Monday 13 October ~
If England fans are looking forward to a booing session during the team's forthcoming match in Minsk they will have to find a new target – Ashley Cole has pulled out of he squad with an injury. Officially his withdrawal is due to a sore hamstring. Those who are not well disposed toward the Chelsea full-back, and there are many such people, might wonder whether a bruised ego is also involved. Not since David Beckham was hung in effigy after being sent off in England's defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup has one player generated as much hostility from England supporters as Ashley Cole.
The Beckham baiting of a decade ago was pathetic – he simply bore the brunt of the disappointment felt by some thick-skinned football supporters who were unable to cope with the fact that their team lost a match that they might otherwise have won. The barracking of Cole on Saturday also had a specific cause, that his mistake led to a Kazakhstan goal, but he was already unpopular because he come to symbolise what many dislike about modern footballers. Cole is suffering the effects of the comment made in his autobiography that he was "insulted" when Arsenal offered him a new contract worth only £55,000 per week. He is not the only member of the England squad to be derided for being whiny and arrogant but he is perceived to be the worst offender. Any error of judgment he has made since then, notably his disrespectful response to referee Mike Riley’s attempts to book him in a Chelsea match last year, has been magnified. Short of scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final, Cole seems set to be lambasted by some football supporters, at club level as well as at England matches, for the rest of his career.
The FA has described the barracking of Cole as "crazy" but those who defend the abuse will argue that someone who earns £300,000 a month, plus endorsements worth several million more, should be able to cope with some booing. Cole's various advisers don't seem overly concerned about addressing his negative public image, although it has been suggested that he is one of number of England players who could improve their standing in the eyes of fans by making more of an effort to communicate with them directly through attending supporters' functions.
England players' reputations have been inflated by the hype around the Premier League, which has led some to believe that the national team possesses a "golden generation" who ought to be conquering the world. Some of the Cole-haters have swallowed that hype and are now bemoaning their own naivety as much as they might be mocking the pretensions of certain players. But some people just enjoy booing – a significant proportion of the crowd at any football match from international to non-League are never happier than when they're moaning. Cole is neither as good nor as bad as his performances might suggest – he’s just a product of our times.