With his Chelsea contract expiring at the end of last season, per PremierLeague.com, the defender was a free agent, and the Italian club will add him to an already impressive defence without the need to pay a transfer fee.
The Giallorossi conceded just 25 times last term, their resolute back line allowing just 10.8 shots per game, according to stats site WhoScored.com. That solidity allowed Morgan De Sanctis to keep a league-high 21 clean sheets last term, via Fox Soccer, highlighting just how well-drilled a unit the side became under Rudi Garcia.
The French coach benefitted from the excellent partnership which developed between Leandro Castan and Mehdi Benatia, his first choice pairing in central defence. Roma were also fortunate that Maicon enjoyed a renaissance after returning to Serie A, the Brazilian putting his dire spell with Manchester City quickly behind him.
Perhaps the only position in the back five not to be regularly filled by a player turning in consistently sound performances was on the opposite flank. Federico Balzaretti began the campaign at left-back, netting in the derby against Lazio and looking like he could keep the role on a permanent basis.
He would suffer an injury in November, which kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season, with the 22-year-old Dodo slotting in to replace him. The Brazilian made 19 appearances but lacks the experience at the highest level, an essential trait as Roma return to the Champions League for the first time in four seasons.
While Cole has led a colourful life away from the game—his issues well-documented in this 2009 column by Sam Wallace of The Independent—his on-field achievements are impossible to ignore. With three Premier League titles, seven FA Cup victories, as well as triumphs in both the Champions League and Europa League, he has also amassed 107 appearances for England since his 2001 debut.
That tally makes him his nation’s most-capped full-back, according to the official FA website, overtaking Gary Neville and Kenny Sansom to take his place in history.
That seems to be the main reason for bringing Cole to the Stadio Olimpico, hoping to tap into the wealth of knowledge he has gathered in a distinguished career.
While Balzaretti and Dodo appeared more than competent enough to share the role for Roma, comparing the trio makes for interesting reading. Even as a 33-year-old who was far from first-choice last season under Jose Mourinho, his 2013-14 stats measure up favourably with the two Roma defenders.
None of the three scored last term, but Cole’s two assists were more than the Giallorossi duo managed, Dodo registering just one and Balzaretti failing to record any at all. According to WhoScored, Cole created an average of one clear scoring opportunity per game, a sizable improvement on Dodo’s 0.6 and Balzaretti’s 0.4 per the same source.
The stats site also has Cole as the better passer, completing 90 per cent of his attempts, his new team-mates registering marks of 85 and 88.9 per cent respectively.
Former Corinthians defender Dodo appears to be the obvious casualty here, with Sky Italia reporting recently that he may be set to join Inter on loan. That report (h/t Football Italia) indicates the Milanese giants will have the right to buy the player outright next year, with coach Walter Mazzarri keen on bringing the player to the club.
Roma supporters will hope the arrival of Cole can help continue the development of local youngster Alessio Romagnoli, the latest product of an exciting Giallorossi youth system. Still only 19, he has 13 first team appearances to his name and would benefit from training alongside such an experienced top-flight campaigner.
That appears to leave Balzaretti as the odd man out, his path back in to the first team blocked by the latest new arrival and he may not wish to spend the latter stages of his career watching from the bench. If he is unhappy with a vastly reduced role, Roma may opt to cash in on the former Palermo and Juventus man.
His injury problems may ward off potential suitors, but it appears he may be the only one not to benefit from the arrival of the English defender.
Ashley Cole to Roma may sound baffling, but it appears to actually make a lot of sense.