David Dein is either the hero or villain for Arsenal supporters in the history books. Yet, it very much depends on how you look at the situation to agree which page you’re on and that isn’t exactly easy. The whole Dein story generates either affection, anger or a degree of both but more on that later.
David Dein had a magnificent understanding and partnership with Arsene Wenger and they built a success that may never be replicated. Not just in terms of silverware, but in a brand of football during the mid 90’s that was the stuff of fantasy.
Arsenal were the equivalent of Real Madrid or Barcelona for the sort of fast, dynamic, stylish and attractive football they played with Wenger and Dein as the driving force. Wenger identified the talent, Dein secured the signatures and Arsenal paid the money. It was simple, it was logical and it was a superbly successful formula.
David Dein was the acceptable face of Arsenal, loved by the fans for his commitment and passion and he was equally loved by the players whom he fashioned a lasting connection with during their time together.
Rarely is there a partnership of any consequence in football because glory is normally the preserve of the manager but the work of Wenger and Dein was essential to the success of Arsenal for ten years.
The trouble is that Dein’s ambition for the club was at odds with the board. He was savvy enough to know that Arsenal needed money, big money to compete and with Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, who made his intentions clear by purchasing the club in 2003, Dein knew others would follow suit.
In an effort not to be left behind, the Gunners’ vice-chairman sought the involvement of Stan Kroenke and this is what truly tarnished his reputation. Some Arsenal fans feel that Dein wittingly or unwittingly opened the door for the American and condemned the club to a period of stagnation and decline. Yet in his defence that didn’t mean that those with long standing associations within the club had to sell, they responded to temptation and sold their souls and the club for money.
David Dein parted company with Arsenal in 2007 and quickly tried to find another suitor for the club, enter Alisher Usmanov, who bought Dein’s 14.5 per cent stake in Arsenal for the tidy sum of £75 million. In return, Dein was appointed chairman of the Russian’s investment company, Red and White Holdings.
By this time, the battle lines were drawn with the Arsenal board refusing any communication with the former Vice Chairman. It was a massive mistake on behalf of Usmanov and if he hadn’t lined himself up alongside Dein, perhaps things would have been different.
Yet, on reflection, Dein was behind every good thing that happened previously at Arsenal. He even single-handedly engineered the purchase of Dennis Bergkamp at a time when Arsenal weren’t playing the type of attractive football that they became synonymous with after 1996.
Wenger’s empire was missing its cornerstone and as he tried to become Mr Arsenal in Dein’s absence, things began to crumble. Distracted by his insatiable desire to control all the daily events at Arsenal from the length of the grass to the coffee in the canteen, Wenger dug himself an inescapable hole. His ability to get the deals over the line were heavily handicapped and the proposed building of the Emirates would be the final straw that saw Arsenal become underachievers and worse still, a selling club.
Like all romances, sometimes the spurned ex (Dein) can’t get the object of their desire back but it can’t be denied that he did well financially, even if his dream of assuming his old role at Arsenal under the Usmanov empire fell flat.
That was never really likely, especially after Kroenke, the man the board wanted to keep at arm’s length and who was the reason for Dein’s dismissal was gradually embraced like a long lost twin. The dissenting voices that Dein had ringing in his ears managed to get the right price for their shares and Usmanov replaced Kroenke on the list of untrustworthy suitors.
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David Dein had the right idea but unfortunately picked the wrong investor. He wanted to make Arsenal the biggest club in the country to rival anyone in Europe, but his vision fell apart amid his own desire for power and personal greed. This made him no different from the rest of the club’s archaic and self indulgent board.
It’s been referred to as Dein’s domino effect, a series of regrettable events that has led Arsenal to the position they find themselves in now.
Hero or villain ? Dein is unfortunately both to a great many loyal Arsenal supporters. Supporters who only gave without taking and continue to do so.