Victimised and Vilifed: Chelsea's Ashley Cole Unfairly Treated Yet Again
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked the question, "If you could trade lives with one person for a day, who would it be?"
My answer was Ashley Cole.
He had it all. The dream job, earning millions by playing football for one of the world's best clubs as well as his country; the dream house, a £4 million mansion with everything you could possibly want; and the dream wife in the delightful form of Cheryl Cole.
In short, he had the perfect life.
Yet in the intervening weeks, it has all fallen apart. His wife has left him after allegations of affairs, ordering him out of the mansion, and he suffered a serious ankle injury against Everton that not only rules him out of club football for the rest of the season, but potentially rules him out of this summer's World Cup too.
This turn of events has left many people happy at Cole's misfortune. To say he isn't the most popular player about is an understatement.
But it could have been so different for Cole.
Take David Beckham as an example. He had the lavish, celebrity lifestyle, the pop star wife, and a level of ability on the football field only blessed to a chosen few.
He arrived on the scene as a youngster in an all-conquering side, much like Cole did, and went on to have a hugely successful career.
Yes, he has had his troubles with the media and the public, most notably after he "kicked" Diego Simeone in England's 1998 World Cup match with Argentina, but he has spent most of his time as the darling of English football.
Ashley Cole could have had that, but certain career decisions have left a bad taste in the mouth of many football fans.
He upset Arsenal fans when jumping ship to London rivals Chelsea after claiming the Gunners wouldn't pay him what he thought he deserved. This, unsurprisingly, lead to him being tagged a mercenary.
This is example one of the unfair treatment Cole has received.
Yes, for a man to be earning so much money, and then have the audacity to ask for a little bit more may seem incomprehensible to the "common folk" who sit in the stands, but he isn't exactly the first to move clubs due to money issues.
He was developing into one of the best left-backs in world football and felt unwanted at Arsenal while Chelsea seemed to be pulling out all the stops, legally and illegally, to bring him to Stamford Bridge.
Put yourself in his shoes.
You feel as if your current side, beginning to lose the players that wrote the greatest chapter in the club's history, don't appreciate you, when suddenly the Premier League champions offer you more money to come and play for them.
Managed by the "Special One" Jose Mourinho and boasting some of the world's best players, Chelsea understandably tempted Cole, much like the "Galacticos" would tempt any player on the planet.
Loyalty is a dying factor in football, but moving clubs doesn't necessarily mean you are disloyal. You will be hard pressed to find an AC Milan fan who questions Kaka's allegiances, but even he was seduced by the idea of being part of a "dream team".
Cole, however, was wrongfully singled out for doing something that had happened countless times before.
The next big controversy in his career was when he turned his back on a referee.
Petulant, childish, and disrespectful were some of the kinder insults hurled at Cole, and some of the more accurate ones. His actions were all of the above, but to once again single him out for such treatment was reprehensible.
The media, not for the first time, made a mountain out of a molehill.
I challenge you to find a game where a player doesn't walk away from the referee when he knows his name is going in the book.
The only difference between that everyday occurrence and Cole's actions were that he didn't walk away, he simply stood with his back to the official.
Now he finds himself at the wrong end of the papers yet again following his break-up with the future former Mrs. Cole.
Again, what he did was stupid. Not only did he cheat on his wife, but his wife is a woman most men on the planet would kill to be married to.
The level of stupidity needed to do such a thing boggles the mind.
But once again, he has unfairly been made public enemy number one.
The revelations of Cole's private life came very soon after the John Terry allegations, and as such have been scrutinised even more thoroughly.
But while Ashley may deserve his status as the "bad guy" in this situation, Cheryl (contrary to what the papers may have you believe, her name isn't actually "brave Cheryl") has done nothing to merit the "hero status" she has been given.
Yes, she is a media darling but what she is going through is nothing millions of other women, and men, have had to go through in the past. Except, of course, that the vast majority of them weren't able to jet off to Los Angeles to try and forget about their problems.
Just as I defended John Terry after his actions, I will defend Ashley Cole too. What goes on between him and the soon-to-be ex Mrs. Cole is a private matter, it really makes no difference to me.
But Ashley Cole has been treated badly by his club for a misdemeanor no worse than the one they defended John Terry for.
In fact, if anyone's was worse it was Terry's. His actions have now robbed Wayne Bridge of a chance to play at the World Cup, which is any footballer's ultimate goal.
This, coupled with Cole's injury, could leave England woefully thin in the left-back department.
Yet while Chelsea firmly backed their captain during his turbulent time, even allowing him a holiday to Dubai on compassionate grounds, they have condemned Cole's actions.
They are due to have a meeting to discuss what disciplinary measures should be taken against the left-back, citing the fact Cole's actions were committed while on team duties as an excuse for the clear double standards.
It's easy to understand why Cole is so livid about this.
Terry's actions crossed the line between personal life and professional life, and so I could see some reasoning behind action taken by club or, as it happened, by country even if I didn't agree with them.
Cole's actions, however, are purely personal, so being punished professionally for such indiscretions would be grossly unjust.
As has been the case a number of times in his career, though, it seems Cole will be treated unfairly once again.
He has been unfortunate to be the straw that broke the camel's back on a few occasions, and subsequent warnings from Fabio Capello as to England players' off-field behaviour has sent a message that this is once more the case.
But he is the best left-back England have. Some may argue that he is the best left-back in the world.
However, we need the circus surrounding his personal life, as well as the victimisation that plagues him, to stop so he can get back to doing what he does best.
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