Is There Any Way Back for Ashley Cole at Chelsea?

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Is There Any Way Back for Ashley Cole at Chelsea?
Sang Tan/Associated Press

It's a strange one.

From being the manager who was once celebrated for making careers, Jose Mourinho seems to be breaking them these days.

At Real Madrid, it was Iker Casillas who was on the receiving end of Mourinho's hard-line treatment. And now that the Portuguese manager has returned to Chelsea, Ashley Cole isn't faring much better.

The past decade has witnessed Mourinho create a who's who of European stars who have risen to the fore under his tutelage.

Is the time up on Ashley Cole's Chelsea career?

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Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Costinha were just a few at Porto. At Chelsea, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba became world beaters, while Inter Milan's Diego Milito was transformed into one of the continent's most-feared front men.

"I don't know [when Ashley Cole will play again]," Mourinho said on Tuesday, as per BBC Sport. "I'm happy with the way [Cesar] Azpilicueta is performing."

In a World Cup year, that has to be a concern for the Chelsea left-back. In the same year his contract expires, it means double trouble.

This season of all seasons, every player knows he needs game time in order to be considered for his country come the summer in Brazil.

From once being England's—and the world's—leading left-back, however, it seems time has caught up with Cole.

Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

His form hasn't been what we've grown used to expect from a man of his talents, and with him being replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta in the starting line-up, the writing has long been on the wall.

It's one thing to lose your position in a team, but quite another when it's to a player playing out of position.

In his place, Azpilicueta has given Chelsea balance defensively. He may not venture forward in the same way Cole has down the years, yet at the back, he has been impressive.

Indeed, we saw how vital he was in Chelsea's recent Premier League victory over Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, putting in an accomplished display to quell the attacking threat of Manuel Pellegrini's side.

It was telling that Mourinho opted to select him again when Chelsea returned to Manchester for their fifth-round tie in the FA Cup against City on Saturday, leaving Cole on the bench.

Right now, Cole is none the wiser as to when he will get an opportunity to win his place back, especially given Mourinho's recent comments and Azpilicueta's form.

He doesn't have time on his side, either.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Indeed, everything seems to be working against him these days. His contract will expire at the end of the season and there are other hotter prospects who are making a name for themselves—namely, Luke Shaw.

Despite rejecting him as a youngster, the Blues are known to be long-term admirers of the Southampton left-back, as per The Mirror, and he continues to show with each performance for Saints that he is very much the future of English football in his position.

Cole, on the other hand, looks to be in the past, having seen his fortunes take a spectacular tumble.

His last Premier League outing came over a month ago at the KC Stadium when Chelsea defeated Hull City 2-0. The headlines that day were of Eden Hazard's brilliance and continued rise; the worrying subplot being Cole's demise.

He was given a tough 90 minutes against Ahmed Elmohamady that day, who used his pace to good effect to expose Cole.

The Englishman looked way off the pace—a spectator almost. From the way things appear right now, spectating from the sidelines is how he will be finishing his Chelsea career too.

If it proves to be so, what a considerable anti-climax to an exceptional career it will be.

We've seen it often. Times move on, football changes and some are left behind. As Mourinho's new Chelsea continues to develop, it seems Cole is very much a man of the past.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes.

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