Early Doors

The sad celebrations of England’s unloved centurion

As an occasion to mark his 100th cap it couldn't have been any more quintessentially Ashley Cole.

As he prepared to join a select few to have made a century of appearances for England, there was no press conference, no chance to reflect on his achievements or crack a smile, no glitzy event to mark his impressive feat and to talk about his hopes for the World Cup in 2014 - the tournament that, if England qualify, is likely to be his last.

None of that. Just a quiet chat with one agency reporter to be syndicated across the papers.

This reticence to sit in front of a microphone, even on the eve of his 100th cap - an occasion which for Steven Gerrard demanded an elaborate photoshoot - confirmed two facets of Cole's personality: he is a man who doesn't seek acceptance and he hates speaking to the press.

Yet despite this, few players have attracted the scrutiny of the media as regularly as the left-back, and now we have a curious situation where we find ourselves debating whether a man trotting out to make his 100th appearance for his country will receive a favourable reception from the Wembley crowd.

Wednesday night should in theory be a celebration of one of England's finest ever players; it is hoped it will not also have a flavour of condemnation for one of the most reviled too. Outright booing seems rather unlikely - dishing out such treatment to England players is no longer in vogue as it once was under Fabio Capello - but his reception might be tepid.

It would be a shame as on the basis of his sporting talent alone Cole should be regarded as one of the English greats, and certainly the country's best ever left-back.

Early on in his England career it became apparent this was a man destined for a century of caps. What used to be known as England's problem position - with Michael Ball the most unlikely of a sizeable cast of pretenders to the left-back spot before Cole's emergence - quickly became their most reliable.

His ability to quieten Cristiano Ronaldo was peerless, his performances against a succession of star names over the years as accomplished as they come. But when it comes to Cole it has proven largely impossible to separate the man from the player. For all his sporting talent, his personality persists.

The Chelsea defender has managed to become an all too regular presence in the papers, for reasons that you already know and ED feels no need to repeat here, and every glimpse that the public gets of him is unflattering.

This is presumably why he has an apparent distrust of the papers and almost always refuses to speak to the media following an international match. As a PR strategy it's not the smartest, and if there is one member of the squad that needs good PR, it's probably Cole.

Clearly he is not a man comfortable with the trappings of fame. Exploratory moves into this world have invariably met with disaster: the garish Lottery photo-shoot with Cheryl that looked like it had been dreamed up by some LSD-munching record producer in the 70s; the desperately ill-advised autobiography that detailed his disgust at being offered only £55,000 a week by Arsenal.

This reticence to court publicity extends to the pitch. For example, there was never any suggestion he would captain the side tonight in an exercise in vanity. Indeed, he has never shown any inclination to take the armband under previous managers and that persists under Roy Hodgson.

"I don't see any reason why the captain should let anyone else lead the team out," said England's manager yesterday. "Ashley does his talking and work on the field and I don't think he's ever pushed himself forward during his 100 appearances as a potential captain of the team. I think he's just very happy to be a key player in the team so I'm pretty certain he won't be trying to rip the armband off Steven."

This is the side of Cole that is happy to go under the radar. As a left-back he plays in a pretty understated role and he has always been happy to do his bit for the team with the minimum of fuss.

As he said in his only interview yesterday, away from the cameras: “Maybe I don’t get the recognition and praise, but I don’t want to sit here and keep going on about wanting to be loved.

“You need character to overcome low points, yes. In football you can’t always have it your own way. You can’t always have the good times. You are going to have bad spells when you are not playing well. It is something I have to deal with. I have learned to deal with it. I am here to play football. That is all I want to do."

His bad spells in an England shirt have been rare indeed; his mistakes glaring due to their uniqueness. Asked to pinpoint one, almost all will highlight the error that allowed Kazakhstan to score in a World Cup qualifier in 2008.

It was a shocking lapse from an ultra-consistent player, but bemusement soon gave way to abuse as his every touch was greeted with a chorus of boos from the Wembley crowd. It didn't feel like a judgement on his ability - how could it be? - but more a convenient excuse to attack an unpopular character.

Cole may be spared a repeat on Wednesday night, but this audience will never embrace a man whose sporting brilliance has all too often been wrapped up with a poor public image. He will forever be England's unloved centurion.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “England are a good team with some very good players — but I don’t look at them as one of our main rivals for the World Cup. Maybe they rely too much on Rooney — once you look past him you don’t see an obvious player who can win them a match. But Brazil have got many players who can. England have players to do well — but do I think they have the same quality as Spain and Argentina? No." - Neymar endears himself to the English crowd before tonight's big friendly at Wembley.

FOREIGN VIEW: AC Milan vice-president Paolo Berlusconi has sparked outrage for a racist remark about new striker Mario Balotelli. Berlusconi was filmed speaking at a rally for his brother's right-wing People of Freedom party, where he described Balotelli as "the family's little n*****" [negretto di famiglia]. You can find the full disgraceful story here.

COMING UP: We have a packed evening of international football ahead of us, with live text commentary on the following friendlies: England v Brazil, France v Germany, Netherlands v Italy, Sweden v Argentina, Spain v Uruguay, Republic of Ireland v Poland, Scotland v Estonia, Wales v Austria and Malta v Northern Ireland. It's also semi-final day in the African Cup of Nations with Mali facing Nigeria before Burkina Faso take on Ghana.