Hodgson salutes controversial Cole

England boss Roy Hodgson insists Ashley Cole deserves to be mentioned in the same bracket as Italy pin-up boy Paolo Maldini.

Football News: Ashley Cole England

If Cole features in both games of this month's World Cup double header against San Marino and Poland, he will become only the sixth England player to reach 100 caps for their country.

There has been some grudging acceptance of Cole's abilities.

In 2010, he was voted England's player of the year, and he was also one of the better performers at Euro 2012.

However, an assessment of his achievements often comes with an attack on his character, and poor public profile following a series of indiscretions on and off the field, the latest on Friday when he was forced to apologise to the Football Association.

He called the FA a 'bunch of t***s' on Twitter after he was accused of "evolving" his statement supporting John Terry's defence against the charge he racially abused Anton Ferdinand.

The accusation came in the written reasons for Terry's four-match ban and £220,000 fine for racially abusing Ferdinand in a game last October. Cole is now likely to be fined by his club for the online outburst.

Such incidents mean Cole can never hope to be granted the same plaudits as Maldini, who played in the same position and won 126 caps before he retired in 2009.

"I think so," said Hodgson however, when asked if he thought Cole deserved to be regarded in the same bracket.

"Maldini was a one-club man. Not many have done that but Ashley has done it with two.

"He had a long career at Arsenal, where he was considered a fixture, and done the same at Chelsea.

"They are top names, legends of the past, it must be great to know you are joining that.

"We don't have that Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame in England but these people are our Hall Of Famers."

In truth, Cole's name will sit rather uncomfortably alongside those of Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright, the only other Englishmen to reach those coveted three figures.

A quick Google search explains why.

His short-lived marriage to singer and celebrity Cheryl was the subject of claims about Cole's infidelity.

In addition, he accidentally shot a 21-year-old student on work experience with a .22 calibre air rifle, unaware it was loaded at Chelsea's training ground. The student was not seriously injured.

A statement in his autobiography that he had been left "trembling with anger" when Arsenal offered him a new contract worth 'only' £55,000 per week earned more negative headlines, as did the shameless dissent he showed Mike Riley in a match against Tottenham in 2008.

Even in the short space between Hodgson offering his assessment of Cole's character and the words being put down in print, the full-back managed the outrageous tweet aimed at the FA, for which he has since apologised.

Yet Hodgson feels the public perception is at odds with the man he knows.

"Every player has the right to be true to their own feelings, and his is that he will do his talking on the field," he said.

"He doesn't want to give lots of interviews, he wants to be judged as a pure footballer.

"I for one respect that wholeheartedly and have found him to be an excellent professional and a very enthusiastic and important member of the group who I'm looking forward to working with him for a period of time to come."

Hodgson had refused to dismiss initial questions about the potential for Cole to be handed the honour of leading his country in Poland to mark the significance of the occasion.

However, there was no guarantee the Stepney-born player would have accepted and it is now understood Hodgson had dismissed the idea even before yesterday's staggering turn of events and that Steven Gerrard will wear the armband as normal.

"It is not something you should take lightly but it is certainly worthy of consideration," he said.

"What is more worthy of consideration is the fact that Ashley, at a relatively young age and with more football left in him, is likely to get his 100th cap very soon - and that is fantastic.

"I don't think we should ever underestimate the value of that."

Hodgson will not, because he understands just how much work is required to win just one of those caps.

However, his status within the game established, with his overall fitness not in question, even if his troublesome ankle restricts his appearances at times, means it is not beyond the realms of possibility Cole could threaten not just David Beckham's 115 caps - the highest for an outfield player - but Peter Shilton's overall caps record of 125.

"For an outfield player, a left-back, to reach 100 caps is incredible and there is no reason why he cannot set his sights higher," Hodgson added.

"He's a slim guy, who keeps himself very fit.

"If he can stay as he is today, who knows where it will take him in the future.

"Knowing Ashley a little bit, I'm sure he is not thinking on those terms - he's thinking of these games ahead of him."



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