Sure, Ashley Cole surreptitiously negotiated his move to Chelsea, turning his back on his childhood club for the chance to chase millions of petrol dollars, and, yes, he may not have the most tact when he deems it necessary to speak to the media, but the man was perhaps the best left-back of his generation, one who has won nearly every trophy in the game, well, except the World Cup, he is English, after all, so it should come as no surprise that he and Roma have been caught flirting with one another.
After a season on the periphery for Jose Mourinho, the man sometimes known as Ca$hley is suddenly a free agent with an eye on European play next season. While many assumed Cole would follow another Chelsea legend, Frank Lampard, to the MLS, it's believed that Cole and Roma are in "advanced negotiations" to bring the 33-year-old defender to the Eternal City on a two year deal. While other sources claim that Roma is simply one of "two or three" clubs Cole is considering, which may or may not actually include MLS clubs.
Roma has certainly ventured down this path before, taking on legends from foreign clubs seeking one last shot at glory, or simply another paycheck, so what would make Ashley Cole different? Why should we expect this to turn out any better than, say, Roma's failed experiment with Adriano? (the beefy one from Inter, not the Catalan carrot currently being dangled in front of our faces)
Sure, Cole may be 33-years-old, but he's not that far removed from being a fixture in the Chelsea XI. In 2012-2013, Cole made 31 appearances in the Premiership, during which he scored one goal, dished out two assists, won 55% of his tackles, and averaged five defensive actions (blocks, interceptions, clearances) per match, good for fifth on the club.
With the emergence of César Azpilicueta this past season, Cole dovetailed to a still respectable 17 appearances, including 15 league starts, but still managed to be as effective, if not more so, than the prior season. We could chalk up this near 50% reduction in playing time to Mourinho intentionally managing his minutes, or simply the universe doling out some comeuppance, whatever the case was, this reduced role actually served Cole quite well.
Using the per 90 minute metric, which, again, levels statistics with respect to sample sizes (to the extent possible), shows that Cole flourished as a part time player. In 2012-2013, Cole played a total of 2,790 minutes, during which he averaged 0.48 key passes, 0.6 assists and 36.9 completed passes per 90 minutes. Fast forward to this season, one in which he only played 1,386 league minutes, and Cole looked every bit the supersub, averaging 0.97 key passes, 0.13 assists and 40.26 completed passes per 90 minutes, his accuracy also jumped from 88% to 90%.
Defensively speaking, the results were quite similar, as Cole was slightly better in terms of blocks, tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes this past season than in 2012-2013, though his clearances dropped somewhat.
The point being, though his ego may not have acclimated to being a part time player, his performance on the pitch was no worse for the wear; Cole was as efficient and effective as ever in this reduced role.
Of course, Roma doesn't have anyone or anything remotely near César Azpilicueta, so Cole's Roman role may not actually be that reduced, so how far Cole ultimately falls in between these two data sets remains to be seen, but he does appear to have a bit of value left in those once vaunted legs of his.
What this potential signing means for Roma's left flank is anyone's guess. Dodo did, believe it or not, show some tremendous growth this season, so would the inclusion of Cole hinder his development? And don't forget about our other aging left back, Federico Balzaretti, who still has a year remaining on his contract; how far down the team sheet will #42 fall? Furthermore, would the addition of Cole scupper any shot at Domenico Criscito, Davide Santon or (shoot the moon) Ricardo Rodriguez?
While these questions may ultimately prove academic, Ashley Cole proved he can be effective in a reduced role, and, coming on a free transfer, he wouldn't necessarily affect Roma's summer spending plans, so there isn't too much ground for complaint.
The only lingering issued would be Cole's ability to adapt to the Italian game and to life in Roma, though one should also question the extent to which he'd accept a reduced role at a new, supposedly smaller, club.