Yet again, this reporter visited her beloved Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea play Stoke City, which was a tightly contested game that save a moment of cheeky opportunism from the unlikely goalscorer Ashley Cole, would have resulted in the west London outfit dropping two points at home. Cole, who had not scored for 28 months, looked ecstatic on getting his first goal for an age, and the rapturous celebrations from the crowd as well as the players’ lengthy huddle afterwards showed appreciation for their left-back, a truly outstanding – and often unheralded - player.
First, let’s get the grisly stuff out of the way. Ashley Cole joined Chelsea in 2006 under controversial circumstances. As if the allegations of being tapped up by Mourinho weren't enough, Cole continued to do himself no favours by writing in his autobiography that he "almost crashed [his] car" when he discovered he would “only” be offered a £5000-a-week pay hike from Arsenal, leading to him earning the pejorative nickname “Cashley”. In addition to all that, his off-pitch indiscretions paint him quite the villain, chiefly his philandering on the nation’s “sweetheart” Cheryl Cole. But this Chelsea writer, if truth be told, treats men far, far worse than Terry and Cole treat women put together, so I am utterly unphased by that.
The game against Stoke today was a nervy, laboured one for Chelsea, with the players finding it hard to get through the mettle of Shawcross’ resolute defending. Ivanovic caused Chelsea fans much ire with his erratic crossing, but the rest of Chelsea’s defence was generally solid; Luiz and Cahill looked less jittery than when together previously and the latter gave instructions with such authority that would have done Terry proud.
Going forward however, only one from the backline caught the eye. Cole exhibited telepathy with Mata, Hazard and Oscar throughout, and when Lampard came on, exchanged a few passes with his compatriot that carved out beautiful openings for the attackers. It is telling that of the three English old guard Terry, Lampard and Cole, Di Matteo benched the former two after their stamina-quenching performance in mid-week, but did not do the same with his left-back.
Like his fellow east London-born Chelsea teammates Lampard and Terry, Cole possesses a personality trait that serves him very well as such a prolific figure of hatred in football: opposition’s words of vitriol not only fail to detract from his play; they galvanize him.
For a man who is regularly painted as a mercenary primadonna, Cole has shown on multiple occasions what a team player he is for Chelsea. Witness his delight at setting up a goal for Torres against Reading; arguably Cole did all the hard work, but he knew to make it more about celebrating Torres’ shooting. Similarly, David Luiz has been prone to momentary lapses at the back and when he has them, it is up to Ashley Cole, his unofficial babysitter to step in and clean up his mistakes. Such selfless industry does not go unnoticed, however, and Cole can be proud that know that his babysittee has learnt from him. Indeed, Luiz, who was lucky not to be sent off for scything down Jonathan Walters with both feet today, also covered for Cahill when the Englishman made a mistake and didn’t mark his player; Luiz stepped in and cleared the ball just like how Cole used to rescue him.
Like his fellow east London-born Chelsea teammates Lampard and Terry, Cole possesses a personality trait that serves him very well as such a prolific figure of hatred in football: opposition’s words of vitriol not only fail to detract from his play; they galvanize him. As former Chelsea striker Mark Hughes, himself quite the polarizing figure, noted, “I used to love helping my team win against fans who didn't want me to”. It is this kind of mentality that hardens Cole as a player and as a man. There will be more nightclub scandals, more embarrassing tales of interns getting shot. But the football pitch is where Cole has always found his personal redemption.
This was epitomized last year during the knockout stages of the Champions League, when some of Cole’s performances were majestic, bordering on superhuman. From his clearance off the line that kept Chelsea in the tie at Napoli, to his snuffing out Fabregas and Alves in the home game against Barcelona, to the way he marshalled the Chelsea defence after Terry’s sending off at Camp Nou. And then of course there was his performance in the final, a masterclass in assured, accomplished defending, capped off with a classy penalty in the shoot-out. Whilst it probably brought a sour taste to opposition fans to see someone like Cole lift the Champions League trophy, Chelsea fans were over the moon for him; he is a large part of why we won it.
The fact of the matter is, what people really hate about Ashley Cole is that he plays forChelsea, and does a damn good job. If they got over their blind hatred for a second, they would recognise Cole’s talents are truly special; he is the only England player who could walk into the Spain XI. So, haters gonna hate, but Ashley Cole certainly won’t be losing any sleep over it; more likely he will gaze lovingly at the seven FA Cup trophies he has accrued – more than any other player, or retweet his naysayers on Twitter as he has a mischievous knack of doing. His chipped goal today was but a slice of what gems he’s offered – and will continue to offer - the footballing world.
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