England’s most-capped full-back Ashley Cole added another accolade to his name this week as he became only the seventh Englishman to earn his 100th cap in England’s victory over Brazil. For over a decade he has been a dominant figure amongst a so called golden generation. Yet there are still people who refuse to praise his accomplishments alongside the other six centurions such as Beckham and Gerrard, all because of his actions outside of football.
Thankfully, the large majority of the capacity crowd at Wembley for England’s friendly versus Brazil were willing to acknowledge the occasion by cheering Coles name as the line-ups were read out. He was also voted England fans player of the year back in 2010.
Cole made his senior debut in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in Tirana on 28 March 2001 under Sven-Goran Eriksson. Since then he has been an ever present under the numerous managers that have replaced Sven, appearing in three FIFA World Cup final tournaments and two UEFA European Championships. He is one of the few players of this current generation that has consistently performed anywhere close to the over-inflated ability level of the golden generation.
Astonishingly, none of Cole’s 100 appearances for England have been from the bench, which is a phenomenal achievement in itself and just goes to show how valued he has been to the country and manager for over a decade. Ironically despite reaching this landmark Cole may have to settle for a place on the bench if he wants to if he wants to break another record by becoming the first English player to appear in four World cup finals. The emergence of Leighton Baines has arguably provided England with a more suitable option. Cole is now 32 and while Chelsea consider him good enough to see out another season in the Premier League, Baines has been a revelation this season and did not look out of place when he replaced Cole at half time against Brazil.
His performances for club and country have earned him a spot in numerous teams of the year and sparked debates over whether he was the best left-back in the world. Whether he has ever been the best is hard to say considering how many times I’ve had the chance to see other left-backs play in comparison to Cole. Stuart Pearce believes he is the best left-back to play for England and it is difficult for me to argue against that having only followed England’s progress during Cole’s introduction to the team. In that time he has won numerous Premiership titles and FA Cups with two clubs and last year he won the Champions League with Chelsea.
The one real standout match that seems to get mentioned every time when discussing Cole’s capabilities is England’s Euro 2004 quarter-final defeat to Portugal. All the talk before hand had been about how England would cope with the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only did Cole cope with the threat but he had him in his back pocket for the entire game. He scored his penalty in the shootout defeat, but has never scored a goal for England in his 100 appearances.
It would be foolish to suggest the stigma attached to Cole isn’t completely undeserved and he certainly played his part in shaping football fans opinion of him. The animosity from Arsenal fans for example has always been understandable after the way he left to join a rival club, but he isn’t alone in chasing a better wage and that isn’t something exclusive to football.
However, for other England fans the problem tends to surround Coles well publicised private life. The left-back became the perfect target of fitting into what is perceived as the modern day footballer and everything that is wrong with them. I’m not saying he is the perfect role model, but then not everyone in such privileged positions are and there are times when such trivialities should be put aside to recognise a fantastic achievement. Whether you like him or not it would be foolish to dismiss he deserves his place in the elite 100 club.