Ashley Cole’s England feat overshadowed by off-field antics
Ashley Cole is set to earn his 100th England cap but his off-field antics cast a shadow over his footballing feat, writes Harry Kemble
Ashley Cole will on Wednesday become the seventh player to reach 100 caps for England in what promises to be a celebration of almost robotic consistency – if nothing else.
Since making a shock debut against Albania in 2001 after a handful of Premier League appearances, the defender has hardly looked back, starting 99 games for England. Not a substitute appearance in sight.
During his 11-year England career, there have been 10 other left-backs – Chris Powell, Jamie Carragher, Phil Neville, Wayne Bridge, Paul Konchesky, Joleon Lescott, Nicky Shorey, Stephen Warnock, Kieran Gibbs and Leighton Baines.
However, they have notched just thirty-odd appearances between them, struggling to take advantage of a rare Cole absence through injury or rest.
In Euro 2012, Cole became England’s most-capped tournament player with 22 games – perhaps a more striking achievement than 100 caps. Few players have represented England with such distinction so often.
England manager Roy Hodgson – Cole’s fourth at international level – last summer identified why the full-back is such an asset.
“With Ashley, he’s somebody you don’t have to think or worry about, it’s just a given that he will turn up and do well,” he said. “That’s how it’s been, certainly in his England career.
“You’d have to say that he misses very few games, either for the national team or his club team. He always plays to a very high level.”
At 31, the Stepney-born player is entering the Autumn of a career that has seen him win everything at club level, reaching a ‘full house’ after winning the Champions League last May.
So why is Cole unlikely to receive anything like the adulation that England’s other six Centurions received on reaching the historic landmark?
Sadly, Cole’s off-field antics since his acrimonious switch across London from Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006 will forever shadow his achievements on the pitch.
Last week, David Beckham – the master of maintaining his public image – declared he would be donating his £150,000-week wages to charity. It was the latest in a long line of inspired PR moves.
But where Beckham leads the way, Cole is somewhat lagging behind at the back of the pack.
Beckham’s financial decision is one Cole might consider if he was to go about repairing his own tattered reputation.
But Cole has, seemingly, never been in football for the affection of supporters, such was his callous disregard for the many off-field incidents involving him.
The well-documented break-up with his pop-star ex-wife, Cheryl, and poorly advised comments in his autobiography, ‘My Defence’, where he expressed his anger at only being offered £55,000-per-week by Arsenal, put paid to any hopes of him finishing a career with an untarnished image.
Six years on, the Chelsea defender will rarely – if ever – talk to the press.
Even in a week where one would expect him to appear before the nation’s media to talk about his latest achievement in football, he is, again, noticeably missing, preferring other players to talk in his absence.
It is quite clear that England’s bête noire does not regret some of the decisions that have shaped his career domestically – not publicly, at least. Or else he might choose to state his side.
Yet, on the eve of Cole’s 100th appearance – and the Football Association’s opening match against Brazil to celebrate its 150th anniversary – he must wonder what legacy he will leave when his international days come to an end.
No doubt on Wednesday when his name is read out for the 100th time as an England player, he may wish he had taken more care over his disorderly off-field reputation.