Following ‘interim’ Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez’s comments last week, it would appear that the long, distinguished and often controversial Stamford Bridge career of Ashley Cole, is entering its final phase.
When asked whether Cole, and the 34-year-old Frank Lampard may potentially end up leaving West London next summer, the Spaniard’s response seemed somewhat ominous.
“I think so. I think that’s the case at the moment,” Benitez replied, when asked whether the duo could depart next year.
He added: “I don’t have all the information, but it’s not fair to tell me I’m only here for seven months and then expect me to have an influence at the club over the next two or three years.”
With both Cole and Lampard being strongly linked with moves to France and China respectively in recent weeks, it appears as if this really could be the end for Chelsea’s esteemed English pairing. With 848 Chelsea appearances between them, the decision from above to play hard ball with their contract extensions is effectively calling time on two of the real old guard at Stamford Bridge.
Although while Lampard’s influence within the first team this season resembles a relatively diminished presence, there’s certainly nothing dwindling about Cole’s performances at left-back. He may be rapidly approaching his 32nd birthday, but age is, as they say, only a number. It’s a statement that gets rattled out with the sort of frequency that sometimes makes it feel like a hollow sentiment. But make no mistake about it, Cole is still one of the best left-backs, not just in this country, but within European football.
Such is his pantomime villain status within English football, that heaping praise upon Cole’s on pitch performances often carries the weight of taboo along with it. Although if you strip away the controversy, the abrasiveness and the tabloid fodder persona, purely as a footballer, there are very few defenders in this league that can count themselves as worthy adversaries.
Regardless of his age, Cole remains one of the most astute but perhaps just as importantly, consistent full backs within English football. Despite his array of defensive gifts, it his ability to produce the goods week in, week out, for both club and country, that resembles one of his most staggering attributes. Every player has bad games, but Cole has a hell of a lot less than your average Premier League footballer.
So if we take into account his form, his ability and his consistency, it would seem strange that Chelsea would want to let him go, would it not? Following the club’s Twitter gaffe and Cole’s mother dropping a not-so-subtle hint on her Facebook account, it appears that the ex-Arsenal man is set to make a move across the channel, to join Carlo Ancelotti’s Paris Saint-Germain side.
Although despite his advancing years, this isn’t some over the hill veteran jetting abroad to pick up one last bloated pay packet. Of course, the continued petromillion funded investment at the Parc des Princes will ensure that Cole can enjoy a salary that will rank amongst the very best that European football has to offer. But PSG aren’t paying top dollar for some elaborate marketing exercise. Besides the fact that Cole is probably somewhat unmarketable, he is in fact going to improve their starting XI. And at the same time, his arrival there is going to detriment Chelsea’s.
No one is naïve to the hierarchy of power that exists within the bowels of Stamford Bridge. Recent events have emphasised bolder than ever, as if there was ever any doubt, about who pulls the strings of power in West London. If Roman Abramovich wants Cole and Lampard out the club, the two will leave; it’s as simple as that. It wouldn’t take much for the Russian to negotiate viable contract extensions with them if he chose. For whatever reason, he has deemed the England men surplus to requirements and we all know how this story comes to an end.
It can seem difficult at the best of times to try and buy into Abramovich’s logic at Stamford Bridge sometimes, but with Cole’s situation in particular, it’s hard to understand where the motivations lie in letting him go.
Handing an ageing player a new contract always comes with risks, but with Cole, Chelsea are hardly looking at backing a horse on its way to the knackers yard. Yes, he has to manage his chronic ankle-based issues with care, but considering he’s played 96 times in the last two seasons for Chelsea, that doesn’t appear to be much of a problem.
And considering how well he played in those 96 games and beyond, why let him go if you don’t have to? Shelling out for a player of equal quality is going to come alongside a significant financial outlay, one that would surely dwarf the wages handed out to Cole on say, a two-year-deal. His understudy at the club, Ryan Bertrand, is a talented full-back. But however you want to sugar coat it, Bertrand simply isn’t in the same league as Cole playing wise.
If Cole was heading into the real twilight years of his career, it would represent a slightly different scenario. Should he be 34 or 35 and showing visible signs of rust, then handing out another two year contract could be a risk. But he’s not in his mid thirties and he’s not showing any signs of weakness – if anything, he’s still very much in his peak years.
A player’s age will always affect his value in terms of financial worth, be it through a contract, transfer fee or otherwise. But what you can’t put a price on, is how much that player is worth to your club. And in Ashley Cole’s case, that value is very, very high indeed. Be careful what you wish for, Roman.
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