After a week of speculation, it emerged last night that Ashley Cole is unlikely to face formal charges after allegedly shooting a student at the Chelsea training ground 10 days ago.
For Cole, the news is undoubtedly a relief, although for many fans across the country, I’m sure the lack of police action is something that will leave many annoyed and frustrated.
I have heard several times over the last week how Cole would have “been sacked” had he worked in a normal job. Of course this is probably true – but surely that misses the point? The left-back works in the most highly scrutinised of industries and nothing he experiences on a day-to-day basis even touches on the ‘normal’.
This is not to defend his actions, but why are we so indignant about such an incident? It is no secret that Cole is deeply disliked by many fans across the country, but he is not here to be judged morally or ethically – his worth is measured as a footballer and to that end he is arguably the finest left-back in the world.
There is evidently a line between behaviour that can defended as being private business and that deemed irresponsible towards a legion of impressionable youngsters who watch Cole every week and have seen the displays of petulance build up. Understandably, warming to Cole is not an easy task. His aggressive attitude towards officials and reputation for being a mercenary, ticks several boxes on the “reasons to hate modern footballers” list.
Yet, can he really be that bad? A man that has racked up 87 international appearances before his 31st birthday is clearly a dedicated professional – and over the last five years he has improved as a player, working tirelessly to improve the attacking element of his game to the benefit of club and country.
When Cole was named the national team’s player of 2010, the award was laughed off as representing one of the worst years in recent memory instead of appreciating a player at the peak of his powers.
The man himself is a difficult one to read. He rarely gives interviews, and as such the public perception is driven by his on-field persona and tabloid stories- inevitably these hardly give the defender a glowing reference. Nevertheless there has to be more to the man than we are lead to believe – remember it was he that stepped up to convert crucial penalties at Euro 2004 and Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester United in Moscow three years ago.
When Andres Iniesta hammered home Barcelona’s decisive equaliser against Chelsea during their 2009 Champions League semi-final, the cameras instantly focused on Cole’s face for a rare peak at his soul. Having stopped the Catalans from registering one single shot on target across 90 minutes of football, Iniesta’s rifled strike flew inches above the full back’s head. Cole’s expression told you everything you needed to know about how much that elimination hurt him, yet, at the final whistle he was one of a very select few not to hound the officials deemed to have wronged the home side.
As someone with a huge respect for what Cole has achieved in the game, I hope that we can attempt to be kinder to a man who in an era of Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Beckham and Wilshere might just turn out to be the finest English footballer of his generation.
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