David Dein admitted that his hurtful departure from Arsenal over 15 years ago still haunts him
He said “When Arsenal sacked me it was brutal. I left with tears in my eyes.” David Dein was key to Gunners’ trophy-laden years but the board did not share his vision and he has ousted saying “the pain following his sack has not yet receded.”
- David Dein has revealed that his exit from Arsenal about 15 years ago still haunts him
- His employment as the vice-chairman was terminated in April 2007
- Despite trying to maintain a positive mindset, he admitted the exit still feels fresh
Even now, all these years later, David Dein still has that unpleasant Dream. It is 5 pm and he is sitting in his office. A man comes in and presents him with a sheet of paper. Often times it is a death warrant and sometimes a death certificate. Either way, it signals the end.
The man is Peter Hill-Wood, the late Arsenal chairman. And the dream isn’t really much of a fantasy. It’s a sub-conscious recreation of a true event, from April 18, 2007, when Hill-Wood, Arsenal director Chips Keswick and an employment lawyer from Slaughter and May terminated Dein’s employment at his beloved club.
David Dein is now sitting in his Mayfair home. He then revisited that day for his fascinating auto- biography Calling The Shots – extracts of which will be in the Mail on Sunday – but it’s plain that he’s not comfortable.
“I’m a glass-half-full person,” he murmurs. “I want to be positive; I want to be the guy who puts a brick in the wall, who builds something. That was the worst I felt apart from when my mother, and my brother Arnold, died. I left with tears in my eyes.’
This isn’t the only time Dein equates leaving Arsenal to personal bereavement. A chapter in the book, detailing post-Arsenal life is called Life After Death. He goes back to the Emirates Stadium now, uses his four club seats, and gives away his 10 season tickets, but he’s still not over it.
He never received a satisfactory explanation for why 24 years ended so brutally, and when his best friend Arsene Wenger was later removed with similar coldness, it stirred the emotions up again. Dein has never talked about his own experience before, though. It still isn’t easy. It still feels raw, more than 15 years later.
‘Brutal, yes, that’s how I’d describe it,’ he says. ‘It was a combination of fear and jealousy. I was fairly high-profile and I think the rest of the board was upset that I was trying to source outside investment, talking to Stan Kroenke about my shares. They wanted to keep it a closed shop. But I could see where the game was going.
‘You look at football now – Chelsea, Manchester City, even Newcastle. We didn’t have the same muscle. We had wealthy people, but not billionaires. We didn’t have enough money to finance the new stadium and finance the team. We were trying to dance at two weddings.”
‘Arsene and I would come out of board meetings feeling we’d been knocking our heads against a brick wall. We lost Ashley Cole over five grand a week. It was a very difficult time. There was a lot of friction because of the cost of the stadium and we had to ration the salaries. Arsene used every bit of skill in his body to find cheap players. A lot of managers wouldn’t have taken that.
‘He did it without qualms, he just got on with it, but the last year or so was uncomfortable for me. We had been a harmonious group and now there were factions. So yes, I stuck my neck out. You don’t get anything unless you stick your neck out. I was in commodities. You go long or you go short. You have to take a position.’
Dein’s position as the vice-chairman of Arsenal FC cost him dearly. He was the first at the club to entertain Kroenke, his fellow directors thought he was blazing his own path. It is the small details that shock. After the meeting, he tried to call his wife Barbara only to discover his mobile phone had been cut off.
‘And it was my number,’ Dein explains. ‘The number I’d had since I was in business. It was petty, it was spiteful. To this day nobody has ever properly explained why it had to end this way. It took some doing for me to retell it really, because it was so painful. It was such a traumatic moment. I was in shock. It wasn’t so long before that we’d been Invincible. We’d just moved into our new stadium. We had so much going for us.
‘It took a lot to get over it. It did feel like a death in the family. Arsenal was part of my life since the age of 10; I’d helped deliver 18 trophies for them.
‘Arsene and I had such a wonderful working relationship. It was Lennon and McCartney, according to some. He bled for me, I bled for him. He is still my closest friend. Seeing that taken away was such a shame. It wasn’t in the best interests of the club. We spoke that night. He didn’t think he could stay. I persuaded him to stay.’
Arsene Wenger and David Dein were like a pillar in previous years, they were the axis of Arsenal’s most successful Premier League years. Wenger would identify a player and the pair would discuss the price. They would write the top line down on a piece of paper, then reveal it. Dein claims they were never more than five percent apart.
‘He was a miracle worker, and they just let him go,’ Dein insists. ‘He left in a similar way to me. I thought the club owed Arsene a duty of care, at least a discussion. We need a change but how do you want this to be done? Do you want to be involved? What can we do? Would you like a different role, or would you prefer to exit elegantly? You must have dialogue. It didn’t happen in my case, didn’t happen in his. And that really hurt him. I would have done it differently.
‘Look, you don’t find a brain like his every day of the week. He’s an Arsenal man, 22 years at the club. Wasn’t his knowledge worth cultivating? Look at where he is now. So he’s not good enough for Arsenal, but he is good enough to be head of global development for FIFA, in charge of 211 countries.
‘He should have been used by us surely, his knowledge, his skill, his encyclopedic awareness of players. He’s got to be used.’
Wenger has never been back to the Emirates Stadium, and with every passing year, that visit seems less likely. Dein returned after a few months the following season, as a guest of Terry Brady, Karren’s father, who has a box there. Looking back, he thinks that invitation is fortuitous.
‘Distance begets distance,’ he says. ‘The longer I’d stayed away, the harder it would have been to come back. So sooner rather than later was better. Maybe if I hadn’t gone then I wouldn’t have gone, like Arsene. He’s hurt, he’s still bruised. The day I returned, I saw Robin van Persie. “Mr. Dein — what happened to you?” I’d signed him. He was one of my sons. But then, I’d just vanished. I told him it was a long story.’
David Dein lost much more than Arsenal on that fateful day. He was a significant figure in the game, vice-chairman of the Football Association, president of the G14 group of elite clubs, a committee member for UEFA and FIFA. All of it, though, was dependent on his status at a football club.
‘I lost a lot outside Arsenal,’ he recalls. ‘Prestigious roles that I enjoyed. Seeing where the game was going, having a seat at the top table. It all went away at the same time. I got punished more than once, and for what? Trying to drive the club forward. I was a major shareholder at this time, so what is my interest? Making Arsenal successful. We came out in the black on transfers, plus 18 trophies. Where is the logic?’
Then there were the offers, prime among them, chief executive at Liverpool when the Fenway Sports Group took charge. Couldn’t he have worked with Jurgen Klopp, the way he once did with Wenger?
Dein had a lot to offer Arsenal FC as his love and passion were so high that they could not be shared or transferred to other clubs.
‘Tom Werner offered me that role,’ Dein says. ‘They had just taken over and were looking for stability, someone who knew English football. It didn’t go far. I was very flattered, but I couldn’t work in opposition to Arsenal. I wouldn’t have been happy. I couldn’t give Liverpool my love, care, and attention all the while thinking I was being disloyal, and unfaithful to Arsenal. It’s the club I really love, whatever happened to me. Arsenal didn’t push me out. The people there did. Mike Ashley was my neighbor in Totteridge and he wanted me to work at Newcastle. But again, I couldn’t do it. It was all tempting, but no. AC Milan and Barcelona called, but I couldn’t leave London. I love the theatre, this is my home. And I’m an Arsenal man. When I left they offered me £250,000 to keep my counsel. I told them I didn’t want it because the club needed it.’
Arsenal has recently enjoyed a better start to the season than at any time since Wenger left. Dein seems genuinely happy. But any chance of a return under the Kroenke regime – the board members who sacked Dein for talking to the American later sold him their shares – was ended in a curt telephone conversation. The landscape has changed, Dein was told. ‘I was disappointed with Stan, but we’re all over 18,’ Dein says. ‘We move on. I offered him my shares first, but I don’t bear grudges. The club is doing well now. It’s taken the time and they’ve made mistakes but the ship is now pointing in the right direction.
Dein passion for the club can not be traded as he was willing to give his all at whatever cost just to drive the club to a great place using his strategies.
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