LONDON – He is seen as the type of player who gives footballers a bad name. Someone who typifies all the perceived negatives about the modern-day player.
Ashley Cole is the snarling face of the beautiful game, someone who disputes every decision made by a referee or an assistant, someone who seems to thrive on his unpopularity.
Greedy, unfaithful, ungrateful with a grudge against the media to the extent he has not spoken to the written press for seven years.
When Cole was asked to speak to the press after Chelsea had won the Champions League last May, he cast an eye towards the mixed zone and said: “No, f—- them.”
The only thing the media and Cole agree on is their opinion of each other. It would be equally wrong to think either party cares.
Next Wednesday the Chelsea left-back is set to win his 102nd cap for England in the friendly against the Republic of Ireland and he is almost certain to turn down Roy Hodgson’s “special” invitation to lead the team at Wembley in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard, making him his country’s only centurion not to be captain.
What cannot be disputed, even by those who dislike Cole — which is just about everyone who doesn’t support Chelsea — is his talent. It is difficult to think of a more consistent player over the last 12 years; if Cole plays in the 2014 World Cup, it will be a record four appearances for an England player.
Cole should be admired and respected for a career with Arsenal and Chelsea that has seen him win three Premier League titles, seven F.A. Cups, one League Cup, one Champions League and one Europa League.
So where did it all go wrong?
It started seven years ago when, in his autobiography, he wrote: “When I heard Jonathan Barnett (his agent) repeat the figure of £55,000, I nearly swerved off the road. He (former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein) is taking the p—-, Jonathan, I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I had heard.”
The paragraph has become a tattoo for life and the nickname Cashley was born. After signing with Chelsea for £90,000 a week he issued a statement saying he “forgave” Arsenal — how nice — but when the clubs met Gunners’ fans waved £20 notes with Cole’s face on them.
His high profile marriage to Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Tweedy inevitably attracted media interest, as did their September 2010 divorce. What happened in between kept the dreaded media busy, too.
During their marriage “sexy” photos taken by Cole of himself in a mirror, as you do, were sent to a topless model, but not by the player in case that was what you were thinking.
This was Cole’s explanation: He took the images on an unregistered pay-as-you-go phone, then didn’t manage to delete them when he gave it away to a pal.
He gave the unregistered mobile — which he said he had been using while he was “between phones” — to a close friend, but, unknown to Cole, his friend gave it to another pal who found the images and took his chance to hoodwink a girl the tabloids called “sexy Sonia.”
For some reason, Cheryl did not believe this entirely plausible story.
In February 2011, Cole accidentally shot a 21-year-old student on work experience with a .22 caliber air rifle at Chelsea’s training ground. Cole fired at Tom Cowan from two meters away, apparently unaware that the rifle was loaded.
Come on, who hasn’t done something similar?
Cole holds it against the press for reporting these things and many other similar off-field stories such as swearing in front of a police officer (£80 penalty notice) and doing 104 in a 50-zone.
Cole said his actions were “excusable” as he was trying to shake off the paparazzi (none of whom were caught speeding) but incredibly the magistrate did not agree with the defender and fined him £1,000 with a four-month driving ban.
His dislike, putting it mildly, of the media — England captains have to attend a pre-match news conference, will in all probability mean Cole refusing the “special gesture” offer of the armband next Wednesday.
The fact he was fined £90,000 by the Football Association last October for his tweet aimed at English football’s governing body may also be a consideration.
“I don’t think he regards himself as a leader,” said Hodgson. “When I talk of him as a potential captain, it would be a special gesture. I will ask him, I think dialogue with the players is very important. They have big careers behind them and you don’t ride roughshod over them. You put an idea to them and then ask.
“Every player has the right to be true to their own feelings and Ashley’s is that he will do his talking on the field. He doesn’t want to give lots of interviews, he wants to be judged as a pure footballer. I, for one, respect that wholeheartedly.”
If Cole was judged on his achievements as a footballer his popularity would be sky high. But it is impossible to ignore or forget the near-crashing of his car at hearing he had been offered “only” 55 grand per week, the photos and how they came to end up with sexy Sonia, the air rifle, his lack of respect toward match officials and so much more.
Cole stands alongside Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Peter Shilton, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard in England’s 100 Club.
A magnificent seven, but only six role models.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.