Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein has issued a heartfelt apology to Ashley Cole and conceded his failure to prevent him from joining was one of the biggest regrets of his career.
Cole’s defection to the Gunners’ local rivals represented a changing of the Premier League guard as the balance of power shifted from north to west where the Roman Abramovich era was in full swing.
Arsenal’s refusal to meet Cole’s salary expectations allowed Chelsea the opportunity to sign a player who was already considered the best player in the world in his position.
After an infamous clandestine meeting with and Chelsea’s then chief executive, Peter Kenyon, Cole secured his move to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2006 and went on to become one of the most decorated players in the history of English football.
The left-back’s departure, meanwhile, prompted the break-up of Arsenal’s Invincible team as Arsene Wenger attempted to keep his club competitive, while also dealing with the financial ramifications of the move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium.
Dein, whose own acrimonious departure from Arsenal soon followed, admitted the failure to retain the services of an academy graduate still rankles with him and could easily have been avoided.
He told : ‘We should never have lost him in my opinion, his contract came up for renegotiation and we didn’t offer him the right money.
‘Meanwhile, Chelsea did and then there was this thing with the clandestine meeting which is a funny story because I got a call one day from a journalist and he said we’ve got a hot story that your player Ashley Cole is being tapped up by Chelsea.
‘I went down to the offices and they said here’s a signed statement from a waiter in a restaurant in the hotel where Ashley Cole was meeting Chelsea.
‘He was an Arsenal fan clearly and he gave the story to the News of the World. That was the end really and it was a great shame because Ashley was homegrown and was an Arsenal boy.
‘I regret we didn’t do enough at the time to keep him at the club. It was also at at a time when we were talking about building the stadium.
‘The finances, the tensions were raging about how we were going to finance it we were watching every penny and consequently we didn’t do enough to keep him and I regret that with hindsight.
‘Ashley, if you’re listening I’m sorry.’
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