As a player, he won it all. Now Ashley Cole has hung up his boots and is targeting excellence in a new field as a coach after returning to Chelsea to work in our Academy.
Shortly after starting his new role at Cobham, Cole sat down with the official Chelsea website to discuss his return to the club in a coaching capacity, his influences from past managers and how he plans to nurture the next generation of talent…
Having won eight major honours as a Blue at Stamford Bridge, cementing himself as one of the greatest defenders to play for the club, Cole called time on his glittering 20-year playing career by announcing his retirement this summer. His personal trophy cabinet boasts 13 winners medals in total, including a record seven FA Cups, as well as 107 England caps.
Now as Under-15 Academy coach, he will be working closely with the next generation of Chelsea youngsters and has already helped the team to their first piece of silverware this season in the national Premier League finals. For Cole, that is just the start of the road as he plots to achieve as much in the dugout as he did on the pitch.
‘I’ve started with the Under-15s and been back for two months now,’ the 38-year-old revealed. ‘I’m working predominantly with Frank O’Brien, who has been here for many years. He’s seen a lot of these players currently in the first team come through the ranks so he’s definitely been very influential so far.
‘The lead phase coach is Ian Howell and they have a lot of experience between them. They’ve worked with the younger age groups for many years so it’s definitely been good to be working with them. The first month was about being around the place, getting to know the players and understand them because they’re still kids.
‘I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in. I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.
‘As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball 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.’
Cole admits he was unsure for a long time about which path to take after retiring from playing, although advice from Chelsea’s head of youth development Neil Bath and his three-year stay in America convinced him that coaching was a passion he could follow.
‘I’ve been speaking to Neil Bath about my future for a couple of years now and originally my interest leaned more towards scouting,’ he admitted. ‘I enjoyed watching games and analysing players or team units like defence and midfield but it was when I was playing in Los Angeles [for LA Galaxy] that they gave me a bigger role with the coaching side.
‘I wasn’t just a player there, I was sitting in on the video analysis sessions and doing one-on-one coaching with some of the younger players, which I really enjoyed. I liked to see the benefits of telling the players something and watching them produce it in game situations – that was something I loved to see so that then led to a different conversation with Neil to tell him I wanted to be a coach.’
Cole is not the first former Blues star to be coaxed back to the club with a role in our Academy. His namesake, Joe, returned at the start of the year to join Jon Harley and Andy Myers among the coaching fraternity, while Jody Morris and Eddie Newton have previously come through the pathway to move all the way up to the senior team.
Even Frank Lampard spent time at Cobham with our youngsters while completing his coaching badges before jumping into management with Derby County in the Championship last season and Cole feels the desire to bring back people who feel the club can be beneficial for everyone.
‘The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,’ he continued. ‘They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.
‘Chelsea have been quick and probably one of the first clubs to really tap into that, not just with coaches but staff in the loans team and other departments, to bring them back to pass on their experience and expertise.’
Cole’s coaching career has begun in typically impressive fashion, with Chelsea’s Under-15 side crowned winners at a recent Premier League tournament following victories over Manchester United, Newcastle, Dynamo Kiev and Sunderland. In the final, they beat Everton 4-0 to demonstrate a strong winning mentality that has been nurtured in our Academy for many years.
Cole agrees that winning is an important component of development and explained his own coaching objectives when working with 14- and 15-year-olds, which include a focus on the strategic side of the game that he believes can set Chelsea’s youngsters apart from the rest.
‘I want to get the tactical learning across to them because at this age it’s very important that you start to make them understand that side of the game,’ he said.
‘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.
‘Winning is a big part of development. Of course, we’re working with young players who are still developing and learning the game, trying to get better at their technical and tactical aspects, but tournament football is time to win. This is a big club and the expectation is always high, just like with the first team and the older age groups.’
After working with the likes of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti throughout his playing career, Cole wants to select the best characteristics from his previous bosses as he attempts to mould his own coaching persona. He won’t try to mimic or copy anybody, instead reflecting on what approach worked on him as a player and adjusting things as required.
‘Everyone has their own philosophy but you also have to take ideas that you like from different coaches,’ he went on. ‘The first thing I learned on my coaching badges was that every coach is a thief!
‘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 players faith to go out and express themselves within his system 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. It’s about being adaptable.’
So what does Cole the coach hope to achieve?
‘I want to be the best,’ he claimed with a smile. ‘I’ve been around a lot of great players and managers so it’s about understanding what it takes. I understood as a player what it took to be the best and now it’s about trying to transfer that into how I can be the best as a coach.’