Why Chelsea's Ashley Cole Remains the World's Finest Left-Back
There's an often recited proverb that "age is just a number." It's used to hide the shortcomings of those attempting to fight Father Time as the symptoms of age creep up and take hold.
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in modern football, but many fail to live up to such wisdom. Not Ashley Cole.
Chelsea's defender may be the wrong side of 30, but he enters the 2012-13 post-season on the back of another fine campaign for his club. Cole also won his 100th and 101st caps for England in the Three Lions' recent friendlies with the Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
The 32-year-old has been the number one left-back for club and country for the best part of a decade and despite his aging years, we can expect him to remain so for the immediate future.
He's undoubtedly England's No.1. Some will point to statistics that suggest his powers may be waning on the global stage, yet talk of his downfall is somewhat premature.
Indeed, where it counts, Cole has been the Premier League's leading defender in his position once more. For instance, among his peers Patrice Evra (1.1 per game) and Leighton Baines (0.8 per game), he made the least number of fouls (0.5 per game) in 2012-13.
Extend that across Europe and it becomes even more impressive, with Cole outshining the likes of Fabio Coentrao (0.9 per game), and Jordi Alba (1.1 per game).
With an average of two tackles made per outing, it reads favourably when considering the Englishman is successful in three of every four challenges he makes. It shows a player with the qualities to not only match and read his opponent, but to have the discipline and nerve to trust his judgement over instinct.
In an age where fullbacks are expected to do just as much in attack as they are defensively, being able to tackle effectively is a valuable commodity that can be disregarded all too easily.
Who do you think is the world's No.1 left-back right now?
Cole brings that insurance to Chelsea. He provides defensive cover like nobody else and is equally dominant in the opponent's half. Indeed, he is a menace to wingers and defenders alike. Who often leave the field after 90 minutes cutting a frustrated figure having gone head-to-head with Cole.
Sure, Alba, Evra, Baines and Bayern Munich's emerging talent David Alaba scored more goals than Cole this year—and in some cases, bagged more assists—but stats of that nature merely cause the debate to digress.
Some will argue it's too simplistic a view, but defenders are there to prevent goals rather than help score them. And when it comes to it, there aren't any better left-sided fullbacks better at it than Cole.
Sound defending is about far more than what statistics can tell us. In his 13 years as a Premier League player, Cole has demonstrated them all—positioning, judgement, intelligence and desire.
It's why Chelsea extended his contract last season. It's why he remains the world's finest.
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