It was with a pledge to repay a debt to Jose Mourinho that Ashley Cole broke his long-standing commitment not to speak to the media yesterday in Jakarta, announcing that he had not performed as he would have wished in the 12 months he played under the current Chelsea manager seven years ago.
Cole was the surprise candidate to attend Chelsea’s inaugural press conference on the Indonesian leg of their Asia tour yesterday and, reflecting on the transfer that scandalised English football seven years ago, said that he had not played as well as he could have done for the 385 days he and Mourinho were at the club in 2006 and 2007.
In terms of the transfer itself, which was the great tapping-up furore of modern football, it went before a Premier League inquiry which dished out fines, reduced on appeal, totalling £375,000 to Mourinho and Chelsea. Cole was also fined £75,000 after appeal and has never really recovered the public profile he enjoyed as an Arsenal player - although he has won eight major trophies at Chelsea.
Cole said: “Having the manager back now from 2006 when he bought me, I still feel I owe him something. I didn’t play as well as I could back then, and as well as I have for Chelsea since, when he bought me. I owe him a lot, personally. As a team, I hope we can go on and win many trophies. It’s a big club and we need to win trophies. With the new players coming in, I think we can win the Premier League title.”
Forbidden from being mentioned was the club’s bid for Wayne Rooney, a good friend of Cole who from their international service. Having made the move to Chelsea from one of their most bitter rivals, Cole was asked whether he could see a player turning down an offer from Mourinho.
Cole said: “For me, of course I jumped at the chance. He’s a great manager. He proved how good he is with the number of trophies he’s won with different teams. He’s great at motivating players and keeping you on your toes, doing what you should be doing. It’s a pleasure to play under him. For me, if he wanted me to come to Chelsea, it would be one thought in my mind to come here to be under a great manager is an honour.”
Speaking later, Mourinho said that in his view, Cole “owes me nothing, he gave me everything”. The rancour between Chelsea and Arsenal began when news emerged of a meeting in January 2005 between Mourinho; Peter Kenyon, then the Chelsea chief executive; Cole and his agent Jonathan Barnett at the Royal Park hotel in London. Cole claimed they bumped into each other by chance after a separate meeting with the Israeli agent Pini Zahavi overran.
Mourinho said that Cole was “the kind of player that you are always wishing can be your player again”. He added: “The guy now is over 30, but the way he runs, the way he plays, the birth certificate means nothing. He is the best [left-back] in England, as you know. No doubt he will always go to the national team. And he is also one of the best in the world.
“He is a great boy and a great professional. With me I don’t remember one single action that made the manager feel that it wasn’t that professional. He always worked hard and was always committed. He is never late, always gives his maximum in training and matches. He is always a group man. If, now and again, he’s not a first choice, I never heard anybody say his behaviour changed.”
Chelsea play an Indonesia All-Stars XI on Thursday before flying back to London. It looks unlikely that Frank Lampard will recover from his Achilles injury in time to figure in any of the three games in Asia.