For the first time in nearly a decade, Ashley Cole will be lining up for a different club next season, after the English left-back's transfer to Roma was all but confirmed on Monday.
The Serie A giants tweeted the following:
Roma eventually confirmed the move on the same account:
Rob Harris of the Associated Press is reporting that Cole will sign a two-year deal with Roma:
Ashley Cole signs 2-year deal with AS Roma— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) July 7, 2014
Cole was one of the most attractive free agents this summer. His departure from Chelsea was all but a foregone conclusion, the only question left was where he'd be playing next season.
Back in May, he indicated on Twitter that he'd likely be on the move:
I am weighing up my options for playing next season with my agent and sadly it does not look like chelsea will be one of them. 💙💙💙💙— Ashley Cole (@TheRealAC3) May 19, 2014
Chelsea ultimately declined to offer him a new contract. On July 1, his deal with the club expired, ending what had been an eight-year partnership:
At Stamford Bridge, Cole continued to be one of the best left-backs in the world, a reputation he forged at Arsenal. During his time in London, he helped the Blues win four FA Cups and one Premier League, Europa League and Champions League title apiece.
Sky Sports Football tweeted out his Chelsea record:
The 33-year-old will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest defenders in the club's history.
Although his talents have diminished in recent years, Cole remains a capable defender who attracted demand from some of Europe's top clubs.
"The situation is that we are talking to several clubs," Cole's agent, Jonathan Barnett, said on July 6, per The Guardian. "At the moment it is only clubs based abroad—there may be other developments, but for the moment, that is all we are talking."
Like most marauding full-backs who hit their 30s, Cole has struggled to cope with his dwindling stamina and speed.
In his prime, he could run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes without any problems. He could launch a dangerous cross into the box one second, and the next he'd be tracking back to close down the flank and snuff out the counter-attack.
No longer is Cole capable of playing with that kind of style. On more than one occasion, Chelsea were left exposed at the back because Cole was caught too far forward.
Despite that, he remains a talented defender with his back to goal. As long as he keeps opposing attackers in front of him, he avoids running into trouble. The intelligence and timing are all still there. Cole hasn't become a shell of his former self overnight.
The biggest indicator as to his continued high level of performance is the skepticism surrounding Roy Hodgson's decision to leave him off the England roster for the 2014 World Cup when it was announced. With the Three Lions' group-stage exit, that skepticism turned into open doubt:
Spare me the excuses. Roy Hodgson made fundamental mistakes. Ashley Cole, tactics, formation. Don't buy the argument there's no-one better.— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) June 20, 2014
Might England have got a draw out of both games with JT? And not starting Ashley Cole was a mistake. Poor defending cost us.— Richard Keys (@richardajkeys) June 19, 2014
Having Cole might not have changed things radically for England, but those critics did raise a good point in that Hodgson may have left his best left-back at home for the most important fixtures of the year.
When England needed a reliable left-back against Italy, Cole was rendered a spectator. Now he'll get the chance to show Italian fans what he's capable of when he pulls on the famous Roma jersey next term.
For Chelsea, moving Cole out is one of the final steps toward shifting out the core of aging players who've featured in the club's starting lineup for the last five or six seasons.
Didier Drogba was let go a while ago, while Frank Lampard, like Cole, was denied a contract extension and allowed to leave on a free transfer. The door is also likely closing on Petr Cech, with the impending arrival of Thibaut Courtois into the club's first-team plans.
It's very much a time of transition for both Cole and Chelsea.