Chelsea Player Focus – Ashley Cole

Fresh from his Players’ Player of the Year winning season in 2008/09, Ashley Cole thrived last term as Carlo Ancelotti guided Chelsea to their first league title in four attempts. Adopting a diamond formation for the introductory months of the campaign, the Italian tactician’s narrow midfield meant that Cole was expected to get forward and maintain the supply for the forwards from wide areas. It was a tactic that encouraged Cole’s natural way of playing, in an age where the role of the attacking full-back is becoming increasingly important. Despite another stellar season for the Blues, a fractured ankle in February threatened to hinder his World Cup hopes.

Bursting onto the scene as a fresh-faced left-winger at Arsenal indicated that he had all the tools necessary to blossom into a full-back, who had both the desire and ability to get further up the pitch in support of attacking moves. The defensive and tactical discipline instilled into him by former manager Arsene Wenger made Cole the perfect candidate to replace Nigel Winterburn, the left-back in Arsenal’s famous, fearsome back four of the nineties. Since the position change, Cole has not looked back, establishing himself as the elite left-back in England.

The manner in which the England left-back joined Chelsea from Arsenal anointed Cole as ’Judas’ in Higbury folklore. Openly admitting that you wish to join a rival is one thing. However not getting true value for a player is a cardinal sin in a world where your most prized assets can recoup tens of millions of pounds. It would be a disservice to William Gallas to label him as a makeweight in the deal as he proved to be a success at Arsenal, yet the move became the catalyst in reinvigorating Cole’s career. His positional sense has developed since leaving Arsenal and, immune to lapses in concentration, he has progressed into a truly world-class left-back. Signing him was a remarkable coup for the Stamford Bridge outfit. Cole has profited out of the switch too, gaining three FA Cup Winners medals – to match the amount he won at Arsenal – and collecting another Premier League winners’ medal last season, the third of his career.

For all his good work on the pitch, a number of off-field misdemeanours have made Cole no stranger to jeers from opposition fans, with the Arsenal faithful at the head of the queue. The team’s homecoming from the disastrous World Cup brought further revelations that Cole could have gone without, most notably the claim that he ‘hated England and all the people’. The left-back quashed the claim stating: “I always try my hardest for England and Chelsea but the intrusion and pressure I feel is making my life hell.” Overcoming his injury, Cole returned to the Chelsea side in April, utilising the end of season run-in to regain fitness ahead of the World Cup. Despite England’s dismal showing, Ashley Cole was one of few that could hold his head high after his displays in South Africa. Reproducing his impressive club form in his country’s recent Euro 2012 qualifying matches has ensured that Chelsea’s No.3 is widely regarded as the world’s No.1 in his position.

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