It is hard to pinpoint when he lost the title, but Ashley Cole was arguably the world's best left-back for the better part of a decade. His positional sense, pace and understanding with John Terry were key in Chelsea winning multiple trophies during his now eight-year tenure at Stamford Bridge.
Purchased from Arsenal in 2006, for £5 million and William Gallas, Cole's Chelsea career has seen him win the FA Cup four times, the Premier League once, with Europa League and Champions League titles as well. Add in trophies won with Arsenal and the England international has three more FA cups, and two more Premier League champions medals.
Cole's current deal with Chelsea is rumored to be nearly £200,000 per week, per Neil Ashton and Charles Sale of The Daily Mail; should the parties wish to stay together that figure would have to dramatically reduce one would think.
While Cole's history is worth a massive amount, Chelsea are not in the tradition of rewarding past glory with multiple years of commitment (see Didier Drogba). The Blues' business model is focused on one's future performance, making £200,000 per week grandiose considering Cole's current level of contribution.
Supposing the monetary hurdle is successfully jumped, Cole's minutes on the pitch are the next issue of concern.
The venerable left-back has seen his position come under serious threat. Cesar Azpilicueta has found favour in the eyes of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, and he is coming in to his own—starting 16 of Chelsea's last 17 Premier League games.
It's not often Mourinho gets his tactics wrong; as Chelsea have conceded six fewer goals than any other top flight squad, the position of Azpilicueta seems a lock until further notice.
Even still, "form is temporary" as the old adage goes, and the Spaniard's strong run of games could come to an end just as soon as it materialised. Having a veteran, experienced back-up in the ranks is always a positive, but Cole might seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Via ESPN FC, Mourinho hinted in a press conference earlier this month, Cole may be tempted by the MLS. Dave Kidd of the Mirror has reported Liverpool's interest in the services of the England international; a rumour which conforms to logic as Reds' boss Brendan Rodgers looked to acquire Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand in the summer, per The Daily Mail's Matt Barlow.
In any event, Cole will have suitors, but his staying at Stamford Bridge would lend a confidence in numbers few on the planet could provide. Are there better options given temperament and money? Sure. But none of the replacements offer two UEFA Team of the Year (2004 and 2010) selections, familiarity with the club and the silverware haul Cole's collected.
The key component will be what Mourinho decides to do at right-back.
If Branislav Ivanovic, 30, remains in the side, Azpilicueta will continue to play on the left—thereby sealing Cole's fate. If Ivanovic isn't with the team, Azpilicueta will revert to his preferred flank, leaving Cole and the returning Aston Villa loanee Bertrand to battle it out on the left.
Neither scenario is likely, but guessing the decision-making of Mourinho is tantamount to spitting outside a moving car's window—you never quite know where things will land.
The last four months of Cole's deal will see him try to find minutes in an effort to prove he can still play. With the FA Cup and Capital One Cup gone from Chelsea's schedule, the matches to prove his worth are few and far between.
That said, Chelsea should offer their long-time servant a new deal. Along with Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and John Terry, Cole represents the remaining core of Chelsea's decorated past.
The quartet should garner the same level of respect Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United gave Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar in their time.
If Cole declines the would-be one-year extension, you couldn't blame him, but it seems a travesty not to at least offer the option.