Chelsea star not as loved as West Ham, Man Utd and Liverpool legends despite joining 100-club

15:44 31 January 2013

Chelsea and England

Chelsea and England's Ashley Cole. Photo: Anthony DevlinPA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

When Ashley Cole was named England player of the year for 2010, there were those at the Football Association who truly believed it marked a significant shift in how the left-back would be viewed by the wider public.

After all, the honour had been voted for by England’s fans, not awarded by a luminary, and was richly deserved given that, along with Steven Gerrard, Cole was one of the few players who actually lived up to his billing at that summer’s World Cup.

Within three weeks of Cole being told of the accolade, he had accidentally shot a 21-year-old student who was on work experience with a .22 calibre air rifle at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. It was Cole’s own rifle, and he had broken a club rule banning weapons from Chelsea’s training ground. You could hardly make it up.

It’s always been that way with Cole. Admiration for the player, distaste for the man at times.

Is it possible to separate the two?

Can we ignore how Cole attended a meeting with Chelsea while still an Arsenal player, and went on to declare in his autobiography that he was left “trembling with anger” when the Gunners offered him wages of £55,000 per week? Let the ‘Cashley’ nickname and the history behind it slip because he is someone about to play his 100th game for England next week?

Or forget about his show of blatant disrespect by turning his back to referee Mike Riley in 2008? Simply because the player who made his England debut as a 20-year-old has now made a record 22 tournament appearances for his country, not missing a single minute in the process?

The answer is no.

Positions have become so set on this matter that, barring some seismic change in attitude, Cole will not sit down with reporters to offer his thoughts on a stellar footballing career as Steven Gerrard did at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester less than three months ago.

Indeed, when you look at the names of the players he will join in that exclusive 100-cap club - Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Gerrard - there will be some who consider Cole’s presence is a rather uncomfortable one.

The others have endured controversy. They didn’t always behave themselves.

But the instant reaction is one of affection. That clearly is not the case with Cole. And that is a shame.

For, in an era when hyperbole is part of the experience, when David Bentley can be lauded as the new Beckham at the start of a career that has, thus far, meandered through five loan spells, most recently with Rostov, Cole is a player of undeniable quality.

Now 32, the Londoner has emerged from the toughest of backgrounds to reach the top of his profession through sheer force of will that few can match.

He has pace, agility, awareness and ability.

He is the very essence of a modern full-back, offering the attacking dimension often denied to central players, while not losing any of the defensive qualities so lacking in many of his contemporaries.

For all the thunderous set-piece prowess of Leighton Baines, Cole remains, by some distance, England’s best left-back.

Why Chelsea waited so long to give him another contract is a mystery.

Yet, when he runs out at Wembley next Wednesday to face Brazil, the recognition is expected to be polite and restrained, and there will certainly be none of the histrionics that accompany Beckham even now.

And for that, Cole only has himself to blame.

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