Cole gets chance for redemption after Twitter row
LONDON - Ashley Cole has been handed an opportunity to pass the 100-cap mark for England and to redeem his reputation over the next 10 days after being assured a controversial outburst on Twitter will not cost him his international future.
Chelsea left-back Cole currently has 98 caps and England's World Cup qualifiers against San Marino at Wembley on Friday and Poland away the following Tuesday provide both the player and England with the possibility of a much-needed 'good news' story.
Cole certainly needs one after posting an ill-advised and foul-mouthed tweet criticising the Football Association for questioning the integrity of his evidence in the disciplinary hearing that ended with Chelsea team-mate John Terry found guilty of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand.
He has since apologised for his comments and had already been included in the England squad. But this latest controversy, which will see him punished by both club and country, raised doubts over whether coach Roy Hodgson would pick him in the qualifiers.
However, it is believed Hodgson has told Cole he remains in his plans and so a potential century of caps should be something to celebrate no matter what his off-field reputation.
"What is more worthy of consideration is the fact that Ashley, at a relatively young age and with more football left in him, is likely to get his 100th cap very soon - and that is fantastic," Hodgson said.
"I don't think we should ever underestimate the value of that. When I was younger, 100 caps was a rare occurrence. My close friend Giacinto Facchetti played 16 years for Italy and only managed 92.
"When I was in Sweden, Bjorn Nordqvist had 96 and we thought at the time that was quite incredible.
"Now, players do get over 100 especially in the Asian countries and you see goalkeepers getting into the 120s; but for an outfield player, a left-back, to reach 100 is incredible.
"He has done it with consistency and there is no reason why he cannot set his sights higher."
It's fair to say Cole, 31, is not used to such public acclaim and affection.
Although regularly described as one of the best left-backs in the world, he has struggled to win hearts and minds off the pitch -- partly down to stories of the break-up of his celebrity marriage to popstar Cheryl Cole and a controversial move from Arsenal to Chelsea.
Yet Cole has spent his entire career winning silverware on a regular basis with Arsenal and Chelsea.
And although he can appear reluctant, even surly, in his dealings with the media there is no doubting he has the full respect of his peers for his performances on the pitch.
Hodgson said: "Every player has the right to be true to their own feelings, and his is that he will do his talking on the field.
"His attitude is 'I don't want him to give lots of interviews, I want to be judged as a pure footballer'.
"I for one respect that wholeheartedly and have found him to be an excellent professional and a very, very enthusiastic and important member of the group and I'm looking forward to working with him for a period of time to come."
The next two games will also be important for another of England's experienced players, Wayne Rooney, who is anxious to reignite his international career.
The Manchester United striker missed much of Euro 2012 through suspension and was badly out of form at the World Cup in 2010. So this is a tournament in which he hopes to make his mark.
"It's really good to see him back so fit and enthusiastic." said Hodgson.
"I said during the Euros that we needed his ability as he is a player of exceptional ability, but we put players like Wayne under an enormous amount of scrutiny and pressure.
"The moment he doesn't play like a genius we want to write him off as being hopeless. That is very unfair."
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