Ashley Cole needs to start repaying Fabio Capello against Slovakia

21 March 2009 03:26
For all Fabio Capello's rather touching faith in the forgiving nature of the Wembley public, Chelsea's preening left-back, recently seen arguing with the Met after one sherbet too many, will be greeted with a chorus of disapproval before Saturday's friendly with Slovakia.

England fans don't mind players enjoying the occasional night out, even over-enjoying it, as long as they perform when the whistle sounds, which Cole has not always done for his country, and they behave with humility, which Cole has rarely done.

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John Terry was also in the London nightclub. As captain of club and country, Terry should have known better, but he will be let off by the terrace jury because he delivers. He cares.

Most England fans follow clubs outside the roped-off VIP area of the Premier League and resent the elite's excesses. Cole, in particular, embodies the worst of the look-at-my-plumage peacock strutting.

When England visited Tirana in 2001, Cole was hit on the shoulder (but fortunately not hurt) by an object thrown by local fans. Was it a pebble, a coin or a carved icon of that Albanian demi-god Norman Wisdom? No. The missile was a lipstick case. Narcissism follows Cole around.

A footballer even more into personal grooming, David Beckham, is also on parade at Wembley yet he will be cheered to the rafters, even the arch.

If Shaun Wright-Phillips is expected to start on the right, then Beckham will surely come on for his 109th cap, so breaking Bobby Moore's outfield record.

Ask England fans which player has most impressed over the past year and they will plump for Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and Gareth Barry with a few teenage squeaks for Theo Walcott.

Ask them who they love and they will reply Beckham, who brims with all the charm Cole lacks. Beckham has class. Cole doesn't.

Beckham is now the Cameo King of England, football's closing pitcher used to see out games. Cole, a guaranteed starter, is vastly more important for his country's fortunes.

A 90-minute man, occasionally 120-minute, Cole's a mobile defender and athletic attacker down the left, a flank where England crave somebody to stretch opponents.

Capello argues that because Cole has apologised for his misdemeanour, the case is closed. Expediency rules. An important World Cup qualifier against Ukraine looms and Cole is England's top left-back by a distance.

He really deserves a spell in Purdah, encouraged to mull over the errors of his ways, realising that restraint will make him a better pro, but his coach is a pragmatist.

Capello wants discipline in the dressing room but he also wants the World Cup in the trophy-room. If Cole possesses an ounce of self-awareness, he will appreciate that the Italian has stood by him during an awkward time and will be determined to pay him back, not in embarrassing headlines, but in sweat, tackles and crosses.

A paradox is revisited here. Against Slovakia in particular, Cole actually deserves some sympathy. On first encountering the boys from Bratislava in 2002, Cole was perched on the bench in their rickety old stadium, sitting alongside a stretcher-bearer who kept making monkey chants at him.

Commendably, Cole has risen above the racist abuse. He could be a decent role model if he wasn't such a serial prat in other parts of his life.

While Cole is upbraided at Wembley, Beckham will be lauded. Forgive the party-pooping but some perspective needs introducing to the festivities.

This week will bubble with eulogies to Beckham as he prepares to eclipse Moore's famous mark. Beckham's a nice guy, a wonderful ambassador for the game, still useful with a dead-ball but Moore was truly world class.

A reminder of how Moore was revered globally came when captaining the Team America All-stars against Brazil in the Bicentennial Cup in 1976.

"Rivelino was playing for Brazil,'' recalls Harry Redknapp, who was present at the match in Seattle. "Rivelino was brilliant, stepping over the ball, sending the defender five yards the other way.

"At the end of the game, I saw Keith Eddy, who played for New York Cosmos and Watford, running up to Rivelino. Eddy took his shirt off to swap with Rivelino, who said 'sorry' and sprinted 90 yards to Bobby.

"Rivelino tapped Bobby on the back, asked for his shirt and hugged him. Rivelino wanted Bobby's shirt! That says everything about Bobby.''

The good guys and bad boys of the modern England era, the Beckhams and Coles, can only dream of such respect. Only another World Cup triumph will ever change that.


Source: Telegraph