Rival fans can't stand him and he even broke the heart of the nation's sweetheart Cheryl… but is it time we gave Ashley Cole a little love as he joins England's 100 Club
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Standing the test of time: Ashley Cole has turned in consistently excellent performances for England ever since his debut – against Albania in a World Cup qualifier back in March 2001. He is set to win his 100th cap – becoming the seventh player to do so – against Brazil at Wembley on Wednesday night.
THE 100 CAP CLUB
Peter Shilton – 125
David Beckham – 115
Bobby Moore – 108
Bobby Charlton – 106
Billy Wright – 105
Steven Gerrard – 100
They’re being told to just put aside for a few moments all that inherent, seething dislike of a man who’s been regularly vilified at grounds up and down the country for the best part of a decade, and show some appreciation, however forced, for a wonderful achievement.
Yesterday, fellow centurion Steven Gerrard had to appeal to the Wembley crowd to treat Cole with respect. The captain said that ‘nobody in the ground can take away that achievement’ and that the Chelsea player ‘deserves’ to be a hundred cap man.
Can you imagine a teammate having to go on the record to justify to England fans that Moore, or Charlton, or indeed any of the others, is ‘worthy’ of their accomplishment
As might be expected, the praise has been pouring in this week. Stuart Pearce called him the ‘best left-back that’s ever played for England’ and, continuing the theme, said that he would be ‘standing and cheering when his name gets announced.’
Best in the business: Cole has been hailed by a number of former England internationals as the best left-back to ever play for the national team
Glen Johnson said Cole was ‘one of the nicest guys you could ever meet’ and former Arsenal teammate Martin Keown said he was a ‘lovely fella.’
It’s extraordinary that Cole is so universally unloved that players past and present need to come out with such comments to justify why he’s deserving of a simple round of applause from a crowd of people.
Whatever Cole’s misdemeanours in the past, whatever his alleged shortcomings and infidelities as a person, husband, Twitter-user and work experience student mentor, nobody can dispute his status as a consistently world-class player.
The highs… Cole celebrates with David Beckham after the latter scored a free-kick against Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup
And the lows… Cole is consoled by Roy Hodgson after England lose on penalties to Italy at Euro 2012
You hear of Cole being run ragged by a winger or making a match-defining error so rarely that you’re led to believe that his performances have been flawless since the beginning of time. In a decade or more at the top of the game, Cole has faced all the best attackers in the world – and he’s never been mastered by any of them.
When these glamorous England friendlies roll round, it’s only natural to play that game where you try and fit English names into the opposition eleven. Who is good enough to play for Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, whoever The truth is, all of those nations would love to have Cole in their team.
Cole’s reading of the game is second to none. His instinct to interpret and be in the right place at the right time is unrivalled. How many times has Cole saved Chelsea or England by winning a foot race to tackle a striker bearing down on goal, or been on the post to head the ball off the line
In Chelsea’s run to European glory last season, he cleared Christian Maggio’s goalbound effort from underneath the crossbar to prevent elimination to Napoli and he denied Barcelona a crucial away goal in the Stamford Bridge leg of the semi-final.
Indeed, his marshalling of Dani Alves in that game was up there with his shackling of Cristiano Ronaldo in the Euro 2004 quarter-final – both in Cole’s “pocket” as it were.
Shackled: Cole keeps a tight rein on Cristiano Ronaldo, then of Manchester United, in the 2007 Community Shield
And in an age when wing-backs are expected also to fulfil attacking obligations, Cole excels. He tears up and down the flank tirelessly – a tackle here, an interception there, a whipped cross, a neat shimmy or flash of skill.
The breadth of his role on the left-side requires a slavish devotion to working on and developing every facet of his game. Cole’s professionalism in training and self-education in the ways of football have never been questioned.
Nor has his commitment. Unlike some others, he’s always been ready, willing and able to play for the national team. He’s never let the failures of the ‘Golden Generation’ discourage him from providing the kind of full-bloodied, lion-hearted performances England fans demand.
Medallion man: Cole (right) celebrates with Daniel Sturridge after winning the European cup for Chelsea last May
Cole has been rewarded handsomely for his ability, he’s won everything in the club game and it’s perhaps this doesn’t help his image. Cheats and ‘love rats’ seem to prosper, his detractors would say.
But Cole is having the last laugh. He’s long learned to live with the Pantomime booing on opposition ground and even from his own fans at Wembley – it doesn’t affect the consistently excellent performances he puts in. It doesn’t permeate the thick skin.
He can also retort by pointing to three Premier League, seven FA Cup, a League Cup and a Champions League winners medal in his collection with a smugness and a satisfaction.
And as he again soaks up the acclaim on this grand occasion of a century of caps, it’s time to get on our feet, applaud and cheer for one of the best left-backs the game will ever see. And mean it too.
Can we feel a bit sorry for unfaithful Cole Never, argues Liv Lee
Can you ever really appreciate a sportsperson purely for what they do on the field No.
No-one self-sabotages like a Premier League footballer.
They achieve it with impressive frequency. Admittedly, they have the eyes of the world on them, and when every mistake turns up the next day in national headlines, well, that can’t be easy.
So can we feel just a little bit sorry for Ashley Cole Absolutely not.
Split: Cole's reputation will always be tarnished by allegations he cheated on wife Cheryl
Everybody makes mistakes. Sleeping with someone who wasn’t his wife (allegedly) was probably a mistake, and he’s not the first person to betray a spouse. Sleeping with multiple people (allegedly), less so – unless you go down the Tiger Woods line of claiming an addiction to sex, multiple indiscretions can’t be ‘mistakes.’
But sleeping with people who he met in less than discreet circumstances and who went on to sell their stories in graphic detail (allegedly) – Phenomenally, unforgivably stupid.
He’s not the first. Wayne Rooney’s indiscretions have been made equally public, but when it comes to women paid for sex, you’d assume you were also paying for them to keep their mouth shut. Cole had no reason to expect that any one of his lovers would keep quiet.
And if only there was just the one reason to despise him.
Never forgiven: Cole helped Arsenal win silverware, but he's never been forgiven for the manner in which he left for Chelsea
‘I couldn't believe it when they [Arsenal] weren't prepared to pay me 60,000 a week.’ Need I say more
And he shot a work experience student. As I said, the capability to footballers to self-sabotage is just outstanding.
His achievements on the field will make sure he is remembered as one of the greatest players England ever bred. And his actions off the pitch don’t diminish those achievements in any way.
But the incidents surrounding Cole are inextricable from the man you see on the pitch. People love sport not only because of the basic viewing of a game, but also for the personalities involved, and the dynamic in teams and between oppositions that these personalities create.
It really would be great to love and respect that man for what he’s achieved, but he just makes it too damn hard.