How Ashley Cole Can Win His Chelsea and England Place Back

Dan LeveneFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - AUGUST 29:  Ashley Cole of Chelsea during a training session prior to the UEFA Super Cup match between FC Bayern Munchen and Chelsea at Stadion Eden on August 29, 2013 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Once unquestionably the world's greatest left-back, Ashley Cole now can't seem to get a game.

The Londoner, given a one-year contract extension by Chelsea late last season, seems to be surplus to requirements as Jose Mourinho attempts to push his side beyond the heights achieved by other recent managers.

Cole has not started at left back in any of Chelsea's last five Premier League games, with Mourinho preferring natural right-back Cesar Azpilicueta there. But why?

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Azpilicueta has more in the way of pace than Cole, who has noticeably slowed in the last year.

The Spaniard also offers a more complete game from end to end on the pitch: both tracking back and going forward. And this season he has worked better as a counterbalance to his opposite number at right-back.

Pace is something unlikely to return for Cole: once it's gone, it's gone. Which is a problem, because Premier League football has never been more reliant upon this asset.

The tactical balance and mobility, once staples of his game, are something he should be able to retrieve—though these, classically, come with practice.

Essentially, Cole needs to play matches in order to be good enough to play matches. This is the quandary many players fall foul of when they get any distance into their 30s.

The difficulty of being at a club like Chelsea is that there is no real downtime, and no slack for the manager to give chances to those languishing beyond the first team.

Thus, that first-team place is likely to be more forthcoming elsewhere—should Cole have the appetite for a move.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Cole faces much the same issues for England.

At 33, and without a regular starting place at club level, it seems highly unlikely he will feature in Roy Hodgson's World Cup first XI. Leighton Baines is probably an automatic pick there now.

Though Cole, with his 106 caps (lest we forget, only four men have more), does offer an incredible depth of experience to the squad.

As well as possessing a masterclass of left-back knowledge, Cole is also a hugely popular figure among England team-mates.

The frequent focus of grief from England crowds, he has unquestioning respect from fellow professionals (as John Dillon reports in the Express) and has a reputation as being one of football's most likable guys.

Hence, he probably offers enough value to deserve the ticket to Brazil Hodgson is expected to give him.

Beyond this summer, however, Cole's future for club and country looks far from certain.