Ashley Cole is England’s greatest left-back & deserves special reception
Ashley Cole is England's greatest-ever left-back and the centurion deserves a special reception on Wednesday, writes James Pozzi
Ashley Cole will join a very exclusive band of players when he steps out onto the Wembley turf to reach a century of England caps for the friendly against Brazil on Wednesday.
Entering an illustrious circle inhabited by messrs Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton, Peter Shilton, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, Cole, who at 32 is perhaps still England’s best player, suffers from a very unique affliction.
Unlike the aforementioned centurions, he isn’t befitted with national treasure status. In fact, he is still vehemently disliked by so many – even being memorably booed by England fans at Wembley. But why is it still the case that someone who has served his country so well for over a decade is disliked by so many?
Ever since Sven-Goran Eriksson gave the defender his debut as a precocious 20-year-old in a World Cup qualifier against Albania, Cole has always remained somewhat unloved in comparison to his peers.
Always something of an introverted character with a prickly element to his personality where the media is concerned, Cole has never seemed intent on winning over hearts and minds. Essentially, he doesn’t care what people think of him, he simply likes to do his job very well and leave it at that.
And yet, even some of his biggest fans at Chelsea would admit he doesn’t help himself in this regard, for there is little doubt some of his previous actions have not made him an endearing figure to the masses.
Arsenal fans still vividly remember his rejecting of a contract extension from the club that discovered and nurtured him before signing for rivals Chelsea in 2006.
Various unsavoury media stories regarding his personal life, altercations with fans and bizarre training ground incidents have all played a part in the demonisation of his character.
Yet the flaw in using this logic as a stick to beat him with is baffling. Other England greats, past and present, have rivalled him in receiving their share of negative media attention.
It is for performances alone we must judge the man. When other star names beloved by many have gone missing at major tournaments, Cole has maintained his consistency and never shirked responsibility.
At Euro 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo was kept firmly in his pocket, something which was repeated two years later in Germany at the World Cup. Even at the disaster that was South Africa in 2010, Cole was perhaps the one player to emerge with any credit.
At last year’s European championship, a penalty miss in the shootout against Italy still couldn’t deter even the most ardent of his detractors to admit he had a good tournament.
England’s other great left-backs, Kenny Samson and Stuart Pearce, have both been gushing in their praise of Cole, with the latter proclaiming him to be the best Three Lions player ever in that position.
In these barren decades of tournament disappointment, Cole has had as good an England career as one could realistically hope.
Over the years, his consistency, professionalism and dependency has won over detractors at least to the level of giving a begrudging respect. There has also been an enduring keenness about the player’s desire to play for his country, rarely pulling out of squads or giving the most mundane and tedious of friendlies a wide berth.
With the excellent Leighton Baines now breathing down his neck for the spot as Wayne Bridge did for many years before, there has undoubtedly been a renewed vigour in his international performances as of late.
When Cole steps out at Wembley, he should get the reception he deserves.
Considering the chopping and changing prevalent in international football, to be the only player to make it to 100 without a single substitute appearance makes it all the more remarkable.
In purely footballing terms, this is a fine player who could still grace any world XI – perhaps the only Englishman who can stake a claim for this at present.
When all is said and done, there is little doubt history will remember him as England’s greatest ever left back, every bit as worthy for inclusion as Gary Lineker, Gordon Banks and Paul Gascoigne in those endless all-time England XI discussions.