Martin Keown knew from the first moment he clapped eyes on Ashley Cole the defender would stop at nothing to achieve his aims.
There have been few modern-day players as controversial as Cole and a bad off-field reputation has spilled over onto the football side over the last couple of weeks. First it was his four-letter Twitter rant at the Football Association, now an apparent hardening of attitudes in his contract dispute with Chelsea.
But Keown describes these scrapes as "unfortunate" and, like many who know the 31-year-old well, feels Cole is badly misunderstood.
For there is no doubt, as he gets set to win his 99th England cap in Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier with Poland in Warsaw, Cole has fulfilled the promise Keown saw in him when he first emerged at Arsenal well over a decade ago.
Speaking at the McDonald's FA Community Awards, Keown said: "I knew he was an outstanding talent. He was a winner and he was committed.
"His first game for Arsenal was at Newcastle a few days before the UEFA Cup final. I played in that match and could see he was the stand-out young player amongst the group."
Keown is not entirely sure what makes Cole tick. He wonders whether it is a deep desire to prove people wrong, which surfaced as a kid growing up in Stepney. But evidently, it has not always led him down the right path.
"Getting involved in what he has been involved in at the moment has been unfortunate," said Keown. "He has been misunderstood to a large extent."
He added: "For all that, what you cannot argue with his success on the football field because Ashley is a phenomenal player."
Cole looks set to be part of a much-changed England line-up, with Roy Hodgson set to make at least four, and possibly six alterations to the side that beat San Marino at Wembley on Friday for what could turn out to be the hardest match of England's entire qualification programme.