LONDON – Ashley Cole could become the first England player to be omitted from a game because he is so unpopular and anti-social.
No, really, he could be left out not because he is injured or playing badly, but because if he is selected to play in the 2014 World Cup qualifying tie against San Marino most of the capacity crowd will boo him. With Joey Barton on loan at Marseille it is a photo-finish between Cole and his Chelsea captain John Terry who is the least popular footballer in England.
Another reason why Roy Hodgson may rest Cole (players are no longer dropped, only rested) is because it would prevent the potentially embarrassing situation where he has to shake hands pre-match with David Bernstein, chairman of the Football Association, the organization the left-back insulted on Twitter last week and prompted a misconduct charge from them.
Cole apologized, but experienced Cole-watchers will be wary of such sentiments. The sad thing is, the 31-year-old should be remembered as the best left-back of his generation who will join the elite group of England internationals to have won 100 caps — he has 98.
Instead the overriding memories of Cole are negative, starting with the paragraph from his autobiography describing how he felt when he was told Arsenal had offered him ￡55,000 a week. “I nearly swerved off the road in shock,” wrote Cole. “I was trembling with anger.”
He was also involved in an illegal approach from Chelsea seven years ago which brought a fine of ￡100,000.
Last year, Cole was “larking about” with a .22 air rifle at Chelsea’s training ground, as you do, and accidentally shot and wounded a work experience student.
Last week the report by the independent regulatory commission that found John Terry guilty of using a racist remark to Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers concluded Cole had changed his evidence. There is much, much more.
I first got to know Cole at the 1999 World Under-20 Championship in Nigeria. He was on loan to Crystal Palace and I found him a shy but charming young lad. Honestly.
Even when his war against the media began Cole would acknowledge me at the airport when Arsenal played in Europe, which eventually did nothing for my street cred in the press pack.
However, there reached a point when even his reporter pal from Nigeria had to be blanked as I became, like every other football writer, a member of the creme de la scum. Cole has not spoken to the written media for three years, the price we pay for reporting his indiscretions (shouting “f—- them” at us after Chelsea’s Champions League victory in Munich last May does not count as talking to us), plus his high-profile split from singer Cheryl Cole who rose to fame as Cheryl Tweedy of Girls Aloud.
Is Cole bothered by image?
Not in any way, shape or form. Journalists are all worthless in his opinion, and he uses his inner anger as a form of motivation.
In the interest of fair play I should recount a conversation with a girl who works regularly at Chelsea on the promotions side. She told me (I did not ask): “Of all the players here, the most charming and friendly is Ashley Cole.”
If someone had told me that story I would have accused them of fabrication, for whatever reason, but hearing is believing.
There has been speculation this week whether Hodgson would pick Cole for the games against San Marino and, next Tuesday, away to Poland.
As this is a man who handed back the England captaincy to Terry, who has so much baggage he needs a fleet of trucks to take him to training, a four-letter tweet is hardly likely to bother the England manager.
However, Hodgson is likely to be pragmatic against the worst side in the world because a team selected from the press box (I am injured) could probably give San Marino a game. Players will be rested ahead of the trip to Poland and the F.A. will heave a sigh of relief if Cole is not on the team sheet Friday.
Terry, meanwhile, is set to accept the four-game ban handed out for his Ferdinand outburst rather than appeal against the sanction. Chelsea has so far said nothing, preferring to wait until the case is closed.
Last week the club fined Cole, not for his part in a coverup of a racial charge but for the tweet. The commission’s statements about Terry could hardly have been more damning, it was an assassination in words, basically calling the defender a liar.
Roman Abramovich has never seemed to have a problem with Chelsea’s disciplinary excesses, on and off the pitch, which began under Jose Mourinho.
The Russian has allowed the dressing room to become so influential that certain players, understandably, consider themselves untouchable.
The image of the European champions has been severely damaged, but Abramovich has done nothing to stop the harm to the brand so there is no reason to hope things will change. I can think of only one club that would allow a player found guilty of a racist remark to retain the captaincy and few expect Terry’s status to change.
My guess is that Chelsea will say that internal disciplinary action will be taken against Terry but it will remain private.
His offense, like that of Cole, was committed in pubic so why should the public not know the punishment?
Why the secrecy?
Without transparency some cynics — not me, of course — would even wonder if any disciplinary action has actually been taken.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.