The Last Word: Ashley Cole must lighten up to ensure his legacy
In Batman terms, the Chelsea leftback is the Dark Knight, David Beckham is the Caped Crusader
Sunday 03 February 2013
There is something faintly demeaning about Roy Hodgson pleading for civility when Ashley Cole fulfils the childhood fantasy of winning his 100th England cap against Brazil at Wembley, in the presence of Pele.
Cole will be emulating Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard. All are candidates for football's equivalent of Mount Rushmore. The Chelsea defender's career is in danger of being buried in an unmarked grave.
Wednesday will be the first day of the rest of his life. The reaction to his achievement will be portentous. The best-case scenario involves the pantomime booing to which he is routinely subjected being substituted by subdued appreciation. That reveals as much about us as about him.
The centurions provide a social timeline. Wright and Charlton lived in more deferential times. The flaws of Moore and Shilton were hinted at, rather than exposed in minute detail. Gerrard and Beckham provide a better point of reference because they are of Cole's generation
Cole is the anti-Beckham. If each was Batman, Cole would be the paranoid, edgy Dark Knight of recent vintage and Beckham would be the Caped Crusader of Sixties' innocence. The contrast is telling, and ominously simple to draw.
One is the world's favourite piece of arm candy, the other is perceived as the date from Hell. Each is associated with a popstar wife; Beckham's marriage survived the madness, Cole's disintegrated publicly and messily.
Beckham has mastered the art of saying everything and revealing nothing. Cole says nothing and is deemed to reveal everything about his character. It is the brand against the brat. One liberates Paris, the other has never got outside London. Beckham glides through life in a series of soft-focus, slow-motion replays. Summon a freeze-frame image of Cole and the mind's eye sees a taut face scarred with anger and creased by contempt.
Gerrard has had his moments of crisis and controversy. Chants aimed at him are deeply personal, predictably repugnant. Yet there is something wholesome and reassuring about his loyalty to Liverpool, club and city. He has a common touch.
When football writers honoured his career a couple of weeks ago, Gerrard visited every table, shaking the hand of each diner and thanking them for their presence. It lacked the premeditation of Beckham's brand- building, and its effect will endure. Gerrard will be given the benefit of the doubt. Cole will not. That's not big, or clever, but human nature. Athletes who make enemies on the way up, through arrogance or intransigence, tend to be ambushed on the way down. Life after football will not be straightforward.
Material wealth is, well, immaterial. What is likely to be Cole's final Chelsea contract will be worth between £140,000 and £200,000 a week, depending on whom you believe. He doesn't need the money, but he needs understanding.
Retirement is where the annuity of respect can be cashed. Great deeds are an athlete's pension plan; they are magnified, revived, acclaimed. It is a process of sanitisation, which induces amnesia and excuses mistakes made in the heat of battle.
Cole's kindness and gratitude are wilfully overlooked. He once spotted Tom Walley, the youth coach who transformed him into a left-back at Arsenal, at Wembley after an England game. He pulled his match shirt from his kitbag, insisted the old man take it and danced attendance until the lounge closed. It was an act of veneration, not charity.
He has sustained his form and commitment so successfully that Fabio Capello has chosen him as England's player of the year. Hodgson insists: "I judge him as a football player and I don't get involved in whether the public think this or that." Yet to get the credit he deserves, Cole has to learn to help himself. Lighten up, Ashley. Let the sunshine in.
Deadline day: only fools and sources
Free the Loftus Road One. Give him a Bafta for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rodney, alongside Harry Redknapp's Del Boy. Peter Odemwingie is a national treasure.
Before the moral majority have a seizure, we'd better clear up one thing. What the West Bromwich Albion forward did in attempting to ram-raid Queens Park Rangers was wrong. It was gormless.
But let's be honest. It was also priceless. Odemwingie made us all feel a little better about ourselves. His was an act of such monumental foolishness it brightened a dark winter's night.
One of the few things which makes transfer-deadline day tolerable is its inherent absurdity. Otherwise it would be just like watching the QVC shopping channel pass off cubic zirconia as an acceptable substitute for diamond.
It cuts though the pomp and pretence of modern football. Even before Venky's took control, Blackburn entered legend by faxing registration forms for Shefki Kuqi to a chip shop.
The hapless Sky reporter who recycled a fake Twitter account which suggested Norwich had bid £9.2 million for the Celtic striker Gary Hooper deserves a special mention.
But there can be only one star. This time next year, Rodney, we'll all be millionaires.
West Ham's joint chairman David Sullivan is an acquired taste. He's a little too rent-a-quote for some, yet he has the opportunity to make an important statement of intent. He claims agents threatened him with violence during the transfer window. They should be reported to the police and FA.
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