Why Turn Off The Cole Tap?

Tony Cascarino: the tapping up of players is widespread in the English game and isn’t a reason for docking Chelsea points.

As much as Arsenal and Man U fans would love it to happen, there’s no way that the FA are going to dock Chelsea points for their alleged tapping up of Ashley Cole. Firstly because David O’Leary and Aston Villa were found guilty of the same thing in relation to James Beatie and got off with a £10,000 fine, and secondly because virtually every club in the league does it.

The first problem the FA are going to have is proving that it actually happened. A Chelsea representative and Ashley Cole being in the same London hotel together doesn’t automatically make them guilty of an illegal approach. To pin that on them, the player himself has to say, “We met and they asked me to join their club”, which I don’t think he’s going to do. What I reckon will happen is that after much huffing and puffing – most of it from Mr. Wenger! – Ashley Cole will sign a new Arsenal contract that will be worth substantially more than his present deal.

Is asking a player if he wants to join your club that sinister? If he says “no”, that it’s, end of story. If he says “yes”, the would-be buyer still has to contact the would-be seller who can tell them what to do with their transfer offer. Arsene Wenger isn’t going to turn up at Highbury one morning and find a note from Ashley Cole saying, “Forgot to mention it yesterday, but I’ve gone to Chelsea.”

The reality of the situation is that if Ashley Cole wants to move to Chelsea, he’ll move to Chelsea. Birmingham City tried the “He’s not going anywhere” approach with Robbie Savage and look where that got them? The only thing you can do with a player who doesn’t want to be at your club anymore is give them their transfer. Otherwise you have somebody sulking and souring the atmosphere for everybody else.

Knowing what I do about how things operate, I’d say there’s some degree of tapping up in 90% of transfers. I was “approached illegally” a couple of times, most notably at Millwall when I got a phone call at Easter from the Chief Executive of a certain club asking would I join them. I said “no” because we were pushing for promotion. They got their answer straight from the horse’s mouth, which didn’t do anybody any harm.

The row’s actually been quite useful for Wenger because it’s drawn attention away from the United defeat. Alex Ferguson saying afterwards that there weren’t any wimps in his side, was a dig at the likes of Pirez, Ljungberg, Reyes and Henry who have a tendency to go missing in big games.

Whereas bringing in Rooney, Smith and Heinze has added grit and aggression to Man U, none of Arsenal’s recent acquisitions have given them what they used to get from Tony Adams and Martin Keown. There’s no John Terry/Frank Lampard-style spine to the team, which the foreign lads arriving at Highbury can look at and go, “Ah, that’s the Arsenal way.”

Even if they could afford Steven Gerrard, which I don’t think they can, Arsenal would be better off bringing in a centre-half like Ledley King who, as good as he is now, has the potential to become even better.

It’s never going to happen of course, but what they could really do with at the moment is Roy Keane. His performance on Saturday against Birmingham City was vintage Keano and bodes well for Ireland’s upcoming qualifiers. It doesn’t bother me one iota that he subsequently pulled out of the Portugal friendly. There’s nothing Brian Kerr could’ve learned at Lansdowne Road, which he didn’t see at Old Trafford. If Roy’s form had been patchy, he may have gone for that “season in the sun” at Celtic, but playing the way he is now he’ll almost certainly see his career out at Old Trafford.

It’ll be interesting to see how Martin O’Neill handles Craig Bellamy who my spies tell me was in the same clique as Bernard, Kluivert and Robert at St. James’ Park, and every bit as difficult as Graeme Souness makes out. Martin hasn’t got anything to lose – if Bellamy performs he’s landed himself a top quality player, if he doesn’t he can say “thanks but no thanks” and send him back to Newcastle where Terry McDermott awaits!b

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