Ashley Cole spares neither his old club Arsenal nor his new one Chelsea today as he describes accounts given to the Premier League’s ‘tapping-up’ inquiry as “rubbish” and suggests the Gunners were “hell-bent on revenge” on their London rivals.
The England defender questions Arsenal’s motivation once Chelsea came under investigation last year – over a murky area of football transactions in which he believes “every club” is habitually involved.
Cole, making his remarks in the Times’ second extract of his autobiography, reveals his recollections of both his notorious meeting with agents Jonathan Barnett and Pini Zahavi at a London hotel last January – as well as the evidence given to the subsequent hearing by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon.
“I told the inquiry that everything that had been said about the hotel meeting was rubbish,” he remembers.
Cole was far from happy with some of Mourinho’s evidence.
“Jose Mourinho talked about me and Jonathan both being unhappy,” he added of his new manager's remarks to the inquiry 16 months ago.
“I grew more and more agitated as he continued by saying that I also was not happy with the relationship (Arsenal manager) Arsene Wenger had with some of the French players and that they were in control of the dressing-room.
“The rest of his evidence weren’t good for me. Nor was the evidence of Peter Kenyon, who was next up. He said Pini Zahavi made the approach on our behalf.”
Both the player and Chelsea were found guilty of contacting one another illegally.
Cole remains most suspicious of Arsenal.
“All I could think was that Arsenal had been hell-bent on revenge against Chelsea and hadn’t given a toss about my welfare,” he said, adding the available sanction of docking points from the Blues might have been behind his old club’s actions.
“Perhaps they thought here was a way of possibly reining back the runaway leaders,” he guesses.
“This was all because of the Chelsea factor. Was I deemed expendable if it meant getting back at the club whose supremacy was bringing Arsenal and Manchester United to heel in the 2004/05 season? I know what I think – that I was naïve to believe my years of loyalty counted for anything.”
Cole cites details of Arsenal’s previous transfer dealings – documented in a civil action – before telling his readers: “I’ll let you decide whether this smells of hypocrisy or double standards.”
He is confident many other players are treated as little more than pawns by all clubs – reasoning that must mean the Gunners are involved too.
“Look, tapping-up takes place in football,” he contends. “If it’s not blatant tapping-up it’s a diluted, more subtle form of the same thing. I’d be amazed if every club doesn’t do it. By definition, that means Arsenal must be up to the same tricks as everyone else.”