Hall of Fame

'I never dreamed of this' - Ashley Cole in his own words

27 Mar 2024
Ashley Cole

Former Arsenal and Chelsea star reflects on his career and reveals pride at being inducted into the Hall of Fame

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As Ashley Cole becomes the 22nd Premier League Hall of Fame inductee, the three-time title-winner reflects on his amazing career, sharing memories of his childhood dreams, his Premier League highlights and what it means to be honoured with a place in the home of the greats.

On being inducted into the Hall of Fame...
I’m honoured to join the Premier League Hall of Fame. It’s humbling and fulfilling to be rewarded at the end of your career.  I went through my 20-year career span just trying to give my best and be good enough. You take it day by day and game by game. As a young kid, you never dream of any of this and you just do it for the love of the game of football.

"I played for some fantastic clubs with incredible fans. Winning trophies with my boyhood club Arsenal and with Chelsea are amazing memories that will always be with me.

"It’s emotional to reflect because a lot of hard work has been put in and to be put alongside the likes of Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand, I’m privileged to be in their company."

On his east London roots...
"I was born in Whitechapel and my whole upbringing was around east London. I met some amazing friends there and had some amazing experiences. Super proud of where I grew up.

"We had a lot of football pitches around the area with the likes of me, Ledley King, Jlloyd Samuel, we'd play after school in the cages. It's quite funny because I ended up playing with Ledley for England and I remember us being in the cage [as kids] and having a conversation about, 'Imagine both of us making it and playing for England together.' Reflecting on that was like two boys from east London with a dream, and aspirations to become a professional footballer."

Cole and King, England

On his loan spell at Crystal Palace
"Steve Coppell at Crystal Palace took a risk on me. I went there on loan, and I was an 18 or 19-year-old player, a kid who’d never played a first-team game before, just playing reserves.

"But he gave me the confidence to go and play and show my ability, show my quality. So he had a lot of faith in me, without even knowing me, really. And we had an amazing relationship. I owe him a lot for giving me my first opportunity to play in the first team."

Cole, Crystal Palace

On his Arsenal debut...
"Arsene Wenger used to do 11v11 a day before the game. The coach would hand out the bibs and non-bibs were the starters. I remember that I didn't get a bib, and I was like, 'Oh, ok.'

"There were a few youngsters in the group as well, but we didn't expect to play, so yeah, the nerves kicked in and gave me that extra bite.

"Making my debut for my boyhood club was a dream come true. Putting on that famous Arsenal shirt and walking out with top players like Thierry Henry was a privilege.

"But you're there for a reason and it was about trying to show your talent and trying to show that you're capable of competing with the opponents and not be daunted.

"I had to learn very quickly the demands of this game and what it means to wear an Arsenal shirt and represent that badge."

On his first title win, in 2001/02...
"Being a boyhood Arsenal fan, I was living out a dream just pulling on the shirt and playing for the first team. Playing in front of amazing fans so close to the pitch at Highbury, so intimate and, for me, one of the most beautiful stadiums.

"Winning my first Premier League title was certainly special. To lift that trophy in front of my friends and family and celebrate with your team-mates after a gruelling 38-game season is amazing.

"That feeling is hard to explain. Growing up, all I knew was loving Arsenal Football Club. If I had to pick one that meant the most to me emotionally, I’d go with that."

On Arsenal's "Invincibles" of 2003/04...
"It sounds arrogant, but our mindset was ‘just win.’

"That filtered down from Arsene Wenger. He gave us a lot of belief within the group. Every time we walked on that pitch, we felt we're going to win.

"But we understood the Premier League is so competitive and you have to be on it every single game. With wins comes a target on your back. Thirty-eight games in the league is tough. Everyone wants to play and beat Arsenal.

"We played with a finesse and a freedom within the team, but we certainly had some fighters in there who never gave up. You need something special to come back when you’re 1-0 down, or 2-1 down or 2-0 down.

"To show that focus, the mentality, the grit and determination to actually get over the line and do it is historic. For me as an Arsenal fan, you can't fathom it. You can't believe we actually did that, and we went through the whole season without losing a game.

"You look back and understand the context of it – going a season unbeaten. We know how hard it is. So, to do that with that group of players was something special to me.

"I’ve previously said I wouldn't mind it being done again, but I've probably changed my mind. A few teams have kind of gone close and then fell a little bit short. That says everything you need to know about the Premier League, how good it is and how tough it is."

Arsenal, champions 2003-04

On learning from Wenger...
"He taught me not to be too judgmental, you've got to trust a process. Without Arsene Wenger being my manager at the time at Arsenal, I don’t think I’d have stayed in the team, but he understood I was a young player and that I would make mistakes.

"He was very nurturing and he understood how to treat the younger players; help us to learn and develop by our mistakes on the pitch. Arsene gave me the confidence and belief that I belonged in that first team and that I could compete with these players and play with them.

"I will always be thankful for what he gave me [personally] and the opportunity he gave me. You have always got to respect the man that sees a raw talent in you and allows you to be free and play."

Cole, Wenger, Arsenal

On signing for Chelsea under Jose Mourinho…
"I turned up and understood from minute one that the manager only wanted to win - and that was music to my ears. The way we trained day-in day-out, the expectation was, 'Train as you play.' But I really mean that – tackles used to fly.

"I knew the standards and levels were high and that's what I wanted to do, to try to win more silverware. I knew with these players around me and that mindset and mentality, it was only going to go one way because the drive and the competitive nature of that group of players was amazing.

"After my first day, I understood, again, that it's a tough league but with these players around me ready to fight and battle and give everything, we had more than a chance to do it."

Cole, Mourinho, Chelsea

On his first title with Chelsea's "Entertainers"...
"It took me probably three years too many to win my first title at Chelsea. 
I was lucky to be in a dressing-room that had some big characters and personalities in there. A goal from our big-game player Didier Drogba won us the 2007 FA Cup, but I understood that this group of players would continue to win because that was the mentality.

"All through my years of playing in the Premier League, the 2009/10 season was the best year I played. I felt physically the best I've ever felt. I felt very confident going into every game. I felt I was one of the best left-backs going forward - it was my most goal contributions - and I felt I could defend.

"That was due to Carlo Ancelotti's influence. The way he man-managed players and the group of us, we had a lot of discipline. It meant a lot because obviously I got a lot of stick for leaving Arsenal, so that day was very important in my own mental state.

"It was an important season for me and an important season for the club as we did the Double that year, winning the FA Cup with a goal from Didier."

Chelsea, champions 2010

On the team’s then-record 103-goal Premier League season…
"That season attacking-wise, we were just amazing, blowing teams out of the water. The importance of the goals and how many we got created a little bit of history. This group of players, and the environment, was just unreal. We were so attacking, free-flowing and entertaining. We certainly tried to entertain and play front-foot football.

"We won the League on the last day. Knowing you've got one game at home against Wigan, who were struggling at the time, to win the League, there was only one way that game was going to go.

"The way we performed on that day topped everything off. It was a top-class performance and we won 8-0. I was lucky enough to score and play well, and then celebrate again with my family."

Cole goal, Wigan

On his last match for Chelsea at Cardiff, May 2014...
"I remember playing against Cardiff away in my final game and Jose made me the captain and we won 2-1. I remember all the players pushing me over to go and celebrate with the fans after the match and I thought, 'OK.' I was a captain, I tried to get all the players together to go to clap the fans.

"And then my team-mates all started to walk backwards quite slowly. They let me get my ovation from the away fans, which meant a lot, although I didn't know I was going to leave at that time.

"The fans were amazing with me in my nine years there. They were supportive, they were great, they were brilliant.

"It’s something I'll always cherish because we did have a good bond. I tried to give everything for the club and we created some history and memories.

"I felt I left quite a good legacy there but also on the flip side of that, I understood a football career is not for ever. And, yeah, it was probably time for me to go and try my new journey and I went to Italy."

Cole, Cardiff 2014

On his battles with Cristiano Ronaldo...
"Whenever I hear his name or see his face I always think of when he made me do the splits! I don't know if I should laugh, or hide in embarrassment, but what a top professional.

"Over the years, Cristiano Ronaldo and I had some mighty battles and we have a mutual respect for each other. I admire what he did in the Premier League, what he did at Real Madrid.

"He came to the Premier League as a little bit of an unknown, but he soon understood what it took to be a top player. He was willing to learn and adapt. He wanted to be the best player in the world and became a machine. He had everything. He could dribble, he could sprint behind, he could leap and jump and head a ball, he could go inside, he could go outside. So I say he always gave me nightmares, but you try to work each other out and we got the best of each other at times.

"My strength was wanting to get forward and helping in attack - I had the capacity and the physical attributes to get forward and come back very quickly. Even though you had a dangerous player on my side, I tried to use my strength, which was the ability to get up and down, up and down.

"Alex Ferguson was clever with that, and he did change him [Ronaldo] over to the other side a few times and so it made my job, and my life, so much easier by the way, so thank you for that! I did feel that was a little sign of respect as well, which is really, really nice.

"We had tough battles, but I think we both had a mutual respect for each other. We understood and tried to give everything for our club."

Cole, Ronaldo

On which current players are future Hall of Famers…
"Kevin De Bruyne. His thought process is just on a different level with the quality of his assists, he can make every type of pass. If I'm honest, I didn't see he would get to this level when we were team-mates at Chelsea - and it’s the same with Mohamed Salah.

"You see their attributes and skill, but you have to give the players credit for grafting at their craft to get where they are today."

On his dream Hall of Fame 5-a-side team…
"Petr Cech in goal. Tony Adams as a defender. It is tough to choose Tony Adams over Rio Ferdinand but for me personally, what I learnt from playing next to Tony Adams in my development will never leave my side

"I'll go Steven Gerrard then Frank Lampard as two midfielders.

"Thierry Henry up front. For me, the greatest Premier League player ever. I feel sorry for some players I have to leave out, like Didier Drogba who was such a big-game player and helped me win trophies.

"I'll take the gaffer role. That's the next dream."

Vote for two further inductees

Fans can vote for two further inductees to join Cole in the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame

Who goes into PL history? You decide

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A shortlist of 15 nominees has been revealed, with fans from across the world invited to vote for two further inductees before 12:00 BST on Monday 8 April. The two inductees chosen will be announced on Monday 22 April.

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