A brief guide to … LA Galaxy’s Ashley Cole, once the world’s finest left-back


The English defender comes to MLS having won everything there is to win. Forget the lurid headlines, he was unquestionably a world-class operator

With the Guardians unstoppable rise to global dominance** we at Guardian US thought wed run a series of articles for fans wishing to improve their knowledge of the sports history and storylines, hopefully in a way that doesnt patronise you to within an inch of your life. A warning: If youre the kind of person that finds The Blizzard too populist this may not be the series for you.

** Actual dominance may not be global. Or dominant

The members of Englands fabled Golden Generation of the early Noughties never achieved very much with the three lions on their shirt. But then again, who does? And at least plenty of them have mighty fine club careers to look back on. The likes of David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and John Terry didnt do badly at all.

You could make an argument, though, that while all these lads operated at the very top level of the world game, none of them reached the very top in their own right: that is to say, none of them could ever claim to have been, at any point in their career, the very best in the world in their given position. (No, hipsters, Scholes didnt get there, but thats an argument for another day.)

Theres always an exception that proves the rule, though, and one member of that generation is able to make that claim. He was probably one of the least heralded of the group, and certainly the least popular with the neutral punter. And yet for a good chunk of the Noughties and beyond, Ashley Cole was probably the best left-back on the planet.

Good luck in getting any credit for that, though. Unfortunately, Cole also possessed a world-class ability to get himself into world-class trouble, thanks to a series of regrettable incidents that would do much to obscure his slick operations on the field of play. Take, to pull a random example from the ether, the time he shot someone.

Early in 2011, Cole was larking around at Chelseas training ground with a .22 calibre air rifle, the most powerful weapon that can be legally owned in the UK without a licence. Sure enough, it accidentally went off in his hand, officer, and a young sports science student at Chelsea on work experience found himself full of buckshot. Cole had been unaware the gun was loaded. A severe bollocking followed. Cole, for the record, was a 30-year-old man at the time.

In 2010, Cole was hauled over by traffic cops for whistling down the A3 in leafy Surrey at 104mph in his Lamborghini. The speed limit on the stretch was 50mph. Cole told the arresting officer that he was aware of the restriction, but thought he had just been pootling along at a mere 80mph. He also claimed to have been fleeing from paparazzi, and that the local constabularys time might be better spent dealing with that particular menace. Cole was fined GBP£1,000, plus another GBP£315 to reflect his income.

Cole also became something of a national pariah in the wake of marrying Cheryl Tweedy out of popular singing troupe Girls Aloud. Pious moralisers had a field day when Cole later became the subject of a kiss-and-tell tabloid story about a drunken liaison with a hairdresser: how dare he cheat on the nations sweetheart!

Of course the majority of normal folk ie those who didnt have newspaper columns to fill were less censorious over this private matter. However, goodwill for the marriage remained thin on the ground thanks to an infamous promotion for the National Lottery, which pictured the love-struck millionaires as angels draped over a white Rolls-Royce in heaven. The 2006 campaign, which health experts now agree should have come with a health warning over the potential onset of type II diabetes, irritated everyone who saw it beyond patience.

Perhaps most notoriously a state of affairs which takes some doing, given he once capped someone while at work Cole suffered a dreadful PR disaster when he got round to explaining the thought process behind his defection from Arsenal to London rivals Chelsea in the summer of 2006. His autobiography My Defence sold just 4,000 copies in the first six weeks on sale, but garnered an equal number of column inches thanks to the account of his response to Arsenals offer of a £55,000-a-week contract extension.

Cole had been wheeling around in his motor at the time, when his agent Jonathan Barnett announced the figure over the Bluetooth. Cole, in his own words, nearly swerved off the road. He [Arsenal suit David Dein] is taking the piss, Jonathan! I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger.

And in a stroke, the Cashley Cole character was born. Thing is, though Cole was also swerving recklessly towards worlds smallest violin territory, he had something of a point. In the absurd context of Big Football, the offer wasnt commensurate for a player who had established himself at the very top of his sport his duel with Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004 was an engaging, epic battle between two emerging greats and who Arsenal had previously valued at £30m. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid, but his argument had a sound logic.

Cole was the real deal. His partnership on the left flank for Arsenal with Robert Pires was a major factor in the teams famous Invincible season of 2003-04. Gary Neville once compared the triple threat of Cole, Pires and Thierry Henry to having the Red Arrows whoosh around him. This is as good a goal as youll ever see from a full-back.

At Chelsea he would develop a penchant for crucial goalline clearances: in their successful Champions League campaign of 2012, he denied Christian Maggio of Napoli and Barcelonas Cesc Fabregas at crucial moments. In the final he was brave enough to take the fourth penalty, as he did in Chelseas defeat by Manchester United in 2008, too. His willingness to step up to the plate never mind score was very rare for an English defender.

He joins LA Galaxy having won everything there is to win. His domestic league title four times. A League Cup. The Champions League. The Europa League. And the FA Cup a record seven times. Everything except a medal for England, of course. But lets not demand he hook the moon with a lassoo. Unquestionably a world-class operator, and the best of the Golden Generation. All those lurid headlines will fade away soon enough. History will be kind.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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