Why Dein still has the fire to help Wenger bring the glory days back to Arsenal

The former director’s love of football, and the Gunners, is undimmed as initial foundations are laid for a possible return to the club that teeters on the Champions League brink

By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent

During the recently completed Africa Cup of Nations, Arsene Wenger had a hotline to the action on and off the field, but not through Arsenal’s traditional scouting network.

It came in the familiar form of the man who had been half of one of the most successful off-field partnerships in modern British football.

Wenger’s close friend, neighbour and long-standing former colleague David Dein attended the tournament in his unofficial role as a football globetrotter.

After taking in the early rounds, he returned to England for the Arsenal-Liverpool thriller at the Emirates Stadium before flying back out to South Africa for the semi-finals and final.

Wenger was unable to attend the tournament personally due to his team’s cycle of matches and training but, in Dein, he had the ideal proxy to get the inside track.

It is nearly six years since the man who convinced the Arsenal board to hire a little-known Frenchman back in 1996 was brutally dismissed for acting unilaterally in trying to attract investment to the club.

As revealed by Goal.com on Monday, Wenger wants his long-time associate to return to Arsenal this summer and work with him on signing new players.

As Arsenal reflect on almost certain elimination from the Champions League in the wake of Tuesday’s 3-1 home-leg defeat to Bayern Munich, the need for boardroom ambition and know-how is greater than ever.

Can the obstacles and political machinations that have hitherto prevented a reunion be overcome? Is Dein a big enough asset for him to be a factor in the manager’s forthcoming contract talks?

Friends of Dein say that his passion for football remains undimmed, his love of Arsenal is unconditional and his bond with Wenger is stronger than ever.

In golfing parlance, their houses are only a few well-struck drives apart from one another in the exclusive north London suburb of Totteridge. During Wenger’s infrequent down time, the pair socialise together and their families have shared holidays.

Conversations between the two sexagenarians are said to focus on their passion for football and the object of love they both share – Arsenal.

Indeed, Wenger and Dein are believed to be even closer now than during their 11-year association at Highbury and then, briefly, the Emirates, when they were the two principal guiding forces in the club establishing a dominant position in English football.

Crucially, as Arsenal prepare to announce a half-yearly set of accounts that will demonstrate once again the club is in the rudest financial health, Dein has more to offer Wenger than merely his support and knowledge.

Since Dein was ousted by the Old Etonian-dominated board in April 2007 by chairman Peter Hill-Wood and the all-powerful late director Danny Fiszman, he has continued to travel the world attending Fifa and Uefa congresses and tournaments.

No other English administrator is held in such high esteem by the world and European football governing bodies. Moreover, none can match his networking skills or contacts at the highest level of the game.

Arsenal have suffered without Dein’s wise counsel, even if there were solid reasons for his dismissal.

He understands the culture of English football better than anyone working at the club. Arguably, his love of Arsenal exceeds that of anybody on the club’s payroll.

His principal role of transfer and contract negotiator has been taken on in recent years by Dicky Law, a former lawyer with a low profile who does not work as closely with Wenger as Dein did. The same applies to chief executive Ivan Gazidis, whose appointment in 2009 was rubber-stamped by the manager, which had the simultaneous knock-on effect of diluting the former MLS deputy commissioner’s powerbase.

Neither Law or Gazidis can sit down on equal terms with super-agents like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola.

This was one of the strengths of Dein, who Wenger once explained in an interview “did the dirty work for me”.

The Frenchman, who controls Arsenal’s money as if it was his own and ensures the club will not pay a penny more for a player than his own valuation, does not like the cat-and-mouse game of negotiating with agents. This was something Dein always revelled in and was particularly successful at.

Friends say Dein’s age – he is 69 – is not an issue. He has the energy of a far younger man and the drive to work at the sharp end of football once again.

Yet significant obstacles remain to a romantic reunion of the manager and the former director who cashed in his Arsenal shares for £75 million when he sold to Uzbekistan billionaire Alisher Usmanov in October 2007.

Usmanov has swept up nearly 30 per cent of the club’s stock-holding in the intervening period but remains frozen out, with his nose pressed up against the window of the oak-panelled boardroom. The tycoon has not been granted a seat on the board and has no real power to effect change at the club.

The possibility of a return for Dein, who is no longer head of Usmanov’s Red and White holdings investment vehicle, might be regarded as unpalatable by some of the Arsenal establishment.

Gazidis would not want to appear weakened in the eyes of some observers, even though his remit is far broader than simply signing players. The same goes for Law, although there is no reason why an alliance of a well-connected negotiator and a legal expert in the minefield of player acquisition could not be a smooth one.

The fact that so many major targets have slipped through the net for Arsenal in recent years cannot just be attributed to the caution of Wenger or the club’s strict pay structure.

It will never be known if the presence of Dein alongside the manager could have pushed through the signings of Mark Schwarzer in 2010, Juan Mata in 2011, David Villa in January of this year or brought Santi Cazorla to the Emirates 12 months earlier.

But it can only have helped. Moreover, there is a strong argument for saying that Dein is more needed now than in the past.

It was Dein who famously said that Roman Abramovich had “parked his Russian tanks on our lawn and is firing £50 notes at us”, but the new financial fair play rules mean Chelsea and Manchester City cannot spend as big and as often as they have in the past.

There will be more of a premium on finding players and negotiating deals rather than simply a flexing of financial muscles.

Dein’s return would not require a public climb-down from Arsenal. The sticking plasters need only be used for wounds that have always been kept private. Time is also a healer.

Since he was ousted, Dein has kept his own counsel and declined countless opportunities to publicly discuss his departure from the club or seek approval for his cause.

On the rare occasions he has granted an interview to discuss Arsenal, his motivation has simply been to come to the aid of Wenger when he felt his friend was under pressure and required his support.

When the directors consider Wenger’s wish for Dein to help him in the transfer market, the former vice-chairman has at least made it easy for them because he has never criticised the club.

There is also likely to be some upheaval in the staid Arsenal boardroom this summer. Dein’s nemesis Hill-Wood turns 77 next week and his health is understood to be deteriorating to the point where he could step down as chairman at the end of the season.

Not that Dein and Hill-Wood never cross paths. The younger man was seen going out of his way to greet the chairman outside the director’s box at a recent Arsenal match. “I must say hello to Peter”, he told an aide.

The reason? Hill-Wood is chairman of a club to which Dein is so attached that he has rejected directorial roles at other clubs, most notably Barcelona, Everton and Newcastle United.

Dein would willingly go back to Arsenal. Wenger wants him to return. The board have the power to make it happen.

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