At last I am showing my real form for Chelsea, says Ashley Cole
01 June 2009 10:06
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The trademark runs down the left have returned and he is playing with a smile on his face as he flashes past Florent Malouda to set up another classic Chelsea counter-attack. Ashley Cole is in his element again.
He is finally shrugging off the fame game with his pretty pop star wife and concentrating on the good life at Stamford Bridge, rediscovering the form that deserted him, in his own words, since he was a member of Arsenal's Invincibles in 2004.
Line tamer: Ashley Cole ruled the wing at Wembley as he became only the fourth player to win the FA Cup five times
'I was playing s**t,' is his simple explanation of the mis-spent years, plagued by an ankle injury that he picked up at Arsenal and reluctant to undergo surgery so soon after Jose Mourinho convinced him that his future in football lay elsewhere.
'Now I'm happy with the way things are going,' he added. 'This is the best I have felt, not just here but at Arsenal as well. I'm playing with a smile on my face again.'
He is benefiting from this zest, scooping the Chelsea players' playerof- the-year award, scoring his first goal of the season at Sunderland on the final day of the Barclays Premier League season, winning the fifth FA Cup medal of his career against Everton on Saturday and then being nominated as man of the match.
At times he has been his own worst enemy, arrested as recently as March when he tumbled out of a London hotspot and began abusing police officers, before spending the night in a cell as he did not have the money on him to pay an �80 on-the-spot fine.
Words of encouragement from Guus Hiddink, Chelsea's interim coach, helped him focus again, to- readjust his sights and remind the world just what they have been missing since the moment Cole knocked Roberto Carlos off his perch to become the best left back on the planet in 2004.
His performances in recent months have been of the highest order, catapulting him back into an elite group of players who are considered the best left backs in the business, the equal of Patrice Evra and better than Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm.
The Chelsea defender is certainly not immune to criticism (he has only just started tentatively speaking to the press again), but he has learned to deal with the outrageous abuse he received when he made a mistake that led to Kazakhstan scoring at Wembley in last October's World Cup qualifier.
'Everyone knows that stuff against Kazakhstan wasn't about football, so there is nothing I can do,' he admitted after Chelsea's 2-1 victory in the FA Cup final. All I can do is try to show people that I can play well and try to change their opinion.
'I'm enjoying my football the most I ever have in my career and if I continue to play well then I will change people's minds.
'I want to continue to win things, hopefully something with England and if I can score the winning goal at the World Cup then maybe they will like me again.'
His enthusiasm has returned, clearly enjoying the game under Guus Hiddink, but he is convinced that the return to form is purely down to fitness.
He has revealed that the pain in his ankle was often so severe that there were times when he was barely able to summon the strength to kick the ball, let alone charge down the wing to join Chelsea's attack when he joined the club in 2006.
THE left back underwent an operation the following summer to tidy up his ankle, scraping away at the floating bone as Chelsea attempted to find a solution to a persistent problem.
'People were saying it was the manager Mourinho who didn't let me attack, but I just couldn't do it,' he revealed.
'I just knew that when my ankle was better I would be able to run. There are times when you don't enjoy it, when you don't like the job, it's the same anywhere, but now I feel fit again.
'I've got two ankles I can run on, that's the reason I'm playing well. I can run up and down again and I can kick the ball again.
'When I first came to Chelsea I couldn't kick the ball and it was pointless me playing really. But I tried to play through the pain for the manager who bought me.
'Now I feel fit and feel how I did when I was at Arsenal. The operation took the pieces of bone away so I can move easily now. I did it at Arsenal and I came to Chelsea within six or seven months of doing it.
'I didn't really want to come to the club and have the operation straight away. I shouldn't have done it, but you learn from these things.'
After finishing the season on a high, Cole may have also learned his lesson.