Ashley Cole’s won the European Cup
We may potentially be seeing Ashley Cole’s last season at Stamford Bridge this year. With that in mind this is my take on one of the clubs greatest ever players.
I still often sit here and pinch myself when thinking about Munich. Being in that stadium as Didier Drogba strode confidently towards the Bayern end to sink the winning penalty was arguably the greatest rush I have ever felt in my life. I felt like crying, smiling and hugging anything in sight. It was absolutely beyond anything I have ever experienced as a Chelsea fan. After so many near misses, impartial (he laughs) decisions and being our own worst enemy we had finally won the European Cup in the most ridiculous of seasons. The Barcelona result was one of raw emotion, the type that the sanitised football moral high ground PC brigade wants to dilute. This was something different. This was just cloud nine, ten and eleven.
I, like many reading this, still have the final Sky+’d (both ITV & Sky Sports naturally). I probably watch the game once a month in its entirety. I watch the penalties once a week. I watch us lift the trophy every few days, even going so far as to memorise the exact minute on each recording that Frank Lampard and John Terry finally lift the cup with the big ears.
Yet, my favourite part of the manic post-match furore is Ashley Cole’s comments when he is being interviewed by both ITV (dealt with later) and Sky:
It was so unbelievably Chelsea. It was the spirit of Mourinho channelled through Di Matteo and delivered in a way that only Cole could. It slapped all of his detractors firmly back into their places while endearing himself to every Chelsea fan around the world. Who would have thought that an Arsenal academy product, one of their best ever players, would go on to become Chelsea’s greatest ever full-back and one of our greatest ever players? He was not only great in the sense that he is an exceptional player, but greater still in his pure unadulterated Chelsea-ness.
1 Premier League; 4 FA Cups; 1 League Cup; 1 Community Shield and of course 1 UEFA Champions League.
You can sit on your moral high ground and rattle off your reasons for disliking him; we have some trophies to win. As he said “I have a star on my shirt”.
Onto the good stuff – why I love Ashley Cole in five simple reasons.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo – football tribalism often gets in the way of a classic duel: the best right winger in the world versus the best left full-back for example. Watching Cole against Ronaldo was an actual pleasure, and who thought anyone would say that about a defender? It was a master class in tenacity, tackling and talent. When asked who his toughest ever opponent was Ronaldo responded simply with “Ashley Cole”. It was a duel he would win more often than not and it often meant Ronaldo would switch to our right flank to actually have any sort of impact on the game.
In the modern game where everything is generally centred on making the game as attacking as possible Cole has been exemplary against truly world class opponents. Not just the one off performance, not just for Chelsea, but a decade of genuine unrelenting class. The begrudging respect offered by England fans is testament to his quality.
This clip is potentially one of my favourites and two words sum it up. Ronaldo, pocket.
2. Goal line clearances – I have actually lost count of the times Cole has made a goal line clearance for Chelsea. I mean in the run to the final alone he made two incredible stops – how many more have there been? His positional sense has actually become so good in this respect that it is potentially worth a few points every season. Watching the excellent “Kings of Europe” documentary by Sky it really drove home how the players were feeling about the Napoli game. It is easy to forget given the extraordinary home leg that it was the below block that really gave us hope. In this tiny piece of play you can see exactly why Cole is heralded as one of the best defenders of his generation: pure instinct, pure class and pure determination. Who else makes that block?
He then does precisely the same against Barcelona; with the ball moving agonisingly towards the line Cole rushes back to prevent the away goal crucially (skip to 2m 51s).
Amidst the absolute rear-guard action there was even time for this little piece of skill.
3. “Getting” Chelsea – if you are on Twitter you might note that some of Cole’s responses to lesser clubs fans are often pretty special. I particularly loved the moments he shared with Ryan Bertrand and Di Matteo after winning the European Cup. Often touted as aloof by a media (who frequently try and stitch him up) when he refuses to talk to them, his on field persona speaks volumes. The baiting of Arsenal fans is even more special (come on lads if you give it you can take it). Seeing him rub the golden champions badge on his shoulder when some burk tried to “give it” and his foaming reaction was priceless. What strikes me the most is the idea that I can no longer picture him as an Arsenal player. He is Chelsea.
I do love the last few seconds of this clip.
4. Munich – the bottle, the equaliser, the stutter step, the perfect placement, the badge pat, that quiet little celebration to himself and then good old Bastian. Cole was absolutely incredible in the run up to the final. A crucial block on the line against Napoli; winning the penalty against Benfica; clearing one off the line against Barcelona and then playing an utterly imperious final. In our biggest moments on the greatest stage of them all Ash stepped up and slotted his penalty with absolute aplomb (skip to 4m 54s or just watch it again…)
5. They say the Germans don’t lose on penalties…
Our town. Our stadium. Our trophy.
Quite possibly the best post-game moment in Munich:
Say no more. Class.
The best 1-on-1 defender I have ever witnessed live, scorer of ridiculous goals, goal line clearances, nailing Chica-f**kin-rito, assaulting Spurs players, being detested by the media, being detested by away fans and absolutely loved in SW6.
Cole played a starring role in our improbable run to the Champions League final, was phenomenal during the clubs first double under Ancelotti and has been the most consistent and stand out full-back in European football for a decade. If Cole does leave at the end of the season he will do so having given his best footballing years to the club. He has mentored Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Van Aanholt well, constantly chatting with them and providing on field guidance. We can only hope one of them can fill that rather large number 3 shirt that will be left behind. If he signs a new deal, fantastic; if not, he leaves in the same company as our former number 11 and that is high enough praise indeed.
One of my favourite players for a lot more than five points in a blog, I see Cole as the perfect Chelsea player. Class, enough needle to wind up any opposition fans and above all an absolute winner. I think the below link says it all.