear at the hearing was foiled, although his defender appeared yesterday and Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein gave evidence on Tuesday.

Dein’s appearance was said to have further damaged relations with Cole, who was himself charged by the Premier League after Arsenal’s official complaint.

While Wenger still believes Cole will stay at Highbury, he revealed his suspicions that Barnett will try to secure a deal at another club for his client this summer.

“We have no rift at all with Ashley Cole because we want to keep him. As for his agent, let’s have this matter completed and then see what happens,” he said. “I’m more concerned that the agent will try to move Ashley Cole than us not wanting to talk to his agent. On our side, we have no problem with speaking to him and signing a contract, but what the agent will want to do, I don’t know.”

It seems likely Chelsea will not sign Cole, with the Blues said to be in talks with Athletic Bilbao over a deal for Spanish left-back Asier del Horno. The problem for Wenger is that relations between Arsenal and Barnett have broken down to the extent that they have not spoken about Cole’s proposed new contract for several weeks.

Indeed, reports recently emerged, claiming Barnett was asking for up to £750,000 from the club for negotiating a new deal, which further damaged their relationship.

Amid all of this furore, Wenger insists Cole - who was back for training with Arsenal yesterday - has not been distracted ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final.

“Ashley Cole is a strong boy, he’s been playing with that story on his shoulders for three months and he can deal with it. He was training here today,” he said.

Wenger was almost absent himself but, when asked if he had attended the hearing, he admitted: “Unfortunately not.

“At first the Chelsea lawyers asked me to attend and, finally, I was not needed. I’m a substitute. They told me to stay at home, that I was not playing the game. I’d have liked to say how I feel about the situation but I cannot give any evidence because I was not in the meeting.”

With heavy irony, he added: “I’d have said that we are very happy that they tap up our players just before we play Manchester United and they can go on and do it again. What can you tell them? You have the rules but you also have their behaviour.

“You live in the same city, you do not say ‘come on, let’s take a player from behind the back of a club living just next door’. That is common sense. It’s part of living together intelligently.”

Wenger has steadfastly attempted to play down Cole’s role in the saga, claiming that he was either lured to the meeting under false pretences or went there unwittingly.

“You can get every player where you want when he is negotiating his contract. I’m convinced that the initiative has not been instigated by Ashley Cole,” he said.

“Do you really think that he picks up the phone and says ‘hey, Peter Kenyon, come on I’m organising a meeting at the hotel and bring Jose Mourinho with you and I’ll bring my agent’.”

Chelsea have nevertheless also claimed they did not instigate the meeting, with Kenyon and Mourinho having given evidence yesterday before flying to South Korea for a friendly.

Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, who described Mourinho and Kenyon’s evidence as “forthright, honest and very credible”, last night added: “We have been told that judgment will be rendered on June 1.

“We thought the members of the panel were attentive, very knowledgeable about the evidence, familiar with the workings of football and asked some good questions.”

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