Just eight players have made over 100 appearances for England. Mention the majority of names on this list and you’ll most likely be met with a warm smile, an appreciative nod and an effusive run down of the player’s attributes and best performances. Shilton. Beckham. The two Bobbys – Charlton and Moore. Billy Wright. England legends one and all. Mention number five on the list however, and there’s a real possibility that you’ll be met with nothing more than a scowl and a shake of the head.
With a total of 107 appearances garnered during a 13-year international career, Ashley Cole has been one of England’s most consistent and reliable performers. Playing during a period dogged by sub-par results at major tournaments and blighted by injuries to his peers, Cole and his left foot have remained one of England’s constant shining lights. He’s also been one of the most controversial figures to wear the three lions. His much publicised private life and a series of ill-judged comments and outbursts meant that despite his stellar performances for club and country, Cole has never enjoyed the widespread popularity usually afforded world-class players of his ilk.
Ashley Cole made his Arsenal debut in 1999, going on to win the Premier League twice, the FA Cup three times and featuring in the Gunners’ Champions League final against Barcelona. In 2006 however, the relationship soured quickly and irrevocably with the fallout leaving Cole unpopular not just with Arsenal fans, but with pretty much anyone who didn’t support his new club, Chelsea.
His transfer came about after public criticism of Arsenal, who Cole felt treated him badly during a ‘tapping up’ incident involving Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. The incident resulted in Cole being fined £100,000. The left-back went on to alienate himself from football supporters everywhere when he announced via his autobiography that he was left “trembling with anger” when Arsenal offered him just £55,000 a week in wages. Empathy and any sort of sympathy was in short supply for Cole. A statement claiming he “forgave” Arsenal for their treatment of him whilst in north London did little to help his case.
Unabashed, Cole embarked on a monumentally successful career at Stamford Bridge, going on to win the Premier League, the FA Cup (four times), the League Cup, the Community Shield, the Champions League and Europa League with his new club. An impressive haul of medals, matched in size only by his rapidly lengthening disciplinary rap sheet.
In 2008 he found himself in hot water again. Following a poor challenge on Tottenham’s Alan Hutton, Cole’s refusal to acknowledge referee Mike Riley led to a public outcry and protracted discussions about dissent towards match officials. Three years later he was in the headlines again, this time for shooting an air rifle towards a Chelsea intern.
The following year he was in the headlines for the wrong reasons once more, taking to Twitter to unleash a tirade against the FA, after his testimony in the John Terry racism hearing was bought into question. Cole deleted the tweet and apologised, but the damage was done and he was charged with misconduct and fined £90,000.
Add to these misdemeanours a much publicised marriage break-up and a number of minor issues with the police, and it’s not hard to see why Ashley Cole has struggled to win the battle for hearts and minds. This shouldn’t detract from his career, however, and in announcing his retirement from international football, the much maligned defender may find stances against him softening. Whilst he may have suffered from regular poor decision making off the pitch, this wasn’t an affliction that blighted his England career and he has rarely put a foot wrong when on England duty
I think the time is right for the left-back baton to be permanently handed on to Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw, but as we make that transition it’s important to recognise the contribution that Ashley Cole has made to England. If Baines and Shaw can perform with the style, passion and consistency that Cole delivered for well over a decade, the future is indeed bright.
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a Season Ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the National team. Mike presents the popular Watford FC podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.