Chelsea have fined Ashley Cole over his accidental shooting of a student at the club's training ground a week ago. The club has investigated the extraordinary incident, which took place on 20 February, and believe the matter is now closed.
Cole, who earns £120,000 a week, was allegedly holding a powerful air rifle to show to team-mates when he accidentally shot Tom Cowan, a 21-year-old sports science student who had been on placement at Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey.
Cole claims he did not realise the weapon – which does not require a licence – was loaded. Chelsea's medical staff treated the wound in the student's side, and yesterday sources close to the player were playing down the incident, claiming the shot was a graze and did not break the skin.
However, the club last night issued a brief statement, which read: "We have fully investigated the incident and we are taking appropriate action. We will not be commenting further as it is an internal matter."
The bizarre incident, though, is hugely embarrassing for Chelsea, who had introduced tougher security measures at their training HQ following previous newspaper revelations that John Terry arranged tours of the complex in exchange for donations to charity. Cole will take his customary place in Chelsea team to play Premier League leaders Manchester United at Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening.
It is not the first time Cole has been accused of breaching protocol. Last February it was reported that he had tricked a club official into lying for him over an alleged extra-marital affair.
This month Cole, 30, became England's most capped left-back and was voted his country's player of the year by supporters. Cole's season took a turn for the worse when he missed a penalty last weekend as Everton knocked holders Chelsea out of the FA Cup on a shootout.
The air-gun incident comes with Chelsea in dire need of a victory over United to move back above Tottenham Hotspur into fourth place in the Premier League, amid growing stories of discontent within the camp.
Didier Drogba is reported to be unhappy at the way he has been forced out of the team by £50m signing Fernando Torres. Drogba, who turns 33 next month, was dropped for the recent games against FC Copenhagen and Fulham to make room for Torres up front. Earlier this season he had to play despite suffering from malaria because Chelsea were already missing Terry and Frank Lampard through injuries.
Drogba has been squeezed out in recent weeks as Carlo Ancelotti has tinkered with formations in an attempt to discover the system that best compliments the predatory ability of Torres.
The 2-0 victory over Copenhagen last week, in which Anelka scored twice, was the team's best display for a month following the deadline-day signing of Torres, and it is unlikely that Ancelotti will make further changes ahead of such a crucial game, leaving Drogba facing an increasingly uncertain future.
Ancelotti, however, will be keenly aware that the last Chelsea manager to leave out Drogba for a prolonged period of time was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was promptly sacked when results dipped.