I assume it’s because none of us had seriously bothered to entertain the idea of him leaving in the summer, but I think surprisingly little has been made of Ashley Cole signing a contract extension with Chelsea. It makes no sense to me that whilst the media continue to express bewilderment and in some cases patently false appal over Frank Lampard’s contract situation, hardly any significant sports writer it seems has taken the time to acknowledge Cole’s new deal as anything more than ‘probably a good bit of business’.
I would have felt some pretty genuine appal had Cole been released this summer. In my opinion he’s still the 2nd best player Chelsea have after Juan Mata (and is likely to remain so until Oscar and Eden Hazard properly find their feet in England). He’s also still the best left back in the world. Marcelo’s attacking/playmaking abilities are a futile contestation given the weakness of his defending in comparison. Jordi Alba is talented and improving but is yet to reach Cole’s level. Filipe Luis has never lived up to his potential because of knee injuries. And with Philip Lahm established as a right sided player these days, the ‘best in the world’ title definitely belongs to our #3, as it has done now arguably for eight straight years.
I don’t think it’s hard to understand why Cole is appreciated and rated so highly by most Chelsea fans. Few players in my opinion can inspire trust the way Ashley does. The faith I have in him to relentlessly do the right thing, make the right decisions, take up the right positions is resolute, and honestly, I think is well earned. Even when the opponents end up scoring from move that started deep on our left flank, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that nothing could’ve been done, or it was somebody else’s fault. I’m not saying he’s perfect or has ever even played a perfect game. He just seems to me to play with a class that can’t be taught or learned or even gained through experience. Even his most passionate critics/bitter Arsenal fans have to admit, Cole’s talent is extraordinary.
There was an important highlight in the game against Arsenal on Sunday when our left back deliberately brought down Bacary Sagna on the edge of the area to prevent a fairly decent goal scoring opportunity. It was inexcusably cynical. Tony Evans in The Times saw the incident as an excuse to remind his readers that Cole is a “nasty little cheat” – pretty recreational phrasing for a broadsheet buy hey-ho. Another perspective could be that Cole executed a well thought through tactical foul that very possibly saved two points and a good deal of morale for his team. To blow two, two-goal leads in four days (and at home) would’ve been devastating. This isn’t to permit deliberate cheating, but I think that moment was a good example of the awareness, diligence and deliberateness with which Cole always plays. Alright he could put a little more effort into upholding the spirit of the game – but after all, he isn’t paid £120,000 a week to be liked.
The future of the left back position at Chelsea looks destined then to remain unclear for at least another year. Ryan Bertrand is a solid young player and is usefully versatile. I think the fact that he has to be rated and compared next to Cole is unfortunate because as talented as he is, he is an obvious step down in quality. How big a step down remains to be seen and impossible to tell until he’s had a decent run of starts in defence. Whether he can prove himself to be of ‘Chelsea quality’ over the next 18 months I think to some extent is irrelevant. When Cole leaves we’ll have to go shopping for a replacement.
Lucas Digne’s name has come up recently. To be honest, I’ve never seen him play, don’t know where the rumours have come from and don’t give them much credit. A far more interesting link being made is with Southampton’s 17 year old Luke Shaw, who revealed on his Twitter page last week that he is a fan the club. As well as stating Stamford Bridge was the ground he was most looking forward to visiting, he asserted his belief that Cole and Lampard were better than other PL stars like Baines, Scholes and Gerrard and he’d also take Drogba over Samuel Eto’o!
Shaw’s performance at Stamford Bridge was fantastic for such a young player. His run and assist for Southampton’s equalizer was unbelievable, while his general play was intelligent and controlled. He’s come out and stated his intention to sign a long term contract with Southampton in the summer, but the prospect of him succeeding Cole with Chelsea and with England at this stage I think remains feasible, although it’s dangerous to speculate with players this young. However, the talent and enthusiasm in Shaw is obvious. A saga not dissimilar to the one with Romelu Lukaku could be about to begin – hopefully it ends the same way.