Wednesday 25 April 2018

Refreshed Ashley Cole embracing life of Rome comforts

Former Chelsea star insists there is no bitterness after being released by Mourinho and is ready to push City to the limit, writes Mark Ogden

Roma manager Rudi Garcia jokes with Cole during yesterday's pre-match press conference. Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Roma manager Rudi Garcia jokes with Cole during yesterday's pre-match press conference. Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ashley Cole with his Roma team-mates during a training session at the Etihad. Photo credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Mark Ogden

As he took his seat at Roma's pre-match press conference ahead of tonight's Champions League clash with Manchester City, Ashley Cole almost suffered the ignominy of falling flat on his backside as he misjudged the location of the chair.

The former Arsenal, Chelsea and England full-back regained his balance before flashing an embarrassed smile and, with the exception of a stony-faced response to a question about comments made by Rio Ferdinand in his autobiography, it set the tone for a 20-minute display of rare charm and humour from a player who appears to have undergone a personality transformation during his three months in the Italian capital.

So much for the snarling, surly and, at times, confrontational individual who was one of the most unpopular players in the country during his time at Highbury and Stamford Bridge.

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This was a different Cole - relaxed, self-deprecating and refreshed by a move to Serie A for an Indian summer in the Eternal City.

"I'm loving Italy," Cole said. "Of course, it's different to the Premier League. You are up against different players, most of them have very good technique, and the Premier League is fast and furious.

"The football is different, but I'm getting used to it and enjoying playing Italian football. I loved playing in the Premier League, but this is something different for me now."

At 33, Cole was deemed too old to play a part in Jose Mourinho's new-look Chelsea and, like Frank Lampard at Manchester City - via New York City FC - the left-back sought pastures new in Rome.

But despite Chelsea's refusal to offer Cole the opportunity to prolong his career at the club, the player insists he has no issue with the decision to allow him to leave on a free transfer.

"First of all, I don't think Chelsea were wrong (to let me leave)," Cole said. "A decision was made and I'm fine with it.

"I had eight great years there and I still speak to the staff and players, but I'm enjoying my football with Roma and hopefully I can emulate what I achieved at Arsenal and Chelsea.

"I don't think I am playing that well for Roma, so I won't get carried away. I need more games."

When asked why he was not displaying the same attacking ambition for Roma as with Chelsea, Cole insisted it was down to his birth certificate rather than a change in his mentality.

"It's because I'm old!" he said. "Of course, Serie A is something new for me, so I have to get used to the league and the way we play. "When I get used to the league and the way we play, I'll attack a bit more."

Given the opportunity to hit back at Ferdinand, who claimed in his book that his friendship with Cole ended when he chose to side with John Terry in the race row with his younger brother Anton, the full-back once more opted to play defensively, insisting, "I'm here to talk about football, I'm not here to talk about that."

The football revolved around Roma's prospects against City and their ambitions of emerging from Group E to challenge in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Aside from an appearance in the 1984 European Cup final, which ended with defeat against Liverpool in their own Stadio Olimpico, Roma have failed to go close to joining Juventus, AC Milan and Inter as Italian Champions League winners.

But with Rudi Garcia's team arriving at the Etihad Stadium having won all six competitive fixtures this season, Cole insists both Roma and City can challenge to win the competition this season.

"I hope so - especially in the case of Roma," Cole said. "We know City have a big, strong squad with a lot of match-winners and it is a new experience for some of our players, but we are confident that we can challenge the top teams.

"We can come to City, play well and maybe don't lose the game - that's the main thing. I think everyone knows how good City are now. They have been champions twice and they have (Yaya) Toure, (Edin) Dzeko, (Sergio) Aguero, (Joe) Hart and then they sign Lampard. These players are known worldwide because they win things, they have won the Premier League and now they will be aiming to win the Champions League as well.

"I know some of them are very hungry - Hart and (James) Milner and Lamps will always want to keep on winning. There's less pressure on us.

"But of course, it will make it more difficult for them to qualify if we win this game. It will make it hard for them to catch up certainly and put us top of the group.

"We have to focus on ourselves because we have good players, too. We are the underdogs, but we will give it everything and be ready for the game."

Whether the new, friendly Cole benefits from a positive reaction from the City supporters on his first return to England remains to be seen, but with Lampard potentially on the opposing side, Cole can depend on at least one friendly face.

"I never expected to play against him," Cole said. "If I play and Lamps is selected, it will be nice because he is a good friend of mine.

"It will be good to play against him as well. It will be nice to see him." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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