Desmond Kane

Roy Hodgson’s first job after Brazil shambles should be recalling Ashley Cole

Desmond Kane

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At least he has ditched the beard.

With a thick face fungus clinging to his chops in the death throes of a vintage eight-year spell representing Chelsea, Cole looked like more like Bluto from Popeye than a figure with a penchant for pop stars, a man who appeared to be spiralling into some form of Winston Bogarde form of semi-retirement.

Appearances are deceiving. He could easily have opted for a quieter lifestyle and some serious dollar in America or Australia, but his decision to join AS Roma on a two-year contract to play in Serie A is a statement of intent. As a free, he comes cheap at half the price.

Why should a player so fresh with 107 England caps to his name settle for second best? Representing a club the size of Roma is a timely validation of Cole's wares. Second in Serie A behind Juventus, Cole joins a unit who will play in the Champions League.

True to his usual imperious form, Cole's performances last season never deviated from the norm, without or without the fortnight's growth.

Even when Chelsea's slightly eccentric martinet Jose Mourinho made it clear he preferred Cesar Azpilicueta as his favoured left-back, Cole never let his manager's questionable public shunning get him down.

Like his former Chelsea pal John Terry, Cole remains a figure who splits opinion like few others among English football fans. At the age of 33, that is unlikely to change now that he has left London.

Whatever is made of how he carries himself away from his calling in life, whether or not he is viewed as exploiting the grotesque largesse of a Premier League footballer, there is no disputing Cole's consistency and dedication as a professional.

He is easily the finest England full-back of the past decade. Perhaps the most dependable defender of England's much lampooned 'golden generation'. And yet there was no room for him in England's mediocre 23-man World Cup squad.

Answers on a postcard why that fate befell him a year after Hodgson presented with a special golden cap before the friendly with Ireland to commemorate his 100th cap.

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Italian job: Ashley Cole has signed for Roma on a free transfer.

Having moved to the Italian capital after being released by Chelsea, Cole begins a fresh chapter in a career sprinkled with gold dust. He can enjoy life in Italy safe in the knowledge that he never let Chelsea down.

His detractors will never be convinced of his value because of the baggage that tailed him off the park.

He is haunted by the quotes that shrouded his contentious move to Chelsea from Arsenal in 2006 when he was furious about being offered £55,000 a week by Arsenal which was double his previous wage.

"I was trembling with anger. I couldn't believe what I'd heard. I suppose it all started to fall apart for me from then on," he said in an 'autobiography' released at the age of 25.

Arsenal fans dubbed him 'Cashley', but was he so wrong to maximise his earnings? Anybody else would see the wisdom of Cole's move to Chelsea. Instead, he was unfairly vilified. Yet Chelsea gave him what Arsenal could not.

They furnished him with a lot more money - £90,000 a week then £120,000 a week - and plenty of trophies including the 2010 Premier League, the Champions League in 2012 and Europa League a year late. Time has proven Cole to be right.

He was berated for his treatment of his former wife Cheryl Cole when rumours of several extra-marital affairs emerged, and he is recalled for a few untimely selfies in his private moments. In relationships, there tends to be two sides to a story.

Then there was the time he apparently fired an air rile at an unsuspecting bystander at Chelsea's training ground.

Yet his consistency remained remarkable despite being casual daily fodder for tabloids. He never brought his baggage to Arsenal, Chelsea or England when it was time to get down to work.

He would have the right to have a rueful smile watching England at the World Cup. The national side departed Brazil with one blooming point against Costa Rica after defeats to Italy and Uruguay ended their participation in the tournament after six doomed days.

Plenty of errors will be analysed in the days and weeks ahead about where it went wrong for England in Brazil ranging from schedules, technical suitability, training facilities, personnel and formations, but mistakes were being made before the tournament began.

The biggest whopper from this onlooker's point of view, and plenty others, came in Hodgson's decision to omit Cole in favour of the Everton full-back Leighton Baines, whose limitations were badly exposed against Italy in the heat and humidity of Manaus. And then in the cold light of day against Luis Suarez in Sao Paulo.

Cole announced his retirement after chatting to Hodgson on the phone, and Luke Shaw travelled as support for Baines despite his inexperience. Surely the teenager fresh from a £30 million transfer to Manchester United now needs time and space over the next few years to develop properly.

“..Ashley isn’t really a cover player. Ashley is a No.1 man. When I decided Baines might be No.1, then I decided the next one wouldn’t be Ashley and would be Luke Shaw," said Hodgson trying to convince himself of the error of his ways back in early May.

Quite simply, Baines is not in Cole's class as a left-back because he is unaware of the need to tuck in to cover his central defenders.

While Cole carried a threat tumbling forward, he is exceptional at being a knowledgeable companion. You can imagine Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill would have loved to have Cole alongside them when they were being hung out to dry.

Cole was not as underplayed as many think. He ended the last campaign with 30 appearances for club. He was back in business when Mourinho called on him for key matches in the Champions League and Premier League.

He excelled in a 0-0 draw against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final at the Vicente Calderon against a side who were sharp enough to collect the Liga title ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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He was outstanding when Chelsea went to Anfield to ruin Liverpool's Premier League title aspirations courtesy of a 2-0 win.

With England handed a simple sojourn to reach the Euro 2016 finals in France, he should be seeking out such a reliable patriot to ensure he is available for selection before England visit Switzerland for their opening qualifier on September 8.

You can't buy experience in any walk of life. Roma didn't. They picked Cole up on a free.

Hodgson should take note. And follow the Italian club's lead.

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