When the boos rang around Wembley Stadium on Saturday, one could be forgiven for thinking they were being directed at a team who had been struggling against a side placed 131 in the world. As it was, the jeers were reserved for a solitary figure. Right or wrong, Ashley Cole was singled out amongst a squad of players that increasingly look detached from reality and from the people who continuously inject their hard-earned cash into the game. A right to boo? You bet they do.
The media this week have had a rather mixed response to the cat-calls directed at arguably the premier left back in Europe, if not the world, at this current time. Paul Hayward at the Daily Mail labelled those who berated the full back as naive and immature, whilst others have supported the notion that the players should take it on the chin whatever is thrown at them from an expectant crowd. What has not been touched on, however, is the real reason why Ashley Cole was victimised by some sections of the Wembley crowd.
Thus far, it has been suggested that Cole was singled out for the rather dreadful cross-field pass that lead to Kazakhstan halving the arrears on the night. Although there is no question this would have acted as a catalyst for his abuse, the real reason why 'Cashley' was subject to such a reaction is simple. He typifies everything that is bad about the current crop of professional footballers. Far from writing this piece in an attempt to lambaste the entire playing population as money-lead scumbags, I will merely be attempting to highlight the current ills that are polluting our game. Gone are the days when, after a gruelling 90 minutes of blood, sweat and, in Gazza's case, tears, the players would join with the locals for a pint and discuss the afternoon's entertainment. Now although I am not suggesting a return to this, as the notion of Messrs Beckham and Henry delightfully indulging in a pint of John Smith's is ludicrous, a bit of a reality check for these overpaid prima donnas would not go amiss.
So out of touch with reality are these footballers, that our very own Ashley was once heard in stipulating why he did not take up Arsenal's offer of a contract extension: "I nearly crashed my car when they only offered me £55,000 a week". Hello? If only I could earn that in two years! And the current crop of journos think the boos were served up due to a misplaced pass? Get real. This is the first in a long line of reasons why Mr. Cole is not on the vast majority of England fans' Christmas card list (not that he should be anyway).
I would even go as far to say that the recent respect campaign we are seeing in the Premier League came as a direct result of the antics of our Nation's number 3. We all remember the incident at White Hart Lane as Mike Riley tried in vain to calm this petulant squirt down. "Ashley, please turn around, you're going to get yourself sent off in a minute" was the plea from the despairing man in the middle. Surely the fact he said "please" could have counted for something? Cole displayed a complete lack of respect, refusing to cooperate with the official as he took his name in the book. If only he had shown him a second yellow. The incident provoked huge debate on the current disregard for referees in the modern game and, thankfully, measures are now being made to follow in the footsteps of the respect we see from our top rugby stars. However, it is a shame that it had to take an act of such petulance to alert those at Soho Square, and the wide-spread condemnation that followed; which was increasingly portraying a man who was quickly becoming public sporting enemy no.1.
As we go through the keyhole, there are yet more clues which suggest why Cole has fallen into the boo-box. The scene at White Hart Lane is not the first time Cole has turned his back on a figure of authority. The contempt and lack of loyalty he has shown to those who have looked after him and supported him both in his professional and personal life beggars belief. Our first port of call is Arsenal Football club and, in particular, Arsene Wenger. Wenger has created a legacy at the Gunners, continuously giving youngsters the chance to flourish at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Fabregas, Clichy, Denilson, and now Wilshere to name but a handful have all been thrown in at the deep-end by Wenger and have relished the opportunity to work with seasoned stars. Cole, despite established in both the Chelsea and England set-ups, was once a starry-eyed teenager and it was Wenger who had the faith to put him in and amongst the likes of Sol Campbell, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown. Wenger's chance on Cole, with hindsight, has not been fully rewarded, as the cash of Roman Abramovic proved too much of a lure. This explains why Arsenal fans hold him in such contempt, but the general footballing fan was beginning to see a side of a man that would be subjected to such abuse on Saturday evening.
Without wishing to go into too much detail of his sordid affair, as the girl seeking to audition for WAG factor need not be given the time of day, how Ashley treated Cheryl was despicable. I mean, how could he? He has managed to land one of the most beautiful girls available on the celebrity market, and what the average Jo on the street wouldn't do to just converse with the stunner remains open to interpretation. Either way, it was a further example whereby Mr. Cole has wrongly exploited the privileged situation he has found himself in at the expense of someone who is close to him. This is what grinds the gears of the aforementioned Jo Bloggs, because you can bet your bottom dollar that if he was in Cole's privileged position, he would not have exploited the luxury afforded him.
The boos on Saturday may well have been due to a misplaced back pass. However, I can almost certainly guarantee that if it had been from Barry, Upson or Lampard, the chorus that followed would have never taken place. Sure, perhaps we would have come to expect it from these players, but the menace and disdain in the barrage was down to a collaboration of incidents involving a man who has not portrayed himself in a positive light ever since he was given the marvellous opportunity by one of the current greats in management.
Thankfully, Cole sits out Wednesday's tie in the Dinamo Stadium, due to a niggling hamstring injury. I can only hope that he takes this opportunity to reflect on his recent demeanours and begins to plot a way out. It is not impossible, nor improbable. David Beckham managed it following France '98 as he was subjected to sickening chants and burning effigies when he returned home. He has since transformed himself into one of the most respected and revered individuals of our country. Although these are rather large boots to follow, Cole can mute the boo boys, and I sincerely hope he does. He is a talent, and when he is on the top of his game there are few better. After all, we're going to need him if we are to silence the world doubters in South Africa 2010.