As an Englishman, there isn’t a bigger enigma in the footballing world than Ashley Cole. On the pitch he has been the model of consistency, constantly churning out solid performance after solid performance. And when the time comes when it matters, he becomes almost unbeatable on the left wing. He’s England‘s greatest ever left back and for the past decade has been among the top three left backs in the world, and normally can claim the title as the best.
Off the pitch, he has become the epitome of how a footballer should not behave, effectively becoming the most hated footballer in the country. The almost endless discrepancies Cole has committed in the past decade include: cheating on the UK’s pop singing darling and then wife Cheryl Cole, swearing at the police, receiving a four month driving ban, shooting a work experience student with an air rifle and moaning about his ‘ridiculous’ £60,000 a week salary. You can see why he isn’t winning any popularity contests.
His latest PR disaster though might be the final straw for the FA and England. His profanity-ridden tweet aimed at the governing body’s handling of the John Terry racism case came at the worst time, not only because it was referring to a racism case which is a sensitive issue at the worst of times, but also because the authority of the FA had come under question. If the FA want to make a statement of intent to ban future trouble makers, who better than a man who is accused of lying at the inquest and evolving his evidence to try and make Terry’s defence stronger.
The thought of dropping Cole from the England squad would have been unthinkable even a year ago but a lot can change in a year. Rio Ferdinand looks like he’ll never play for England again and John Terry jumped ship before the FA could sink his international future. The fabled ‘old guard’ at the back for England is beginning to move on. Should England go all out and completely enter a new era by leaving out Cole? Even in 2010, Cole was unquestionably the only man who could play at left back for England and as the deputies for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups were Wayne Bridge and Stephen Warnock, that assumption was correct.
Now though, the left back position looks in good health for England. Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand look set to be competing for the spot for the next term and in the short term, Leighton Baines has proven that is an international footballer. The complete opposite to Cole off the pitch, Baines is the picture of dignity and maturity who prefers to talk about 1950’s music than the flash cars and Rolex watches that dominate most modern day footballers’ minds.
Unlike most full backs, he can actually defend as well as attack and his added set piece prowess would add an extra dimension to England whose dead ball deliveries haven’t been the same since Beckham retired. He was strangely left out of the 2010 World Cup because of confidence issues but judging by his start of the season, those have been well and truly banished.
Although Cole is still probably a better defender and produces moments of class a few more times, his attitude off the pitch cannot be ignored forever. The huge amount of controversy that he and Terry have caused have not painted England in a good light, and while earlier we could always point to his club form and lack of options as reasons to stick with him, the new generation must arrive soon and time may be running out for the enigma.