It's not exactly news that Ashley Cole's time at Chelsea is running its course. He's been on the decline for at least two seasons, though his fall from the lofty heights of Arguable Greatest Left Back in the World™ has kept him relevant for both Chelsea and England. Lately, though, Roy Hodgson has been favouring Leighton Baines, while Jose Mourinho has retained Spanish right back Cesar Azpilicueta in his spot.
Initially used as emergency cover for an injured Cole and Ryan Bertrand, Azpilicueta has been able to make the position his own. Naturally, this has led to speculation that Ashley will be departing Stamford Bridge in the summer. Nearly every report has had him signing for another Premier League club, or walking into the footballing sunset that is MLS.
According to the latest report in the Mail, though, that might not be the case. The report suggests that he's currently considering forgoing a final payday by simply retiring from the game following the World Cup in Brazil, in which he hopes to become the first Englishman to play in four World Cup Finals Tournaments. In terms of ways to go out, retirement would be one of the best.
It's also not difficult to see why retirement might appeal more than a few more years of playing away from the top level. Ashley Cole isn't the average player. There's no club football trophy of significance which he hasn't won, including a record seven FA Cup victories. While he hasn't won anything with England, he is a centurion for his country. In those one-hundred-plus caps, he's risen to a become a legend in the game.
He's also not in a financial position where he needs to consider a money-spinning spell in the US to secure his economic future. Chelsea and Uncle Roman have been very generous with their contract offers over the years. He doesn't really have anything left to prove within the game, and has never exactly presented himself as the sort of player willing to toil in relative futility for the sake of it.
Retirement is obviously just speculation at this point, but it's something we should probably have been thinking about before now. Even if he ultimately chooses to keep playing after this season, there's a good chance it won't be at Chelsea. If the next six months are the end of Ashley Cole's Chelsea career, or his career in general, it will mark the end of one of the most fantastic careers of this century. After last season's speculation surrounding Frank Lampard and his contract demonstrates the value of appreciating football heroes -- no matter how controversial -- before they're gone.