During a glittering career, Ashley Cole played under a who’s who in managerial royalty.
Among others, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Guus Hiddink, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti have all tutored England’s greatest ever left-back, and now it’s the 38-year-old’s chance to impart some of that learned wisdom onward.
Last summer, Cole returned to Stamford Bridge to take up a role coaching the U15 side, something that was in the pipeline for a while before it actually happened.
“I was talking to (academy director) Neil Bath at Chelsea before I went to Derby,” says Cole. “Literally two weeks before I was supposed to start, Frank (Lampard) phoned me up and asked me to help out. I thought I could learn under Frank and we spoke a bit about coaching while I was there. I’m starting again and I’ve got a lot to learn but I’d love to be around the first team at some point.”
Having known Lampard as a teammate, then a boss, and now a colleague, Cole believes the board made the right decision when they replaced Maurizio Sarri with the club’s record goalscorer at the end of last season.
He says: “People thought is it was too early for Frank, but he’s adjusted well and has a great coaching staff behind him. The players seem happy, younger players are playing so the bigger picture looks good.
“He’s brought his own philosophy and his way of playing. People talk a lot about the younger players and whether he’s been forced into playing them - he hasn’t, that’s what he would have done anyway. He’s given them a chance earlier than others would have. It’s his first big job and fans were a bit sceptical but he’s not been afraid to make big decisions and the team is thriving as a result.
“I think people have to remember that this team was kind-of written off before the season started. Where they are now, and the football that they’re playing, are a credit to him and those players.”
The positivity felt in west London seems a far cry from another of Cole’s former clubs, who currently face a similar decision to the one Chelsea made six months ago, and a former boss could well be the solution.
“Ancelotti would be great for Arsenal,” explains Cole. “When he came to Chelsea he made the place relaxed and comfortable, and made training sessions a fun place to be. He’d give you a lot of love, but because he’s won so much as a player and a manger, he’d still push you and show what it means to win.
“He’d bring a sense of togetherness at Arsenal. There’s still a great squad there, but they need to address their defence, their structure and their philosophy without the ball – Ancelotti would do all of that.”
A fleeting comment about Liverpool never losing games understandably brings up the topic of fullbacks. When Cole retired from international duty he had amassed 107 England caps and part of the reason he made that decision was because of the form of Luke Shaw; a player he thinks is “unbelievable” and “really enjoys watching play”.
When it comes to Liverpool, and their interpretation of the position, Cole can’t help but admire the exponents, but with a degree of caution.
“You hear people saying they can play the way they do because the game has changed, but they’re the ones changing the game,” says Cole. “They have freedom, work ethic and the willingness to work for each other, but having Fabinho clearing up everything helps.
“My worry is that when they play for their country they haven’t been exposed in defensive one-on-one situations enough. They’re incredible players but sometimes I get the sense certain aspects of their game have been neglected.
“When I joined Chelsea my tactical responsibility changed. I learnt a lot from Jose about how to play from position – how to be disciplined and yet still influence a game.”
These are all things that Cole will hope to pass on to the teenagers that are currently under his tutelage. The recent news that Chelsea’s transfer ban has been halved means that Lampard will have money to spend in January, should he choose to, but his academy products will feel more confident about breaking into the first team than at any other time since Roman Abramovich became owner.
Cole explains: “They need to add to the squad, but also keep going and give these younger guys more game time. So far, they’ve done well but I hope they don’t go out and spend a big bag of money. I hope there’s a bit of trust in Frank and what he thinks”.
So says Ashely Cole the coach, not the player. Retirement can be devastating for footballers, fully grieving a player career that they will never be able to replicate. But Cole is more realistic. While he loved the game, he has long been aware of the work ethic and intensity that also made playing a job.
Another contributing factor is the speed in which he has transitioned from one aspect of football to another. He says: “Lot’s of players struggle and it can be a real problem. You miss the banter in the dressing room, but luckily I’m still part of a team environment. Some people take a year off, I think I was out of the game for about a month.”
The club were obviously keen to get a man that won eight major trophies in his time as a player back on their books. The hope is he can help others go on and achieve the same.
Nissan are proud partners of the UEFA Champions League. UEFA ambassador Ashley Cole was at the Chelsea FC v LOSC Lille match on Tuesday 10th December, along with the UEFA Champions League Trophy, which is being driven around the UK by the next generation Nissan Juke.
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