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September 5, 2010

Ashley Cole – The World’s Best Left Back?

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Is it just me, or is Ashley Cole severely under-rated in his own country? I certainly can’t think of a better left back in world football at the moment. In fact, after watching England matches for nearly 50 years, I can go back to Ray Wilson and still not find a match for all the qualities that the Chelsea player has.

Ashley Cole, after all, is fast, strong, competitive, has the ability to run up and down the pitch all day if necessary and not only has good positional awareness but also has a terrific speed of recovery should he get caught out. Unlike so many modern full backs, he has got the ability to defend as well as simply being able to offer attacking threats. At just about 29 years of age, then, shouldn’t the English be celebrating the fact that the best full back in the modern game is, hopefully, going to be at his peak going into next summer’s World Cup tournament?

And yet, there are so many people who, whilst acknowledging Cole’s undoubted ability, would always want to add caveats about mistakes he’s made – on and off the pitch – that colour their judgement of him.

Arsenal supporters, of course, will especially want to vilify their former player. Cole made 228 first team appearances for the Gunners – with 9 goals to his credit – and helped them win a good number of trophies. Instead of remembering his achievements, however, people instead concentrate on his last days for the club and some of the comments he, perhaps rather unwisely, made about being undervalued. Certainly the player did himself no favours when trying to explain why he needed more money! Since his departure to Chelsea, in August 2007, Cole has always received a hostile reaction from the fans at the Emirates, which he has largely dealt with in a sensible manner. Certainly when he set up the first two goals in last month’s 3 – 0 Chelsea victory at the stadium there was none of the posturing and triumphalism that came from Arsenal’s more recent bête noir, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Perhaps Ashley Cole has also had to contend with a greater focus on his private life than many other players. His wife, of course, is now one of Britain’s most popular women – amongst both sexes, it must be said. Since his marriage to Cheryl Cole he has come under intense scrutiny every time he has stepped out of the house, it seems.

All these things aside, Ashley Cole has gone from strength to strength on the football pitch. There was a time at Chelsea when perhaps his attacking was reined in a bit too much but that did a lot, in retrospect, to sharpen his defensive skills. Now he happily seems to be able to combine both rôles with equal success. Cole marauding into opposition penalty areas and swapping intelligent passes with teammates is as common a site as seeing the player hound a winger out of the game in the defensive third. It is very rare indeed for Ashley Cole to lose those one on one battles with wingers that he seems to enjoy so much; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi included.

I yield to no-one in my admiration for the Brazilian full backs Maicon and Dani Alves, the Frenchmen Evra and Abidal and Spain’s Sergio Ramos. For me, though, none of them has the all-round game to match England’s own Ashley Cole; I wish we had someone as good at right back!

With 77 caps now and 95 games for Chelsea under his belt, perhaps it’s about time English fans realised just how lucky we are to have a player of this quality, and with his degree of determination, and appreciated him just a little bit more.

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