Ashley Cole: defending skills and attributes
Former England left-back, Ashley Cole, reflects on what it took to master the position and develop into a world-class defender.
He may not be playing for the Three Lions anymore, but he’s still representing them. Ashley Cole’s coaching the England stars of the future in his men’s U21 assistant coach role. He’s passing on his knowledge to the next generation.
Willingness to learn and compete
Having the right character is essential. Being kind, willing to listen and determined to improve can get you far in life. It’s the same for football, too. Letting those qualities shine through, along with his ability, meant Arsenal signed Cole as a youngster.
“I think they [Arsenal] saw someone that was coachable and saw me as a good kid. I think first and foremost you want nice people in the club. They saw that in me, and then they saw the talent.
“I tried to take on board everything the coaches and players said to me. But of course, they must have seen that raw talent – someone willing to get up and down, not wanting to be beaten 1v1. Someone who can probably get you from A to B in that defensive area, have the speed and agility to beat players in defensive areas, and then have the ability to find passes and score goals.”
No one knows for sure what position a player will end up in. While some attributes might stand out, it’s important not to pigeonhole players into one place. Early specialisation can halt development. In Cole’s case, he adapted to position changes and used the skills and experience he gained to make a new role his own.
“I was slight in build, but I was very quick, agile and sharp. So, I was a striker when I first started at Puma FC – probably up until the age of 15. Then, playing for the likes of the schoolboys of Arsenal, at times they didn’t have a left-winger, so I might get put there. But my out-and-out position was centre-forward. I was good at running the channels. I would never give up balls - I’d make a bad ball into a good one. I had an eye for goal, even though I wasn’t too great with my right foot.
“Then I think they started to see my position as more of a left-winger or left-back - I think we had big, physical, strong strikers who could probably shoot off both feet. I didn’t complain about it. I was just happy to be putting on an Arsenal shirt and playing.
“In the youth team, I got pushed back into the left-back position because one of the players in the year above got injured. I got kind of chucked in the deep end. I didn’t really understand that position in terms of playing from deeper, playing from behind. I was always used to running in behind and not attacking from behind the ball. It was daunting. But I was just happy to be wearing a shirt and to get a chance to be playing up a year. And I didn’t look back from there.
“At the start, I was uncomfortable in my positioning, game understanding and playing from deeper. But I think I really took on board what the coaches were saying. I started to feel that maybe I could play this position a little bit more attacking, more advanced - but I felt comfortable in that position, even as a 16 or 17-year-old.”