Chelsea Football Club today says goodbye to Ashley Cole, a player who contributed enormously to the highly successfully period in our history in which we were crowned champions of Europe and won the League and Cup double for the first time.
Cole, whose contract came to an end yesterday, was a Chelsea player for eight seasons, making 338 appearances, 13 of those as a substitute, and finding the net seven times.
Throughout that time he was the England team’s left-back. He announced his retirement from international football in May having won 107 caps, a record for a full-back and the fifth highest total overall.
His remarkably consistent high level of performance was always appreciated by the Chelsea support, who welcomed him to Stamford Bridge even though he joined from big London rivals Arsenal, with William Gallas moving the other way as part of a transfer-deadline-day deal in August 2006.
Cole has had no reason to regret his switch across the capital, collecting winners’ medals for the Champions League, the Premier League, the Europa League, the League Cup, the Community Shield and the FA Cup four times, taking him to his all-time record seven wins in that competition’s long history. Arsenal without Cole did not lift silverware until this year’s FA Cup final a week after he played his final Chelsea game.
In his first season as a Blue, Cole shared left-back duties with Wayne Bridge as small injury concerns hindered his involvement. Close-season surgery sorted the problem and Cole emerged as first choice for his position in his second season, scoring his maiden Chelsea goal in a 4-0 win at West Ham. He survived an injury scare in training on the eve of the 2008 Champions League Final, recovering to be one of our best players against Manchester United in Moscow, including converting his penalty in the ultimately unsuccessful shoot-out that decided the match. The big occasions and the toughest opponents have never fazed Cole.
In 2008/09, he played 49 games, the last of those an FA Cup final win on a hot, sunny day in late May, when his raiding partnership down the left with Florent Malouda did much to defeat Everton at Wembley. He was named the Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year, an award he collected again two years later. He was always a popular member of the dressing room, and captained the team on four occasions.
The epitome of the modern full-back with his tireless running up the flank and back again, and with an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time (it is unlikely any Chelsea player has cleared so many net-bound balls from on or near the goal-line, certainly not so athletically and with such agility), Cole’s best season for goalscoring was the Double-winning 2009/10 year under Carlo Ancelotti.
He scored four times, including the opener in a home win against Tottenham and the final goal in the crowning 8-0 win over Wigan (pictured below) that brought the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge. An earlier goal in another big victory, against Sunderland, was voted Chelsea Goal of the Season.
It began with John Terry’s excellent pass and in three touches Cole controlled it, put his marker on his backside and then clipped the ball over the goalkeeper.
‘I had been practicing hard in training with Lamps and Didier and normally the shots went over the bar,’ he said at the time of the award, ‘but it was a great ball from JT, we have a good understanding and we try to do that a lot.
‘As I took the touch I didn’t know what to do but I did a “Cruyff” and luckily the keeper went down and I chipped it over him.’
Defensively, there was barely a foot put wrong or a pass misplaced, and the enduring ‘triangle’ of players on the left of the team formed with Terry and Frank Lampard, was one of the key foundation stones of our success. Mr Consistent was a name that could be applied to all three and Cole played every league game in 2010/11 and did not miss one until February of 2011/12.
That season will always be most remembered for Munich and the night when we became the first London club to lift the famous Champions League trophy, but before then Cole set his record seven FA Cup wins when Liverpool were outclassed in the final. It’s a total that will take some surpassing!
On the road to becoming European champions, Cole came to the fore in those never-to-be-forgotten knockout ties against Napoli and Barcelona, executing trademark goal-line clearances in both and helping to hold the defence together under extreme pressure in the Camp Nou after the sending off of Terry. It was our left-back whose clearance sent Fernando Torres away to strike the blow that sealed for certain the exit of the reigning champions.
In the final on Bayern’s own turf he again proved nerveless in the penalty shoot-out, scoring the fourth to help set up Didier Drogba’s deciding spot-kick and adding the significant club trophy missing from his collection. ‘Ashley Cole’s won the European Cup’ became a regular crowd chant from then on, especially when we played Arsenal.
On the occasion of the Premier League’s 20th anniversary, he was named the left-back in a celebratory select 11 of the best players over those two decades.
In the 69-game season of 2012/13, the heaviest schedule in the club’s history, Cole played 51 one of them and in doing so, he passed the 300-game landmark for Chelsea. There were international appearances on top of that, and he became just the seventh England player to collect a century of caps. For his club, in Amsterdam in May 2013 he played the full match as Benfica were beaten by Chelsea in the Europa League final.
The season just completed was the first for Cole at Chelsea when he was not the most regular left-back but the 33-year-old played in the home win over eventual champions Manchester City and in the impressive clean-sheet performances away against Atletico Madrid and in the win at Anfield.
Frequently referred to as the best left-back in the world during the peak years of his career, many of which were spent at Chelsea, Cole has a very strong claim to be this club’s greatest player in his position of all time.
Chelsea Football Club thanks Ashley for the fantastic service he gave throughout his eight years here, and for helping to bring so many trophies home. We wish him well for the future.