Ashley Cole makes for an unlikely coach as he takes England U21 role

Ashley Cole always looked more suited to the TV studio than the dugout but a revelation at LA Galaxy and inspiration from old bosses Wenger, Mourinho and Ancelotti led him back to Chelsea… and now the England U21 assistant manager role

  • Ashley Cole will be assistant to Lee Carsley in the England under-21 set-up
  • They will be tasked with improving England’s torrid Euro Champs record
  • Cole never gave much impression he would become a coach during playing days
  • It was when given the captaincy at LA Galaxy he realised it was the next step
  • Cole works in Chelsea’s academy with under-16 team and earned his badges 
  • He has spoken about the influence of leading coaches he has played under 

Ashley Cole worked under the likes of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti during a hugely successful playing career – but he didn’t appear to be obvious manager material himself.

As a young player, the left-back was too brash for many people’s tastes, as likely to be found on the front pages as the back. And the least said about that air rifle the better, or being left ‘trembling with anger’ at Arsenal’s wage offer.

It gave the enduring impression a character like Cole would be more at home in the television studio than the dug-out once he called time on his playing career.

Ashley Cole watches a UEFA Youth League match at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground in 2019

The former England left-back studied at home for his coaching badges – watched by his dog 

Turns out Cole is comfortable doing both but it’s the coaching route the 40-year-old has chosen. His appointment as assistant to England under-21 manager Lee Carsley this week has shattered a few old misconceptions.

As someone who won 107 caps for his country over a span of 13 years, the chance to help the next generation take their next step will be an exciting one. ‘It is a special feeling’, as Cole described it in the official announcement.

The news will have surprised a few but it’s been years in the making. Cole always wanted to stay in the game as a coach – or even as a scout – helping to shape the game rather than just talking about it on ITV or Sky Sports.

A world class career that saw Cole win three Premier League titles, seven FA cups, the League Cup, Champions League and Europa League was entering its twilight when he signed for MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy from Roma in January 2016.

Cole won every major piece of silverware as a player but didn’t seem an obvious manager

Cole’s Chelsea and England team-mates Frank Lampard (bottom) and John Terry (top) always seemed more likely to make the step into management 

Even though Cole had learned from Wenger, Mourinho and Ancelotti, it was a coach completely unknown to most European football fans – Sign Schmid – who prompted his own managerial epiphany.

‘The minute I got the captaincy at LA Galaxy, I turned into a different person,’ Cole told ESPN last year.

‘I’ve never fallen out of love with the game. I’ve always loved and watched football. I thought I wanted to stay in football once I retired, but going to LA and them giving me the belief that I could be a captain and then giving me specific roles with individual or team units, I felt I could do it.’

A senior member of the Galaxy squad, Cole was entrusted to sit in on video analysis sessions and also to pass on his years of expertise in one-on-one coaching sessions with younger players.

Cole began to see training sessions, of which he’d completed thousands over the years, from a different perspective.

Cole (centre) has been a pundit on ITV and other channels for a while but coaching was the aim

He has spent the past few years working towards his coaching badges and originally was interested in becoming a scout after hanging up his boots

‘As a player, you just turn up for session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball,’ he told Chelsea’s website in 2019.

‘But now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organisation has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.’

Convinced he could make the leap, Cole reached out to Chelsea’s head of youth development Neil Bath for advice while still out in LA. But it was scouting that actually piqued his interest more at first.

When Cole returned to English football, to be reunited with Chelsea and England team-mate Frank Lampard at Championship club Derby County in 2018-19, it was time to put plans into action.

And when Lampard was appointed Chelsea boss at the start of the following season, it was clearly the right moment for Cole to retire.

It was when playing for LA Galaxy in the United States that Cole realised he wanted to manage

After finishing his career at Derby, Cole returned to Chelsea to coach in their academy 

‘I spoke to Neil again and he told me I was welcome whenever. I started the process with my badges during that time. It was an easy transition really,’ he said.

Lampard had spent time at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground coaching the youth teams while working towards his badges and Cole followed a similar route, taking charge of the under-15 and under-16 teams.

It was an ideal chance to put the hours of practice needed to earn the badges while in familiar surroundings.

A few months in, Cole’s under-15 side won a Premier League tournament following wins over Man United, Newcastle, Dynamo Kiev, Sunderland and Everton.

Outlining his philosophy in the chat with Chelsea’a website, Cole believed the age of 14 or 15 isn’t too young to be immersed in the tactical side of the game.

Cole says he’d like to take the organisation of his former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho 

Cole admires the man management skills of Arsene Wenger, his manager at Arsenal

‘We’ll let them play, develop and solve problems themselves but we want to improve their tactical understanding as well so that, in a year or two, they’ll be ahead of young players at other academies because they have that in their brains already,’ he said.

As with any player turned novice coach, their style and approach is pieced together from the many influences of managers they’ve encountered.

‘I want to take parts of Jose Mourinho in terms of how organised he was, Carlo Ancelotti for his man management and how he would give his players faith to go out and express themselves within his system,’ he explained.

‘And Arsene Wenger, who was definitely a great man-manager and put a lot of trust in young players to find things out for themselves and learn quickly from mistakes.’

Cole is set to continue his role within Chelsea’s academy while assisting Carsley at St George’s Park whenever England’s under-21s are in action.

Lee Carsley has moved up from the England under-20 team to coach the under-21 side 

England suffered another group stage exit in the Under-21 European Championship this year

They are set to begin their qualification group for the 2023 European Under-21 Championship against Kosovo on September 7.

Getting through a group that also features Albania, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Andorra should be the straightforward part. Stopping the trend of serial failure at under-21 finals will require more brain power and innovation.

England have crashed out after the group stage in five of the last six finals and their early exit in this year’s competition spelled the end for coach Andy Boothroyd.

The talent is absolutely there to work with. The squad selected for the finals included Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood and Arsenal pair Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah.

Having won everything there was to win in his playing days, Cole will hope his golden touch converts to coaching.

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