Ashley Cole: 'We need to pull clear of United before we lose Didier'

The Chelsea left back tells Mark Fleming how the African Nations Cup may damage the team's title challenge, why he'd rather win the league than the European Cup, and that facing United without Ronaldo just won't be the same
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The Independent Football

Most footballers manage to escape the pressures of competition when they drive through the electronic gates of their home, but the same cannot be said of Ashley Cole. His wife, Cheryl, this week achieved the rare feat of topping both the album and the singles charts at the same time. Her first solo album 3 Words entered the charts at No 1 on Sunday, and her debut release "Fight For This Love" stayed on top of the singles charts for the second week running. The missus has already "done the double" – now it's over to Ashley.

By any barometer of celebrity (from column inches in Grazia to X Factor TV ratings), it's safe to say that Britain loves Cheryl. Her husband, on the other hand, seems destined to play every away game to a chorus of jeers and boos.

This, however, could be a historic season for Cole as not only is he certain, barring injury, to be part of Fabio Capello's England squad for the World Cup finals in South Africa in the summer, but he could by then also be the holder of a unique record.

If Chelsea win the league, Cole, having won it with Arsenal in 2002 and 2004, would become only the second player, after the Norwegian Henning Berg at Blackburn and Manchester United, and the first Englishman to win the Premier League with two different clubs.

Despite those medals Cole says that a league title with Chelsea would give him greater satisfaction than winning the Champions League.

"I won it at Arsenal but we've not won it since I came here," Cole says. "The guys here hate it when we lose out. For me this is a season when, hopefully, we can do it. Everything here is in place to do it."

This view is at odds with Chelsea's new chief executive, Ron Gourlay, who said this week the club have to win the Champions League twice in the next five years. Cole, however, reflects the mood of the dressing room, or at least its English contingent, by saying domestic silverware comes first. "For me, above everything, I want to win the Premier League, to go through 38 games and beat all these tough teams," he says. "When you win the Premier League you're a great team. It's so hard to win the league now because there are so many good teams – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham. There's a lot of good teams. Yeah, it would definitely mean more for me to win the league with Chelsea. It would be brilliant."

Champions Manchester United come to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, knowing victory for the Blues would mean a five-point lead over their title rivals. The contests between Chelsea and United have been hugely significant in recent seasons, with United having the upper hand recently after a period of domination by the London side.

Cole loves the pressure of these epic battles, even though he will miss the extra spark of going head-to-head with Cristiano Ronaldo following the World Player of the Year's £80m move to Real Madrid in the summer.

Ronaldo recently admitted he would miss playing against the Chelsea defender, saying: "I loved playing against Ashley Cole. Yes, he's tough as well, but he knows how to play the game."

The admiration is mutual. Cole says: "It's good if he meant it. He was a great player in the Premiership and what he achieved with Manchester United was brilliant. So now when we play Man U it won't be the same. It was always hard against Ronaldo and now I have to learn how to play against [Antonio] Valencia.

"They have a totally different style. But United are still a great team. It would be huge to beat them on Sunday. We've been playing well, playing with confidence, and getting results. Sunday will be a big battle."

Cole, 28, has been producing some of the best football of his career this season, liberated by the new coach Carlo Ancelotti to burst forward and support the attack. Those forays have recalled the impact he made when first breaking into the game as a teenager, a decade ago this month. Cole's form dipped after leaving Arsenal, amid acrimony and well-publicised wage demands, but he is now in his prime and has scored twice, doubling his tally in three seasons since the move.

Chelsea's form has steadily improved over the first three months of the season, particularly at Stamford Bridge, where they have won all nine games in all competitions and have conceded just one goal, 13 hours and two minutes ago when Hull's Stephen Hunt scored on the opening day of the season.

Opening a potentially significant gap over United at the start of November is a huge extra incentive for Chelsea, if any were needed, and Cole is not afraid to admit it could have far-reaching consequences in relation to the title race. "Going five points clear of United at this stage of the season would be a huge psychological advantage," he says. "Everyone says it, but if you finish above Man U you're going to win the league. That is our aim. On Sunday there's a big chance to get further ahead of them. Any points would do us but to go five clear would be very good."

Chelsea are all too aware of the need to build up a healthy lead coming to January, when they will have to cope without Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel during the African Nations Cup. Cole accepts Drogba will be hard to replace. His current form has electrified Chelsea, as witnessed on Tuesday night when the Londoners were heading for defeat against Atletico Madrid until Drogba scored twice in six minutes to turn a match that eventually ended 2-2.

Cole says: "At the moment he's unstoppable. Even when he probably doesn't mean to do a skill, it's coming off for him. He's on fire at the moment. He's strong, powerful and everything you seem to give him he'll finish. When you have players like that on form, this is a great team.

"Whoever plays against Didier has a tough time. He's been in a great run of form lately, scoring goals and working hard for the team. Hopefully, he can do that on Sunday. He's very focused and if you see what he does in defending as well – he wins every header and is coming back to help out at the back, which is brilliant for us. At the moment his all-round game is amazing. It will be tough losing a player like that in January. We did well without him last season, but we're going to miss him. It's going to be tough but if we can get a few points ahead of Man U and the rest now, hopefully we can continue."

Last May Cole became the first player in more than 100 years to win the FA Cup five times. Come next May he could become the first Englishman to have won the Premier League with different clubs. Yet that still might not be enough for him to compete with the soaring success of his wife.

Select clubs: Double title winners

*FA historian David Barber lists the players Ashley Cole hopes to emulate in gaining top-flight League winner's medals with two different teams in the post-war era:

Henning Berg (Blackburn Rovers 1995 and Manchester United 1999, 2000); Eric Cantona (Leeds 1992, Man Utd 1993, 94, 96, 97); Kevin Richardson (Everton 1985, Arsenal 1989); Peter Withe (Nottingham Forest 1978, Aston Villa 1981); Ray Kennedy (Arsenal 1971, Liverpool 1976, 77, 79, 80, 82); John O'Hare & John McGovern (Derby 1972, Nott'm Forest 1978); Francis Lee (Manchester City 1968, Derby 1975); Archie Gemmill (Derby 1972, 75, N Forest 1978); Larry Lloyd (Liverpool 1973, N Forest 1978); John Lukic (Arsenal 1989, Leeds 1992); Bobby Mimms (Everton 1987, Blackburn 1995).

Ashley Cole: A life in film?

Ashley Cole may move into a career in film when he hangs up his boots, after joining forces with England counterpart Rio Ferdinand to finance a British crime flick. Along with Ferdinand, the Chelsea left-back is listed as an executive producer of Dead Man Running, which premiered last month. Both players provided backing for the gangster movie, set in London. Directed by Alex De Rakoff and written by De Rakoff and John Luton, the flick boasts such talents as Danny Dyer, Curtis Jackson (the rapper 50 Cent). Brenda Blethyn and Tamer Hassan. In the film, Jackson's loan shark chases Nick (Hassan) for a £100,000 payment.

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