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Saturday, Sept. 16, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Cole's tall tale: Move to Chelsea not about money


LONDON -- I was halfway through writing this column when there was a knock at the door.

Christopher Davies

I opened it, and in walked Madonna and Cameron Diaz. We spoke about the weather, how bad the traffic was. . . and they left.

OK, You don't believe me?

Try this one then.

Ashley Cole, then of Arsenal, is in a central London hotel having a meeting with his agent Jonathan Barnett and super-agent Pini Zahavi (who works extensively on behalf of Chelsea).

Cole does not explain why such a meeting should have been conducted in a hotel rather than at his agent's office or even one of their homes but put that to one side.

"We must have been there 20 minutes when Pini suddenly flicked his wrist to look at his watch," writes Cole in his book "My Defence" of which there is, for the record M'lud, none.

"Time! Time! My next meeting," (said Zahavi) and he started to get up out of his chair.

The door opened and Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon walked in.

The Chelsea manager and chief executive!

Cole continues: "The small talk . . . lasted another 15 minutes . . . I genuinely saw no harm in being there as these two meetings overlapped."

Incredibly, a Premier League disciplinary commission did not believe this totally credible (wipes tears from eyes through laughter) coincidence and deemed Cole, Mourinho plus Chelsea to be part of an illegal approach for a player under contract to another club, punishing all three parties.

There have probably been worse excuses for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, but they do not spring to mind.

Cole's book is an exercise in attempting (and failing) to justify the unjustifiable.

The left-back, who finally got his wish and joined Chelsea (after a legal approach from the Blues) last month, has become a figure of fun as he tries to blame Arsenal for everything apart from global warming.

That will probably come in the sequel.

He feels betrayed by the club which made him a millionaire and an England international, because they reported his meeting, sorry, his accidental coincidental meeting with Chelsea to the Premier League.

If that wasn't bad enough, how about this?

Cole wanted his wages increased from £25,000 to £60,000, but was offered a paltry £55,000.

Apparently, his agent, who said he had shaken hands with Arsenal vice chairman David Dein on the 60 grand deal, had some bad news for the player.

"Ash? Are you listening?" said Barnett as he telephoned his client from his Bentley. "David Dein is saying they aren't going to give you 60K a week. They've agreed 55K.

"Are you happy with that?"

Who would be happy with an increase of just over double their current salary?

Certainly not Cole.

"When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of 55K, I nearly swerved off the road," writes Cole. "He is taking the piss, Jonathan," Cole yelled down the phone. "I was so incensed I was trembling with anger."

And so it goes on.

"Probably some of you think I'm a greedy pig?" asked Cole at a press conference last week.

The answer was "no."

He should take out "probably" and insert "all" for "some" and he would have been spot on.

"It's never been about money," said Cole, and how we stifled our laughter at such a remark deserves to be noted for the record.

"For me it's about respect, that's what it comes down to."

Cole and his new wife still accepted a reported £500,000 from OK! magazine for exclusive, and no doubt, respectful photographs of their wedding.

As part of the deal that took Cole to Chelsea, William Gallas moved to Arsenal, which also collected £5 million.

The Premiership champion subsequently put out a statement that alleged (denied by Gallas) that the France international had said he would score an own-goal or get himself sent off unless he was transferred, even refusing to play in one game.

A couple of years ago a Real Madrid midfielder refused to attend a training session unless he was paid "a decent wage."

Luckily, Chelsea came to Claude Makelele's rescue and paid him what he was after.

Last year a Lyon midfielder was reported to have told the French club he could not play for it again because he wanted to join . . . go on guess!

Correct.

Michael Essien is now a Chelsea player, but the club's view on the players' past stances is not known.

THE TOP FOUR teams in last season's Premiership (and probably this season's, too) meet Sunday with Chelsea hosting Liverpool and Arsenal traveling to Manchester United.

Expect more barbed remarks than bouquets from the managers, because the stakes are so high these days any slight psychological advantage is sought by Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Familiarity can breed contempt.

For instance, it will be the 12th time over five competitions, in just over two seasons, that Mourinho and Benitez have gone head-to-head.

Victory for Chelsea would give it a useful eight-point lead over Liverpool.

The games will make fascinating back-to-back viewing even though it is too early for any real significance to come from the results.

The referees will need to be strong and it will be no surprise if they follow UEFA guidelines released last week. European football's governing body is "determined to stop dissent and harassment of referees," and has instructed officials to take immediate action by cautioning players.

Anyone waving an imaginary card to indicate that an opponent be booked should receive a caution, as well as players who show dissent by gesturing or running toward the referee.

UEFA also asked match officials to caution at least one additional player if a team crowds around a referee to challenge a booking.

Those who love football should be all in favor of such regulations, but you can bet Ashley Cole's salary that a manager whose player is shown the yellow card for running toward the referee in an aggressive manner will say: "They should punish fouls not things like this."

Players who attempt to get an opponent cautioned by waving an imaginary yellow card will deserve the real one they will hopefully receive.

One way or the other, Chelsea vs. Liverpool and Manchester United vs. Arsenal are unlikely to pass without controversy.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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