Ashley Cole At 100: Why The Chelsea Man Deserves Our Praise Rather Than Contempt
Tonight, England face Brazil in a friendly at Wembley. Ashley Cole is expected to start, which will mark the Stepney-born left-back’s 100th England cap, rendering him only the seventh player to join such a distinguished club. Unfortunately for Cole, his predilection for courting controversy means that what he gets up to off the pitch often clouds people’s perception of his excellence for Chelsea and England on it.
Cole’s many and varied transgressions don’t make for pretty reading, and I would be betraying my partisan bias if I tried to casually write them all off by saying “well, no one’s perfect.” Ashley Cole is substantially less perfect than the majority of us. But I find the puritanical British Media, who constantly divulge each of Cole’s indiscretions with relish, infuriatingly hypocritical. The Guardian and Observer, who led the witch hunt to try and end Cole’s career after #BUNCHOFTWATS-gate, epitomise this, because it’s not like any of their writers ever did anything to disgrace themselves on Twitter, is it?
On the club front, for Chelsea Cole has won all there is to win. The Champions League, Premier League, Carling Cup and FA Cup are all prizes he has accrued, the latter of which he has won a record-breaking seven times. When he plays, Chelsea are a better team. Whilst his agility fades slightly with age, Cole still displays the razor-quick reaction, countless interceptions and those heroic goal line clearances on a weekly basis. And, unlike John Terry, the other enfant terrible of football who Cole is so often lumped with, Cole is a remarkably unvain player.
In the FA Cup game against Southampton this season, Cole, as the most senior starter, was given the armband, and led his team out admirably. As soon as Lampard was substituted on, Cole all but forced the strip of elastic on the more experienced Englishman’s muscular arm. After the game, Lampard spoke about what a nice touch it was. And that sums up Ashley Cole when he plays football – he isn’t after personal glory. He will gladly put personal plaudits aside for the good of the team. That Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, still hasn’t scored against Chelsea isn’t a coincidence; Ashley Cole has played a huge part in our impressive record against the Argentinean.
Cole is painted as petulant, surly and a difficult character by the tabloids (who tried – and succeeded – to end his marriage) as well as the broadsheets (who tried – and failed – to end his England career.) This is quite at odds with the image of him portrayed by his fellow pros and managers. Roy Hodgson said in a press conference last Thursday, that Cole “has been a pleasure to work with and a really good professional.” Joe Hart, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Theo Walcott are among many others who say the same thing. The simple fact is that were Cole anywhere near as obnoxious as the media would have us believe, he wouldn’t have such great rapport with his teammates, evident in how he is always one of the first to run to his teammates when a Chelsea or England player scores.
As quick with his wit as he is with his feet, Cole is not one to concede defeat against his critics; facing internet trolls with as much fearlessness as he has when against Cristiano Ronaldo (Cole has been one of the few defenders who could handle the Portuguese.) Arsenal and Spurs fans have taken turns to hurl abuse at Cole on Twitter, only to find the Englishman always has a funnier, far more mordant response. Football fans like a man who isn’t afraid of any football player. They LOVE a man who doesn’t back down against any football fan.
The “Baines is better than Cole” argument is as tedious as it is ridiculous. Cole detractors will point to Leighton Baines’ higher volume of assists. Ashley Cole would have twice as many assists as Baines if Chelsea had anyone other than blonde dud Torres as their striker. Ashley Cole does not, contrary to belief, lack attacking prowess in any way; it’s just a matter of them not hitting the net when they do find their target. His assist at the weekend against Newcastle for Frank Lampard, a man who actually knows where the goal is, proves this.
Furthermore, due to Cole often playing alongside David Luiz, who loves to bomb forward, he reins in his own attacking instincts for the good of the team. As far as self-discipline and reading the game goes, Ashley Cole is second to none. It is romantic to hail Baines, who is less of a trouble magnet, as a better player than Cole, but could Baines have delivered as wonderful a performance as Cole did in the Champions League final, one of the key reasons why Chelsea walked away victorious? Could he bamboozle Xavi with the effortless swagger that Cole did at Stamford Bridge last year? I highly doubt it.
Cole has faced adversity all his life. It’s not easy being a scrawny mixed race kid at the best of times, least of all growing up in a rough part of east London when raised by a single parent. Through sheer force of will, Cole let his talent shine and established himself as a footballer. His childhood put Cole in good stead to deal with any nonsense that came his way for the rest of his life. His potty-mouthed FA rant wasn’t his finest hour, and marred what was otherwise classy way he carried himself through the Terry court case; remember how quick he was to absolve Rio Ferdinand of any blame when Rio passive aggressively retweeted a tweet dubbing Cole a “choc ice.” Were the tables turned, I doubt Ferdinand would have been quite so magnanimous.
Spurned Arsenal fans still stick pins in voodoo dolls of him. Professional fake-crier Cheryl Cole continues to assail our ears singing out-of-tune ditties about how a certain someone broke her heart. The flawless saints of the broadsheet Media will always be nursing a wound over something or another that Cole has done that doesn’t live up to their own high moral code. But amongst Chelsea fans, Ashley Cole is nothing short of a legend. I just hope England fans can acknowledge his skills tonight, and give the greatest full-back to have graced our national team, the ovation that he so richly deserves.