Age is just a number

Ashley Cole has fallen foul of Chelsea’s policy of not offering contracts of more than a year in length to players over 30 years of age. With Manchester United and Real Madrid hovering over this situation (PSG and Juventus too, if certain reports are to be believed) ready to grab him, it seems that the England International, widely considered as one of the best left backs of his generation, might end his long and brilliant run with the Blues abruptly in the January window or in summer as a free agent. Obviously, one can always be optimistic that he and the club will reach an agreement which would keep him at the Bridge. Although it seems highly unlikely as the club are very adamant on sticking to the policy and not making any exceptions.

Ashley Cole couldn’t have started his Chelsea career more controversially after falling out with Arsenal over his proposed move to Stamford Bridge. He was found guilty of making contact with league rivals Chelsea over a possible move, without informing the Arsenal authorities for which he was charged.  But things really started to get intense when Cole launched a verbal attack on Arsenal in his autobiography, claiming that the Arsenal board had treated him as a “scapegoat” and that they had “fed him to the sharks” over the tapping-up affair. He was left out of the Arsenal Team Photograph 2006-07, fuelling speculations and a move to Stamford Bridge was definitely on the cards. His career both on and off the field has been filled with controversies. But there is little doubt (or perhaps none) , that he has been one of the most consistent performers for the Blues during his time. So, the question is – Is it logical to let Ashley Cole leave in the near future or should Chelsea make an exception to their “30 plus policy” ? But before I try and answer that, it is important to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this policy just to get a clear idea of the situation.

First of all, the “30 plus policy” would help us reduce the wage bill considerably. We have one of the biggest wage bills in Europe and that really needs to come down especially because of the Financial Fair Play regulations, which might prevent us from working our transfers the way we want in the future. Players who keep performing well after 30, will be given their deserved one year extensions as seasons pass by. This would help the board cut losses over the wages of those players (Above 30, obviously) who can’t perform up to Chelsea standards even after giving their 100 percent. Secondly, our squad will have the right mix of youth and experience which has come into question in the recent years when many blamed our “old” squad for not achieving the success that we should, potentially. We will not have to spend big in one or two transfer windows like we did in recent years for the sake of rebuilding the squad completely. Young talent will get their shot of making it big, something which really needs to be one of our priorities, so that we don’t lose out on great footballers just because they can’t even get a shot at playing for the first team. Our squad will be filled with fresh and young blood who are hungry for success and have a thirst to perform their best in every game.

Not just that, the experienced players will also have to up their game as there will be intense competition for places, bringing the best out of them during their time at Chelsea. Nurturing young academy talent to help them reach their maximum will benefit our club as we won’t have to spend big to bring quality into our side. We already know the advantages of having a balanced side with the right mix of seniors as well as young players. The experienced will bring us composure, confidence and the right kind of leadership to win while the young will contribute with passion, flair and speed, something which I personally feel, every successful team should have.

Although the advantages might be assuring, there are a few disadvantages which we might have to face. Handling the egos of our experienced players who have achieved success throughout their careers just for the sake of being adamant on our policy might cause huge unrest in the dressing room. We all know what happened during the Andres Villas-Boas regime. Few reports suggest that Roman Abramovich called together the dressing-room dissenters and blamed them directly for the dismissal of AVB. It’s difficult to say whether this is true or not but one thing is certain – certain egos can be difficult to handle and might make the dressing room atmosphere – volatile. We might see our side lose experience as players who aren’t comfortable with the one year extensions might leave and seek their future elsewhere. I have no doubts regarding the talent our youngsters have and I am not a fool to underestimate it either. All I am saying is, I have at times,  seen very important results swing our way just because we have healthy experience running through our squad. Experience, and NOT just flair, is vital for any successful squad.

Another disadvantage is that there is always the risk of players seriously considering attractive offers from other top teams when they clock 28-29. We don’t want our players putting in transfer requests and leaving for other top clubs who are willing to give them top level football and a lengthier contract. This would cause unrest and might leave most players unhappy with the way things are running at the club. This policy could eventually lead to veterans, who have been serving the club for years and years, feel useless or unwanted. Players leaving the club with a bad taste will soon follow. They would make their opinions public just like Nicolas Anelka who recently said – “When you reach 30 at Chelsea, you feel like you’re too old. It’s sad. It’s like: ‘We don’t need you, get lost.”, making our new transfer targets think twice before they agree on a deal with us.

Now that we have a good understanding about the policy we can revert back to the original question – Is it logical to let Ashley Cole leave in the near future or should Chelsea make an exception to their “30 plus policy” ?

There is no question that Chelsea are very serious about their new policy and that it is applicable to every player without any exceptions. They did it to Ballack and Drogba in the past. They are doing it now to Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. From a personal point of view, I feel Chelsea should make an exception when it comes to Ashley. He still has 2 years of top level football left in him and I am sure not many will disagree. Yes, he is 31, and definitely isn’t going to get any better. But the quality of performances he puts in every week in a blue jersey is hard to replace right now. Ryan Bertrand is a great talent, no question. But not in the class of Ashley Cole yet. He can definitely benefit from being an understudy and a back up to Ashley and slowly make his way into the first team. Similarly, Ashley Cole should be phased out gradually, but not suddenly. A two year contract for Ashley till the time Ryan is ready to take his place in the squad looks like a sound strategy.

Although financially speaking, it wouldn’t be wise to give Ashley a two year deal. He currently earns a hefty  £120,000 a week and a contract renewal now would mean that the Financial Fair Play constraints would come into picture. Reports suggest that he certainly won’t sign a one year contract with us. So is it really necessary to stay adamant on the policy and not make any exceptions? I would still stick with my opinion of offering Ashley a two year contract just for the fact that he still has loads to offer. A strong, composed and experienced defense is the key to achieve victories in difficult fixtures. Ashley offers this every time he steps on the field.

Every player ages differently. Being 30 doesn’t mean that the player doesn’t have anything to offer. Football has shown us on innumerable occasions that after all , Age is just a number.



Udit Momaya

Bcom., MBA Aspirant, Chelsea fan - Blue to the core. Supports the Three lions. Has worked as a community manager in the social media frenzy for various IPL teams.