For nearly twelve years, Ashley Cole has been one of the first names on Englands team sheet. 99 caps, 99 starts, and tonight he is set to reach his century in enormously fitting fashion, against the five-time World Champions, Brazil, to the backdrop of a passionate Wembley crowd.
He sits seventh in the all-time capped England players list, and for a man who should be considered almost a national treasure, he is surprisingly scorned upon by a large portion of English fans. No-one can argue his passion, commitment, and quality on the pitch, and his ability to rise to almost any challenge put in his way.
Despite his 14 domestic and 1 European honour whilst in London, the real shame was the lack of International glory during the noughties, down to a series of lacklustre performances on the big stage from the England team, but certainly not Cole himself.
Few England fans will forget the 5-1 drubbing of Germany back in ’01, when Cole was just 21, he had the unenviable job of marking the likes of Jancker, Ballack, and Deisler, a performance that set the tone for the next 11 years, taming the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ariel Ortega, and Gabriel Batistuta, cementing himself as England’s, and one of the world’s most accomplished left-backs this century.
He is considered one of the ‘old guard’ at the Bridge now, along with Terry, Lampard, and Petr Cech, and was only offered an extension on his contract in the last couple of weeks, and when you consider Chelsea legend Didier Drogba was not offered one, you begin to understand the sheer quality that the 32-year old possesses, and finally, Roman Abramovich noticed.
England’s famous 90s left-back Stuart Pearce said of cole “In my mind he’s the best left-back that has ever played for England’ whilst Steven Gerrard quipped “It is important to speak about Ashley Cole the player and he is a top, top player”
That second point shouldn’t need to be pushed, but after years of being chastised for his antics off-the-field, it can easy pull the wool over the superb performances he has consistently produced for both club and country.
A seemingly easy target for tabloids, The Sun printed absurd allegations of Cole being involved in a “homosexual orgy” in the same year he rejected a contract from Arsenal and joined us at the Bridge. It may be no surprise to learn that Arsenal have not won a single trophy since Cole’s move, although the England man has picked up eight in the seven years he has been in Chelsea blue. Although the way he left Wenger’s team may not have been perfect, you can hardly begrudge the move, as we may not be talking about the man in the same way, had he not made that move.
Several minor police incidents also made front-page spreads, including a nightclub scuffle and a speeding offence, whilst the air-rifle incident of 2011 had editors hands rubbing with glee.
His high-profile divorce to Cheryl Tweedy unquestionably didn’t help matters; a day wouldn’t go by where his face would be plastered over one tabloid or another, but did performances waiver? Of course not.
But the question remains; Why should off-the-field errors effect the judgement of anyone on his footballing ability?
The mental strength of a footballer is an underestimated trait. Often classed as a dirty player, Cole has picked up four red cards in his 539 career games to date, but does he complain? No. Many players struggle to deal with the pressure, a certain Mario Balotelli proved this, as the 2012 tabloid fan-boy suffered a poor start to the present season, and was shipped off to Milan.
It takes a special person to filter out the abuse and the jibes, and an extremely special player to reach 100 caps for his country. He will make up a super seven of England centurions, and although he will not carry the armband for the occasion, you can expect a typical 110% Ashley Cole performance, hopefully started by a rapturous applause before kick-off.
By Brad Smith