When Ashley Cole says "I hate England and the people" – as he is supposed to have informed friends ahead of the World Cup – you can be sure that the most common response will be outrage. A more considered reflection would be: why would he think anything else?
Cole often has to leave home in the boot of his car to avoid the paparazzi attention that he gets. He appears quite an angry, isolated man who for the duration of the World Cup has refused to utter a single word to the press, either in the aftermath of games when players are encouraged to speak or in the set-piece press conferences organised by the Football Association before matches.
He was photographed after England's defeat to Germany laughing with Ledley King. The backlash was predictable: how dare he look happy during a period of national mourning and self-loathing. As if Cole needs permission to find anything funny until England have qualified for Euro 2012.
At times like this, I feel sorry for Cole. What happened in his marriage is no one's business although inevitably it is his separation from his wife – and the pages of endless speculation about it – by which he is judged. Cole has made mistakes. His own judgement has been poor at times and so has the judgement of those he pays handsomely to advise him. But the pariah status that he now lives under has reached absurd levels.
As for his autobiography and the infamous passage that is quoted ad nauseum about him rejecting Arsenal's contract offer of £55,000-a-week – as if this ends all debate about his character – that is the kind of exchange that goes on in all contract negotiations in football. Are the sums of money outrageous? Of course they are, but no one supposes that Lionel Messi accepts the first offer Barcelona make to him.
The statement that Cole released to explain why he said he "hated" England – which featured on his BlackBerry Messenger status so must have been made public by a friend betraying him – was just as profound an insight into the way he thinks. "I always try my hardest for England and Chelsea," he said, "but the intrusion and pressure I feel is making my life hell."
Most people will tell you that sympathy is wasted on multi-millionaire footballers. But actually Cole's background is typical of the lives of many young people growing up in modern Britain. He grew up in a single-parent family, brought up his mother who is, by all accounts, a strong character. His father Ron Callender left the family home when Cole was a child and recently made some less-than-helpful appearances in the tabloids. He surfaced before the 2006 World Cup to discuss his son and then re-appeared this year to say Cole deserved to be dumped by his wife Cheryl.
With a paternal influence like that it is hardly a surprise that an individual will make some mistakes in his life. In the absence of a father, the void is filled by football agents, older team-mates and even managers.
At first football was very good for Cole, who comes from a tough part of east London, but judging by his mood in recent years it has been bad for him. At Arsenal he was a sunny character, always available to be interviewed and an example of what a successful young English footballer should be.
In many respects, he still is. He was one of the few players to have a decent World Cup and now has 82 caps for his country. He has reached that total at the age of 29 years and just over six months. David Beckham was well past 30 when he reached 82 caps. Which means that with a fair wind, and providing he stays injury-free, Cole should sail past the 100-mark in less than two years. Every one of those 82 caps has been a start.
There have been rumours of international retirement and even a move to Real Madrid but Cole is thought to be minded to carry on playing for England until Euro 2012 at least. It makes you wonder whether, when he reaches 100 caps, he will get the same reception at Wembley as Beckham did. Given that Cole was unforgivably booed there for a simple error against Kazakhstan in October 2008, you would not count on it. No wonder he says he hates the place.Reuse content