Ashley Cole left Chelsea in 2014 and returned five years later (as a youth coach), only to find that Chelsea had yet to truly replace him. We could in fact make that six years, since César Azpilicueta first took over the left back spot in 2013 under Mourinho.
But neither he nor José lasted too long in that arrangement (despite a title win), and since then a succession of candidates have tried to become the next long-term solution. Marcos Alonso probably came closest, but that’s not saying too much when other options (if even just for a game or two) included Filipe Luís, Baba Rahman, Kenedy, Pedro, Nathan Aké, Davide Zappacosta, Ola Aina, or most recently, Emerson. It’s been bad enough that Azpilicueta himself had to take another turn just the other day.
In short, we’re still looking.
Granted, replacing Ashley Cole, perhaps the greatest (English) left back of all time, was never going to be an easy task. Mourinho with Azpilicueta and Conte with Alonso turned out to be only temporary solutions. So it is entirely unsurprising that one of the first rumors that popped up as soon as Chelsea’s transfer ban was lifted was for a left back, namely Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell.
And while there’s little chance of getting Chilwell at the minute, Ash himself would certainly endorse the 22-year-old as the next candidate for the Chelsea left back position. Maybe in the summer?
“I think he’s quality and I’ve heard he’s a Chelsea fan, too, so I would like to see him here. Whether he would want to leave, or if Leicester would want to sell him, that’s something the clubs would have to talk about.”
But Cole, after more than his fair share of transfer dramas over the course of his playing career, certainly knows that things aren’t ever that easy and straightforward in football. Beyond just the Chilwell and Leicester considerations, there’s also the problem of Chelsea’s current squad, with two left backs already signed long-term (2023 and 2022) and a third who’s versatile enough that he just may be the best option there at the moment.
“Not forgetting we’ve got Alonso here and Emerson, who I like, and Cesar can also play there. So if you buy a player you’ve still got another three players you need to try to keep happy or whether they want to leave or not… so it’s a big decision for the club.
“But he’s got the quality. For sure he’s good enough.”
-Ashley Cole; source: talkSport
What makes Chilwell such a great candidate is his ability to contribute and play well both in attack and in defense, as all the best modern day full backs need to do. It’s what made Cole an all-time great as well, and it’s what’s held back all those we’ve tried to replace him with. Some were great in attack (Alonso, for example), some in defense (Azpilicueta, for example), but not one of them has come close to Cole’s two-way excellence. Chilwell probably could.
“There’s always going to be a question mark if you’re going to a bigger club. He is doing really well in terms of how he’s playing at Leicester. He’s enjoying the way Brendan (Rodgers) plays and the system. He’s got that licence to attack.
“When he’s played for England he’s played well. He got three assists last month. He’s shown quality both on the ball and off it. You can tell he likes to defend.”
That latter bit remains important even now, and it’s increasingly what separates the good from the great. Every full back can attack these days; not many can defend. It’s a systemic issue, as Cole sees it, but one that should not be overlooked.
“My worry is when I watch full backs these days they’re hampering back because they’ve got midfield support but when they get exposed on the international stage, when they have to defend one on one in extra time or whatever, I feel a bit we’re falling short because we’re neglecting the real defensive work.
“When I came [to Chelsea] my job was to defend. José likes the back four and one in front to defend and we played on the counter sometimes. If we were playing a Manchester United, who counter attacked, then he wouldn’t want me out of position where they use their weapons.
“Then when he left I went back to how I was and how I felt I could bring more to the table and that was getting up and down, wanting to defend. I learnt a lot under Jose but then when he left I had more licence to get up and down.”
-Ashley Cole; source: Mail
They may not make them like Ash anymore, but maybe we can listen to him when it comes to finding his long-awaited successor.