Ashley Cole: 'I didn't think I could take this much hassle'

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The Independent Online

The battles to come in England's Euro 2008 campaign may yet be won on the playing fields of Cobham. Cobham and Stoke D'Abernon, as the railway station is grandly named, is the Surrey stockbroker district where locals now fear being mown down by 4 x 4s and outswanked by footballers' wives, following Chelsea's move there to a new training centre.

Jose Mourinho has insisted that all players live within striking distance, so estate agents are rubbing hands in glee at the prospect of Mr Ashley Cole and the former Miss Cheryl Tweedy (Girls Aloud) seeking a house commensurate with their not inconsiderable wealth. More relevant to the sports pages than the property section is the fact that Chelsea will now expect to have half-a-dozen players in the England squad, training together each day and forming their own little branch of the national club that Steve McClaren is attempting to build.

Two of them, Wayne Bridge and Cole, will even be contesting the same left-back position, and the latter believes Chelsea, England and the players themselves can all benefit.

"Hopefully that can help my game and England as well," he said, "starting to get to know how Lamps [Frank Lampard] plays, and John Terry. The more I train, the more I'll know about the runs Lamps makes and he'll know the runs I make. And if I get a good relation-ship with Joe Cole it would definitely benefit the England team. So far we've played well together with England. I had a great relationship with [Arsenal's] Robert Pires, who liked to come inside like Joe, and that gave me the chance to get down the flank."

Shaun Wright-Phillips may also pop up from time to time on the left side, and Bridge, as well as being a rival, has even appeared in the same England team as Cole in the past; last week he was to be seen filling the left-midfield role in a practice session in Macedonia.

With no disrespect appar-ently intended towards Ars-ène Wenger - it is Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, with whom he bears a grudge - Cole also believes that Mourinho's coaching and tactical organisation will make him a better player: "One of the reasons for coming here is that Jose's a great tactician, so hopefully I can come here and improve my defending a little bit more, because I feel I can still improve my game."

Even though he was short of match practice after not starting a League game between October and May, Cole was one of England's few successes at the World Cup. With too much time to dwell on things during the dark days of rehabilitation, perhaps, he convinced himself that the move from Arsenal to Chelsea, first mooted over clandestine cups of tea in a London hotel, was a necessity, and finally had his way at the 11th - or 13th - hour on the night of the transfer deadline. Now there is a strong sense of a new beginning.

"All last year I was injured and was so frustrated I couldn't play," he added. "I went to the World Cup and we didn't do as well as we thought we could have done, so I had a disappointing year. Now all this is sorted out, I can get back to doing what I love. I've learnt things about myself, I didn't know I was so strong or could take this much hassle and trouble. Hopefully I've gone through all the bad stuff now and I'm starting a fresh life."

The challenges include Chelsea's attempts to succeed where Arsenal failed at the last in May and capture the Champions' League, something for which, to be fair, they look better equipped than Wenger's youngsters. Werder Bremen come to Stamford Bridge in two days' time, and later in the group Cole will have even more reason than his new team-mates to put one over Barcelona, the conquerors of Arsenal's 10 men in the Paris final.

"To walk past it [the trophy] and not pick it up was hard," he said. "It was so disappointing to walk past them celebrating. It made me want to drive on and actually pick it up this time.

"The Chelsea lads were disappointed they didn't get further and they're all ambitious to win it. To win the Champions' League is a big ambition of mine."

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