Sport Soccer

Monday 18 December 2017

Future a foreign country for England's public enemy No 1

Dion Fanning

T here will be no clamour for a farewell appearance from Ashley Cole on the sad day when he retires from international football. This will be a shame because he might have more integrity than any footballer in England. Be true to yourself is a trite phrase and as such is unlikely to be uttered by Cole. He is at war with cliché, along with everything else.

Yet Cole is repeatedly true to himself (it makes no difference that the person he's being true to is a bit of an idiot) and doesn't care about the consequences.

He has shown little remorse for his words as he set off for the World Cup. 'I hate England and the fucking people,' he texted some friends on his Blackberry. This was described as a "foul-mouthed rant" but it was nothing of the sort. It was the most passionate denunciation of the country since John Osborne's "Damn you, England."

Cole, like Osborne, has directly positioned himself as a lightning rod for the petty hypocrisies and contradictions of the masses. He is as angry as Osborne but probably more talented.

He has surrounded himself with wise people who understand him. Ashley was first hauled before the court of public opinion when his autobiography recorded his reaction to Arsenal's offer of an extra five grand a week. Arsenal were "taking the piss" his book said and they lined up to point how ungrateful he was.

To condemn a footballer for something that appears in his autobiography is to accuse him of something he probably knows nothing about. Cole stood by his words, despite the fact that he had not written then and may not even have read them.

A panellist on the Vincent Browne Show called him "thick" last week but at least they were talking about him rather than Alan Shatter. Of course their conversation would have appalled Ashley, not because they were dismissing him as a fool but because they were still locked in the cage of cliché. There were, they revealed, people who are now famous for being famous. One or all of them (not Glenda Gilson, she was excellent) then uttered the ultimate banality that celebrities can't court fame one moment and complain about intrusion the next. This a philosophy few have managed to roll out in their own lives.

"Evening, I'm here for dinner."

"What? I didn't ask you for dinner."

"You invited me for dinner last week, pal. So I'm here again now. You can't ask me over when it suits you then complain if I show up when I'm hungry again."

This would bring a swift end to the dinner-party circuit, which would have the happy knock-on effect of wiping out most of the egregious conversations about how thick Ashley Cole is. Not all of them can get on television to continue the debate.

When Cole uttered his famous condemnation of England, he added perception to his attributes.

In the soap opera that is football, with every summer offering the traditional cliff-hangers (this year it was -- will Fernando Torres stay?) Cole has perfected his role as the bad guy.

Is there a finer brand in football? For personal reasons, he is said to be keen to flee England. He was, perhaps, the only England player to play anywhere near his potential at the World Cup but this was ignored by most who see him as the unpleasant face of English football. The fact that Cole has made no attempt to alter this perception was another demonstration of his commitment to his beliefs.

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He has kept a dignified silence during his painful split from England's darling Cheryl Cole, restricting his messages to rhetorical assaults on his country or heartfelt texts sent to the women who, with their keener emotional intelligence than men, feel his sensitivity and rush to protect him.

Cole was pictured laughing on his return from the World Cup and once again was condemned. His good deeds were forgotten and he was judged by some more flimsy evidence: a couple of pictures of him laughing.

England, as Cole hinted at in his message to his friends, is now a country that craves the photo opportunity instead of the substance. Cole would have been better off playing badly and uttering platitudes. It seemed to work for Steven Gerrard.

Jose Mourinho was ready to take him away but Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, said they had to find ways to make Cole's "personal life more enjoyable". I'm not sure Bruce Buck is the man Cole would turn to for this.

When you've got Shaun Wright-Phillips as your wingman, most things are being looked after without the presence of a saturnine New Yorker self-consciously wondering if things are becoming more enjoyable.

There is nothing wrong with Cole's life that wouldn't be solved by the absence of other people, save for the women who protect him and with whom he seems to have a natural empathy.

English football seems no closer to curing itself of its addiction to the big and meaningless gesture.

Cole can offer no help in that regard. They become tearful over David Beckham's departure but refuse to recognise the contribution of a man who has done it when it mattered and only behaved unpleasantly when it didn't.

Cole is like a politician who tells the truth. The public claim to want it but they recoil when faced with the reality.

An Irish player once turned down an interview request with the words, "Nah, I can't be arsed." Cole may have stumbled when he climbed up the royal box at Wembley last week or he just might have decided he couldn't be arsed engaging in the charade of shaking Fabio Capello's hand.

They are gearing up for the big push against Fabio so Cole wasn't taken out last week. He wouldn't care if they went for him again. He can handle the truth.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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