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Cole remains a major player in uncertain times

Monday, 21 January 2013 - 11:09am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Chelsea's polished left-back can still command respect, if not much affection, in victory over his former club.

Ashley Cole stays. Frank Lampard goes. John Terry warms the bench. Roman Abramovich peers through the snow. However hard Chelsea try to 'evolve', the big names still dominate the picture here as the European champions keep going AWOL after the break.

For the second time in five days, Chelsea ran the first-half, then disappeared in the second. On Wednesday it cost them a two-goal lead against Southampton, who returned to the coast to sack their manager after a 2-2 draw.

This time Arsenal could claw only one back from the same position. But at least Cole will not fly away this summer. With so much tension eating away at Stamford Bridge, it would have been crackers to lose one of the world's best left-backs at the age of 32.

'Cashley' Cole is not the sort of player you want to be culling after going out in a Champions League group stage and falling 13 points behind in the Premier League race. Four FA Cups, a league title and one European Cup are not to be tossed overboard, unless the holder is a serious menace to his employers, rather than just the interns. Whatever Chelsea lose in the cost of Kevlar vests for work experience lads they will gain in talent and stability.

With one more cap, Cole will become an England centurion. Of the old guard here he now looks the most secure, even though he had a poor second half.

Lampard, the lion in winter, is still on the way out unless word comes down from the little Kremlin that Abramovich has changed his thinking. The fans sang Lampard's name as lustily as ever after his 47th penalty for the club but there is still no sign that Abramovich wants to keep him.

The idea that Cole would definitely leave stemmed from a remark made by Rafael Benitez soon after his appointment as interim manager. "I think so, I think that's the case at the moment," he told reporters. A kerfuffle ensued as it appeared Cole had heard the news through the press (not that he reads it).

The club disputed it. They insisted a deal remained possible. There was no U-turn, in that sense. But it would be impossible not to draw a connection between Chelsea's corporate anxiety and this stay of execution for one of their most reliable warriors.

After this precious win Benitez returned to his earlier remarks about Cole being cut adrift. "I was saying what was going on. The contract was running out next summer," he said. "Now the club has an agreement with the player, I'm really pleased. The paperwork has to be done but the agreement is done."

Arsenal fans were as hostile as ever. They chanted about Cheryl Cole and restated their implacable loathing each time he approached the red and white end. Although he left Arsenal for money, more than glory, he now looks vindicated.

Cole moved to Chelsea in 2006 and has won seven major trophies in blue. Arsenal last lifted a pot in 2005. When the offer of a one-year extension finally dropped on Saturday, there was no danger of him nearly veering off the road, as he did, he claimed, after receiving a "derisory" offer from Arsenal.

Cole will have heard Arsenal's fans pile derision on Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive. "What the f--- do you do?" they chanted. These were two grumpy clubs. And as Lampard swept his penalty in, Abramovich braced himself for more cries of "sign him up" and "super Frankie Lampard." These shouts emanate from the heart of a club desperately trying to change but still dependent on its proven leaders.

"I can understand that Frank, from day one, has been doing a great job," Benitez said. "He's playing well and I'm really pleased. It's not my decision, so don't push me every time."

Clearly fed up with Lampard-related questions, Benitez is going to find himself pressed on Terry's status as sub for the third game in a row - he came on in the 4-0 win at Stoke.

"He has been out 16 weeks. He's doing a specific plan, doing well. He's coming back," Benitez said. "It's good to have different options, but still it's too early. He has to play for match fitness, but not these kind of games where he has to play high."

He did, though, concede that Terry is no longer a fixture in a starting XI that can also deploy David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic at centre-back: "Yeah, obviously, every player here has to compete for his position. That's the good thing for the team and the manager."

Chelsea now chase a League Cup final place tomorrow night but are

2-0 down from the first-leg against Swansea. The first Champions League holders to be knocked out in a group stage, they are scrabbling around for something to take from their season of transition.

We assume Benitez will go. We are pretty sure Lampard will. Terry will stay with a creaking body and reduced power base. Expediency has come to Cole's rescue. Common sense, too. Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid have been thwarted in their desire to pick up an international class full-back on the cheap.

You might not want to go for a pint with Cole, except to explore his spiky personality, but you would definitely want him on your side in such uncertain times.

 


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