Hall of Fame

Wright-Phillips: Cole's legacy can still be felt today

25 Mar 2024
Cole and Wright-Phillips

Shaun Wright-Phillips says 2024 Hall of Fame inductee Ashley Cole was toughest left-back a Premier League winger could face

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Shaun Wright-Phillips says Ashley Cole was the toughest defender a winger could come up against in the Premier League and that the legendary left-back left a legacy that can still be felt 10 years on from his final appearance in the competition. 

Cole was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame on Monday as the first of three inductees for 2024. Fans can help choose the next two from a shortlist of 15. 

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Wright-Phillips says Cole thoroughly deserves a place in the home of the greats and explains his profound impact on the Premier League.

"Any good winger, especially in the Premier League, will tell you that Ashley was the hardest defender they ever came up against, without a shadow of a doubt," says Wright-Phillips.

"For me, he's been the best left-back the Premier League has seen. He never seemed tired. He would enjoy training and all the challenges that he came up against. It was phenomenal to see how he handled it all and just kept improving.

"As a person he emulated what he was on the pitch. Now he's going into management, I think he'll be a fantastic manager as well because of his mindset."

As a right winger, Wright-Phillips was in direct opposition in many matches between Manchester City and Arsenal before the pair became colleagues, at Chelsea in 2006.

Wright-Phillips says being Cole's team-mate was much more fun than facing him.

"We had so many battles before he signed for Chelsea and we became team-mates," says Wright-Phillips. "Finally, it stopped me from having to chase him because for a left-back at the time, he would take you into territories as a winger that you're not meant to be in.

Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole

"He always explained it well, 'It's easier for me to defend if I know you're tired and I can outrun most wingers in longevity.'

"He used to take me across the 18-yard box towards my left back, and I'm shouting to people that I shouldn't be over here because then there's a big gap there!

"Then, by the time you had to attack him, you were tired. He was one of those defenders that even if he wasn’t fresh, he never dangled a leg in. He very rarely nibbled. He always seemed like he was in control of the situation, even if he didn’t have the ball. For a defender, that's one of the greatest traits to have."

The pair spent two seasons together at Chelsea, with Cole playing a key part in the team that won the 2009/10 Premier League title, one of three English top-flight trophies he lifted in his career.

Cole left Stamford Bridge in 2014, and Wright-Phillips says Chelsea are still feeling his absence to this day.

"It was like a big, happy family there under [Jose] Mourinho with the group of players that were there," he says. "We all fought for each other. Even if one of us wasn't playing, we still wanted that person to do well.

"We had a lot of leaders in that team and Ash was one of them.

"It was normally a team thing that wins you a game. If I was playing on the left, I never panicked and never worried. I didn't need to give away a foul because I knew [Ashley] would either win the ball or he would hold him up enough for me to get back. They end up passing the ball backward instead of forwards.

"The way Ashley played within that back four was incredible. The legacy he left is still showing today. Chelsea haven't found a left-back that comes anywhere close to how good he was.

Ashley Cole

"He played a massive part in that offensive stability. If you have a strong defence and you're not conceding, you're always more likely to win – that was a Mourinho philosophy. He wanted us to be on the front foot, but we defended as a unit.

"Ashley would drive us forward, using technical ability to deliver the ball into the box, or see a pass, or even get on the end of things and score goals.

"In many ways he was before his time. He was probably the best defender England ever had and he was playing a different style of football. Total football would have suited him perfectly because his timing of his runs would have been easier to make. He could read everything."

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