x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cole fuels speculation

The future of the Chelsea midfielder is a major talking point after he was left on the sidelines against Inter Milan in midweek.

Joe Cole has been marginalised by Carlo Ancelotti and is keen to put himself in the spotlight ahead of the World Cup.
Joe Cole has been marginalised by Carlo Ancelotti and is keen to put himself in the spotlight ahead of the World Cup.

Ashley Cole, the Chelsea left-back, remains on the sidelines and in the headlines. His namesake and teammate Joe did likewise, but for very different reasons. Ashley, exposed this week as an alleged adulterer and estranged from his wife, continues to recover from a fractured ankle; Joe, out of contract in the summer and regularly rumoured to be set for a high-profile transfer, remained an unused substitute as Chelsea fell 2-1 to Inter Milan.

In the seven months since August of last year, 28-year-old Joe Cole has made only 10 league starts for Chelsea, which, to draw a crude comparison, is double the number of appearances he made for England in two weeks at the 2006 World Cup and probably 10 more than he will make for the Blues next season . The gifted midfielder failed to come off the bench at the San Siro on Wednesday night as coach Carlo Ancelotti opted to favour, first, the attacking threat of Salomon Kalou, and then, as Chelsea chased the game, the prodigious but inexperienced Daniel Sturridge. Such a decision could be construed - and, in certain areas of the English press, it was - as a harbinger that right-footed Cole's career in south west London is coming to a close.

Kalou has started five of Chelsea's seven games in the Champions League and the Ivory Coast forward justified his selection again in Milan, scoring the Blues' vital away goal - his third in Europe this season - as well as being denied a stone-wall penalty in the first half. Cole, meanwhile, has started just twice. But such conclusions regarding the future of the former West Ham trainee should be avoided until this evening.

Manchester City travel to Stamford Bridge this afternoon, before, a few hours later, Fabio Capello, the England manager, announces his first squad since the draw for the World Cup was revealed. Whether Cole features in either could determine the career path of one of England's most talented players more so than a first-leg tie against his old mentor Jose Mourinho's Inter. The chances of his inclusion on Ancelotti's team sheet are higher than perhaps people assume. Cole has started more league matches than Kalou and Sturridge combined and could be conceived to have a point to prove against a side he was strongly linked with during last month's transfer window.

City reportedly showed an interest in the skilful winger, but the Eastlands side refused to pay over the odds for a player who will be available for free on July 1. Instead, Roberto Mancini, the City coach, opted for Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson, who is six years Cole's junior and left-footed. Now, as the 22-year-old shines in his new role as wing wizard of Manchester, Cole could quickly find Johnson replacing him as England's first-choice left-sided midfielder.

Undoubtedly, Cole is well aware of his options and has been for some time. Two seasons ago he was a target for Liverpool; few would be surprised if Rafa Benitez returned to the negotiating table in the summer. Likewise, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp, the manager who nurtured him through the West Ham youth team, is also keen to strengthen his left flank and Sir Alex Ferguson has always held him in high regard.

But only Cole knows what the future holds in terms of his career. He is approaching his prime and will be keen to maximise his exposure. Although preferably not in the same manner as his namesake. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae McCaffrey on Ashely Cole, s14