Early Doors

Ashley Cole is so underrated

Early Doors

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Ashley Cole might just be the most underrated player in
English football. Seriously.

Early Doors was struck by it as he tore Sunderland to shreds in Saturday's 7-2 win.

You won't see any
Chelsea fans
with his name on the back of their replica shirts, or hear them chanting his
name (except against Arsenal).

He only ever receives grudging praise for his performance -
everybody knows he is good, but you will struggle to find anyone willing to
admit it.

He is the only English player who can reasonably claim to be
the best in the world at his position.

He is remarkably consistent, and always plays well in big
games - witness the countless occasions he has put Cristiano Ronaldo in his
pocket.

He ought to be a national treasure, yet that status is
reserved for his largely talent-free wife while poor old Ashley gets castigated
at every turn.

While there is plenty not to like about him, that hardly
makes him unique among footballers, yet we go out of our way to condemn him.

For example, people deliberately misunderstood the nature of
his contract dispute with Arsenal. He was upset at what he perceived as a
broken promise from Arsenal, who had supposedly agreed to pay him one amount
but then offered less.

The fact that the offer (£55,000-a-week) was so close to
what he wanted (£60,000-a-week) made the club's
behaviour worse.

Everybody knows this, of course, but it is more fun to tut
disapprovingly at a footballer describing a £2.9m-a-year salary as "taking
the p**s".

Despite all the acts of gross incompetence perpetrated in an
England shirt, the one that
got everyone booing was Cole's
misplaced backpass against Kazakhstan.
Why? Because it's fun to hate Ashley
Cole.

But the ultimate proof that Cole is underrated is that nobody
ever says he is underrated.

As soon as that happens, it can no longer be true.

Here are some more categories of overrated and underrated
players:

OVERRATED

'He's so underrated'
Players who may once have flown under the radar, but become
so widely acknowledged as being underrated, they are in fact the precise opposite.
Examples: Jimmy Bullard, Joe Cole

Long-term injured
Many stars never look better than when they are not playing,
particularly those who enjoy a purple patch before getting crocked, leading to
exaggerated claims about how much they are missed.
Examples: Owen Hargreaves, Dean Ashton

The workhorse
Almost always a defensive midfielder for a top team. Pundits
wax lyrical about their ability to do the dirty work for their more talented
team-mates, vastly overstating their actual value.
Examples: Claude Makelele, Darren Fletcher

One-hit wonders
Normally reserved for foreign players who perform
brilliantly in a high-profile game or tournament, but are not seen on a regular
basis by a wide audience in Britain.
Examples: Andres Iniesta,
Philipp Lahm

The breakthrough
The kind of player who spends years being underrated but,
either through a flurry of goals or a change of club, receives overdue - and
excessive - recognition.
Examples: Bobby Zamora, Richard Dunne

UNDERRATED

'He's so overrated'
Players, normally on a big team, who get a fat contract and
mild celebrity status. They become an easy target for anyone looking to have a
pop at footballers, even if their on-pitch performances are good.
Examples: Ashley Cole, Rio
Ferdinand

Non-entities
Some players persistently fail to attract attention, either
through a lack of charisma or the fact they play alongside higher-profile
team-mates.
Examples: Aaron Hughes, Roger Johnson

Much-maligned
High-profile cock-ups can do permanent damage to a player's career, such that he will always be a punchline
no matter how well he does.
Examples: Titus
Bramble, Paul Robinson

BOTH

Wobblers
Those who vacillate wildly between over- and under-rated. Normally
young players who initially fail to live up to hype but show sporadic moments
of brilliance. Joe Cole used to be in this group before becoming one of the
overrated-underrated.
Examples: Theo Walcott, Micah Richards

- - -

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: "The whole notion of suing the Premier League is
interesting because you're suing
yourself as a club, and the other 19 clubs," Richard Scudamore's deadpan reaction to Portsmouth's claim they will sue to get their transfer embargo
lifted. Somebody should tell Peter Storrie he doesn't
have any money.

COMING UP: Exciting times at the African Cup of Nartions, as
the final round of group games get under way. All four teams in Group A can
still go through, and we have simultaneous coverage of Angola v Algeria
and Mali v Malawi at 16:00. Then we have Newcastle United v West Brom at 19:45.

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