Last act for Cole’s Hollywood chapter

November 14, 2013 in International, Premier League by George Curtis

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If you were ever in doubt as to why footballers are branded as overpaid, self-obsessed, machismos you need look no further than Ashley Cole. The Chelsea and England defender’s football career reads more like the script for a season of Hollyoaks than a supposed world-class footballer, but one gets the feeling that we’re approaching the crescendo of Cole’s scandalous time in the spotlight.

As a youngster, there were clear signs that Cole had the ability to make great strides in the game, even if a question mark over his temperament and approach to the game still loomed. Of course, at the spritely age of 18, nobody bats an eyelid at a dysfunctional hothead, particularly in football. It’s the norm. If you don’t have attitude problems you’re considered mundane and proper, and who wants that? Cole though, was rapidly emerging as one of the country’s most accomplished young defenders, on whose shoulders England could place the burden of being first-choice left-back for the next decade and beyond.

ashley cole arsenal england

Arsenal, managed by the ever-reputable talent-spotter Arsène Wenger, recognised the importance of Cole to their future success and Wenger wasn’t shy to initiate him into life as a Premier League footballer. Cole received his break at the top level when an injury to Brazilian Sylvinho forced Wenger to thrust a fresh-faced Cole into action during the 2000-01 season. Despite Sylvinho’s return soon after, Cole was to remain Arsenal’s left-back for the following five seasons.

It was clear, however, that it wasn’t his attitude on the pitch that would inevitably cause a media furore, but the Hollywood lifestyle he had unerringly slipped into off it. The main attraction was money, of which Cole would go on to earn a great deal of. And it was Cole’s move to Chelsea in 2006 that alerted the country to a tempestuous footballer whose greed would play a key role in his off-field ventures and the scrutiny he would endure for the rest of his career. The now 32-year old’s desire to force through a move to Premier League rivals Chelsea projected him into a mess that eventually resulted in the player being fined £75,000 for an illegal ‘tapping-up’ meeting with Chelsea manager José Mourinho, chief executive Peter Kenyon and Cole’s agent Jonathan Barnett. The three of them all received heavy fines as well, and in the case of Barnett, an 18-month ban from the game.

Cole eventually got his wish, but his £5mill part-exchange deal (which included William Gallas moving the other way) didn’t come without a much-publicised gibe at his former employers in his autobiography, in which he was quoted as saying he was made a “scapegoat” by Arsenal. He also revealed how insulted he was by the Gunners’ offer of a £55,000-a-week contract, as opposed to the £90,000 Chelsea were laying on the table. This was a man who couldn’t resist a financial upgrade, and his verbal sneer at Arsenal only lent weight to the suggestion that he wasn’t interested in loyalty.

Rather predictably, Cole was to endure a barrage of abuse and torment upon his arrival at Chelsea, and the days succeeding it. Arsenal fans expressed their outrage of Cole’s public forgiveness of the club’s treatment of him during the aforementioned transfer saga by waving fake £20 notes at him when the side’s met at Stamford Bridge that season.

ashley cole mourinho chelsea england

Petty on-field incidents, such as at White Hart Lane in March 2008, seemed nothing more than an insignificant nuisance for Cole, who was constantly fighting off allegations surrounding his private life throughout the early stages of his Chelsea career, most notably his apparent weakness for beautiful women, despite being married to British singer Cheryl Cole. Numerous stories, including that he’d been involved in a homosexual orgy (for which Cole sued the News of the World and The Sun), dogged the couple’s relationship until they eventually got divorced in 2010.

Remarkably, Cole’s tribulations off the field have never deterred from his outstanding consistency for Chelsea and England. In 2010 he was named as England’s Player of the Year, while in the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons, his Chelsea teammates voted him their best player. He was also named in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2010 and the PFA Team of the Year in 2011.

Recently, though, there have been signs that Cole’s star is waning, most pertinently from José Mourinho, whose decision to opt for César Azpilicueta (a right-back by trade) in Cole’s place at left-back for the matches with Schalke and West Bromwich Albion caused some surprise. The suggestion that Cole no longer has it in him to hold down a starting place is backed up by a fairly poor run of form, at least by his standards, this season. Cole’s defensive capabilities are perhaps not what they were.

That’s understandable, given he is now 32, and also the fact that he has been known to indulge in the odd cigarette or two. The impact of smoking on footballers is often dumbed down due to the plethora of medical specialists that football clubs employ these days and that unspoken, unwritten belief that nothing physically bad will ever happen to footballers outside the four walls of a football stadium.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil has probably come at a rather good time for Cole, then. A couple of years down the line and he may not have made it, but with just seven months to go Cole looks fairly set in stone to appear in his third World Cup. Leighton Baines provides the stiff challenge to the position, and he would be a viable option if England decide the situation is appropriate to opt for a more attacking system. That may well be the case given Brazil’s climate; a hot, energy-sapping environment to play football in, one which demands discipline and perhaps negates the need for wingers who will bomb up and down all day. The tempo won’t be quick. Baines, therefore, may provide that little bit of extra attacking initiative that could change the course of a game.

ashley cole leighton baines england rivals

This will be Cole’s last World Cup, which in itself is a testament to his ability and commitment to the England cause over the 105 games he’s represented them. It will also mark the beginning of the end of the career of football’s ultimate playboy.