Ashley Cole is a difficult man to warm to. The friends of Ashley, like the friends of Heather Mills, are small isolated groups emerging only after dark. But it’s just possible that this tiresome berk may have sparked a revolution that will improve football. The man who nearly crashed his car in fury when told by his agent that Arsenal were offering him the risible sum of £55,000 a week, made himself even less likable, if that were possible, when he childishly turned his back last week on referee Mike Riley who was booking him for a life-threatening challenge on Spurs’ Alan Hutton. Reaction afterwards started off slowly; gathering momentum through phone-ins, the media and even a bizarrely worded apology from Cashley. The FA briefed they would stamp down on bad behaviour. Well, maybe.
But at the weekend, the Chelsea–Arsenal game was played as if it was a school lesson in good behaviour, while at Old Trafford referee Steve Bennett sent off Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano for a self-immolating piece of dissent, and won automatic entry to referee heaven. Could little Ashley’s appalling snottiness actually usher in a New Age of Respect?
Well, let’s hope so. Players ganging up on referees has always been as much a fixture of Premiership life as the ritual roasting in a Travelodge — and about as edifying. Many a sensitive soul must have woken up sweating and screaming in the dark hours at the memory of Roy Keane swearing at referee Andy d’Urso a few years back while at Man U. What happened then? Not much. And of course what has happened to Roy Keane is that he has become easily the most agreeable Premiership manager. Heaven knows what he’s like on the training pitch, but talking to the media after matches the Sunderland boss is unfailingly frank, engaging, witty, generous and pleasant.