Printer Friendly

RIO & THE CHELSEA CHIEF: THE HEAD HUNTERS; Tapping up fear No2 as United's Ferdinand is spotted in dramatic meeting at restaurant.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE By GRAHAM BROUGH and DARREN LEWIS

IT looked for all the world like a shadowy head-hunting mission to lure Britain's most expensive player to the nation's richest club.

For one hour, pounds 29million Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand sat at a table in an exclusive Italian restaurant with Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and his agent Pini Zahavi.

Yesterday Zahavi made the astonishing admission that Ferdinand, 26, KNEW before he arrived that Kenyon would be present.

But he protested that the gathering of three of the most influential men in the game was "totally, totally innocent, one million per cent".

He said: "Football wasn't even mentioned. Rio spoke the whole evening with Kenyon's girlfriend about his childhood and things like that. Of course he'll sign a new contract with United."

However news that Rio sat down with a club with the spectacular poaching power of Chelsea will stun and concern Old Trafford fans. It is certain to enrage United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. It will also fuel controversy following claims that Chelsea had an illegal meeting with Arsenal's Ashley Cole, 24, earlier this year.

Ferdinand's dramatic meeting took place at night at the exclusive Carpaccio restaurant close to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge ground.

He drove there straight after his club's 2-0 defeat at Norwich on Saturday, arriving between 10.30 and 10.45pm. Witnesses said the star left on his own shortly before midnight.

Yesterday Zahavi, one of soccer's most powerful agents, insisted Ferdinand had merely come to the restaurant to pick up some paperwork.

He said: "Yes I was in Carpaccio. I had dinner with Peter Kenyon and, after we finished dinner, Rio came to take some papers from me. He had some pasta." The agent fiercely denied that football, let alone talk of a multi-million transfer, was on the menu.

He said: "If I want to do such a meeting I take him to a full restaurant? I'm telling you with my word of honour that if it was a matter of a really professional transfer, or something like that, I'd do it in my way.

"I don't even need to arrange a meeting with them. I'm too close to both sides. I'm very close to Peter Kenyon and know Ferdinand like my son. I don't need to talk to them."

Asked if Ferdinand and Kenyon - who know each other from when Kenyon was chief executive of United - were aware they would meet each other, the agent said: "Yes.

"Rio called me when I was on my way. I said 'Peter is there'. He said 'OK so what?'." Asked if Ferdinand was concerned at being seen with the Chelsea boss in the wake of the Cole row, Zahavi said: "No, because there is nothing to worry about because it was...it was just...

"So what? It means he's not allowed to see other people? He came to see me. He sees me from time to time. It was in the very last minute he said 'I'm coming to London'. I said 'OK, please do, but I'm with Kenyon'. He said 'So what? I'll join you'.

"You may believe that I'm not stupid. This was a very nice and simple thing - it was nothing."

Ferdinand is reportedly in the final stages of negotiating a new, pounds 90,000-a-week five-year deal with Manchester United. Challenged that news of a meeting with Chelsea might aid the star's contract negotiations, Zahavi replied: "I've a meeting with Manchester at 11am tomorrow to try to complete that business.

"The name football wasn't even mentioned at this dinner. Rio is going to sign a new contract with Manchester.

"If he'd go elsewhere it won't be in England, so it's nothing to do with Chelsea anyway. It was a totally innocent meeting, one million per cent. I tell you - and remember my words - that if Rio won't sign a new contract with United, and I hope he will, he'll play in another country.

"Just remember what I'm telling you and you'll see whether I'm saying the truth or not."

The Mirror was alerted to the dramatic meeting by a shocked fan who was dining at Carpaccio, in Sydney Street. He revealed: "Rio came midway down the restaurant to speak to a man with a cigar and a moustache, then went back to a table near the window.

"He was wearing an open neck shirt with a mid-blue linen style suit.

"When he sat down one of my friends said 'That's Pini Zahavi with him at the table'. Then we looked and saw Peter Kenyon. I looked him in the eye and recognised him immediately as did others at my table. A couple of us were saying 'That's a bit risky, meeting Kenyon in public'.

"Ferdinand sat down with the two men, and two women with them, for about an hour. Then he got up and left alone around midnight.

"Half an hour later, the others left paying the bill at a till by the door."

Last night Chelsea officials insisted the meeting with Kenyon was not pre-arranged.

The club said: "We've made it absolutely clear to United that we have no interest in signing Ferdinand. There is no significance in Peter Kenyon seeing him in a busy London restaurant.

"This was a chance meeting in a public place. Both the player and United are fully aware of the circumstances of the meeting and Chelsea's position on it."

Ferdinand, who left training yesterday in his Aston Martin, is no stranger to controversy.

After a session at United's Carrington training ground last season he forgot to supply a mandatory urine sample for a drugs test.

Instead, he went shopping until he received a phone call reminding him of his mistake. He was banned from competitive football for eight months.

Britain's record pounds 29.1million signing was also hit with a pounds 50,000 fine by a three-man commission.

As a teenager, Ferdinand was England's hottest young talent.

He left West Ham for Leeds for a then British record of pounds 18million in November 2000.

Ferdinand outraged Leeds fans when he quit for United in July 2002.

After making his England debut in November 1997 as a substitute against Cameroon, he has been capped 38 times for his country.

CAPTION(S):

THE ROAD TO RIO; Ferdinand,top, leaves training yesterday. Kenyon, left, and Zahavi; THE SUPER SWEEPER; Smart Italian restaurant where Rio and his agent Zahavi sat down with Chelsea chief executive Kenyon. They say it was all "totally innocent"; England ace Rio left match to meet his agent; THE RENDEZVOUS
COPYRIGHT 2005 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 13, 2005
Words:1095
Previous Article:India calls for Nectar.
Next Article:RIO & THE CHELSEA CHIEF: COLE LOT MORE BOTHER FOR TAP KINGS.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters