It is a curious fact that, since he joined Chelsea in August 2006, Ashley Cole has proffered more official public apologies than he has scored goals for the club that made him the best-paid left-back in the world.
Public apologies: 2 (to referee Mike Riley last March and yesterday to the police officers who arrested him for being drunk and disorderly on Wednesday night). Goals: 1 (against West Ham, March 2008). Once again yesterday, Cole was desperately trying to salvage what remains of his good name by claiming that his frustrations with paparazzi after a night out with his Chelsea team-mates led to him swearing at police outside the Collection nightclub in South Kensington.
The question, as ever, is when is Ashley Cole going to learn? Meet him and he does not come across like an unpleasant rich footballer – he just happens to be guilty of some of the worst judgement calls in the history of the modern game. There's his infamous derision of Arsenal's £55,000-a-week contract offer, the manner of his departure from Arsenal, his contempt towards Riley during that game at White Hart Lane and Wednesday night's episode.
The great British public would probably add to that list his infidelity to his wife – the fragrant Cheryl – although unlike his other mistakes the details of his marriage are not a matter of public record. The sad story is that Cole, 28, should be one of English football's most-cherished players, a kid from Stepney from a single-parent family who made it at Arsenal despite the competition of a squad that then included some of the best footballers in the world.
Instead, Cole is now the default option when opposition fans pick out a Chelsea player to boo. He has come to represent the crudest archetype in English football, the player who does not realise how good he has it and, perhaps worst of all, he has been booed mercilessly by England supporters at Wembley after an error against Kazakhstan in October. Maybe Cole does not care about his public persona but it would take bullet-proof self-confidence to ignore the likely reaction to his latest mistake and Cole has never come across as that self-assured.
Cole was eager to emphasise in his apology that he was swearing out of frustration at the paparazzi – "I would never disrespect police officers," he said. He also wanted to point out that his alcohol-consumption was not "excessive". He was out with John Terry and Michael Mancienne and the late night during this busy time of the season does not look good for any of them, especially not Cole, who was eventually released by police at 5.30am.
Chelsea have not indicated whether they have initiated a disciplinary process for Cole and claim that they will not disclose whether or not they will fine him the maximum two weeks' wages, around £220,000, on top of the £80 he had to pay the police. The signs are that the club regard the apology as sufficient. Yet the disciplinarian Cole must fear most is not Guus Hiddink, who needs every player he has to resurrect Chelsea's season, but the England manager, Fabio Capello.
This will be the first time that Capello must deal with a senior England player stepping out of line during his time in charge of the team. The Italian is expected to be fully briefed on the incident today and the Football Association has left any decision up to him. An England fan who belongs to the englandfans membership, set up by the FA for distributing tickets, would be warned were he to commit the same offence as Cole did on Wednesday night but not expelled.
Cole's latest mistake will undoubtedly be a major issue in the build-up to England's friendly against Slovakia on 28 March and, unlike Steven Gerrard's charge of assault and affray, Cole has admitted wrongdoing. Lord Triesman, the chairman of the FA, was expected to be asked about the Cole incident by fans when he took part in a question-and-answer session last night.
Cole's misdemeanour is not comparable to the much more serious allegation against Gerrard yet it will not be allowed to pass without some public comment from Capello. Although he fosters that air of detachment and coldness, it places the Italian in a difficult situation. He is essentially a pragmatist who has put up with awkward characters such as Antonio Cassano in his career before now if he deemed them to be useful. He will not want to lose Cole even for one friendly game.
What Cole neglected to mention in his statement was that earlier on Wednesday night he had attended a club event for Chelsea's two charities: CLIC Sargent and Right to Play. The entire Chelsea first-team squad were in attendance and, thanks to Cole's subsequent behaviour, the two charities have probably never got quite as much coverage as they have in the last 24 hours. It will not be quite how they expected it but suddenly the pictures of Cole at their event had a premium.
As for Chelsea officials who organised the day, they were probably more hopeful that the night would be remembered for their good works. Cole's lack of judgement had let him down again but, while he remains useful to Chelsea and England, he is destined to be forgiven yet again.
The life and times of Ashley Cole
Cole was fined £100,000 by the Premier League in 2005 for joining his agent at a dinner with the then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon.
In his autobiography Cole detailed heated contract negotiations. He demanded £60,000 a week, while his agent tells him Arsenal will not budge above £55k. "I nearly swerved off the road. '[David Dein] is taking the piss!' I yelled down the phone."
A month after the release of his autobiography – where he claimed Arsenal made him a "scapegoat" and "fed him to the sharks", Cole issued a public statement, saying he forgave the club for the way they had treated him.
It could be you!
In 2006, Cole married Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Tweedy. The National Lottery stuck the "hot" couple in an advert and in an attempt to sell more Lottery tickets, dressed him in a white suit and gave him a medallion.
In the spotlight
Cole attracted yet more unflattering headlines last year after reports of a drunken affair with a hairdresser followed by a well-publicised row with his wife.
I'm sorry, Alan
In March 2008, playing for Chelsea at Spurs, Cole launched high and late into Alan Hutton. He then refused to turn around to accept his yellow card from referee Mike Riley. "I'd like to apologise to anyone I offended and of course Alan Hutton who I tackled," Cole said. "I didn't mean to go in hard that way. It was high but I tried to get the ball first, but he was too quick for me. I'm an emotional person. Things can happen on the pitch very quickly but I didn't mean to disrespect the referee."