Ashley Cole: England's most consistent player over the last 10 years and a man who never let his country down

Ashley Cole was England’s most consistent player over the past decade. The 33-year-old left-back, who announced his international retirement last night after being overlooked for Roy Hodgson’s World Cup 23, was one of the few England players who took his strong club form on to the international stage. Cole’s tournament duels with Cristiano Ronaldo were the stuff of legend.

If Hodgson’s decision to omit Cole was understandable, and the claims of the precocious Luke Shaw as Leighton Baines’s understudy undeniable, then the Chelsea man’s contribution to England’s efforts since his debut in Tirana in 2001 was immense.

Cole played 8,637 minutes for England, captained the side once, and will be remembered as a left-back of craft and stamina who always gave everything. He played in three World Cups, and two European Championships.

England never came close to winning anything but the one player who never let them down, who always reported for duty however exhausted, who always relished the challenge of a high-class opponent, was Ashley Cole. He disliked the press but the press always respected him.

What was to prove his final appearance, and his 107th cap, was a 45-minute shift against Denmark at Wembley on March 5 that was well received by observers. Cole, despite inactivity at Chelsea, was sharp and busy. It was to prove a very symbolic moment when he was taken off at the break and Shaw emerged from the tunnel in his place, the Southampton teenager making an impressive debut.

Shaw was six when Cole made his England debut against Albania, showing his strength of mind as well as his athleticism, defensive expertise and ability to augment attacks down the left. Missiles were thrown by hostile home fans at England players and Cole was hit, although it soon transpired to have been only a lipstick holder.

He soon became a fixture in the No 3 shirt, playing in the famous 5-1 victory in Munich, impressing at the 2002 World Cup finals and particularly shining at Euro 2004, notably in keeping pace with Ronaldo when England faced Portugal in Lisbon. Cole’s positional strength, and almost uncanny ability to anticipate an opponent’s movement, served him well. He scored in the penalty shoot-out, although England still lost.

Two years later, Cole stood up to Ronaldo again in Gelsenkirchen in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. No full-back of that period played Ronaldo as well as Cole did.

He started all of England’s four games in South Africa in 2010; England were poor but Cole’s standards rarely dipped. He took huge pride in his international performances. He started again for England in the 2012 European Championship, a tournament that was to end in frustration with another shoot-out defeat and this time with Cole missing his penalty.

Cole travelled to Rio last year for England’s friendly with Brazil, playing at Maracana, but he will watch events in Brazil from afar this summer. Baines and eventually Shaw have much to live up to.

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