The moment Ashley's World Cup was thrown into doubt... and according to The Sun he's in trouble off the park too
THIS was the moment the World Cup dream may have been shattered for Ashley Cole, ironically against Landon Donovan, the man he would have marked in England's opening game against the USA at Rustenburg on June 12.
Everton's on-loan Yank Donovan is blameless - he played the ball and Cole damaged his ankle in the 57th minute as Chelsea slid to a shock 2-1 defeat at Goodison on Tuesday night.
I broke the story that he was out for three weeks yesterday after scans, today comes news that the 29-year-old former Arsenal left-back is off for surgery on the injury.
His World Cup is now in serious doubt. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp was the first to react, saying: "Ashley is probably the best left back in the world. He's got three months, let's hope he makes it for the World Cup."
With Wayne Bridge two games into his comeback from injury, City boss Roberto Mancini came out strongly this morning insisting he was the best in the position for England. He said: "Wayne is a big man. It's important for him to play in the World Cup, the first eleven for the national team.".
But of course that would put him alongside axed captain John Terry, disciplined by Capello for having an affair with the mother of Bridge's child, Vanessa Perroncel. When this all broke there was talk of Bridge wanting to give up international football. Not any more judging by Mancini's enthusiasm this morning.
And that's got the whole world talking. Everyone knows footballers have copious affairs - Ashley Cole himself is on the front of The Sun today over sending naked pictures of himself to some model or other - but what happens in the dressing room when this sort of situation crops up?
Will the England players be model professionals and ignore the obvious tensions for the sake of the nation? Will there be petty squabbling and nasty tackles at training?
Some of the Manchester City players wore Team Bridge t-shirts when the story broke a fortnight ago, while Chelsea players, who saw Bridge move to City a year ago, would line up for Team Terry.
And of course the big man himself, after a stinker in the Everton defeat where he allowed Louis Saha to score twice, is in Dubai for Valentine's Day with his wife and three-year-old twins for Valentine's Day. The club has given him permission to miss the weekend FA Cup clash against Cardiff to patch up his marriage.
Boss Carlo Ancelotti said today: "I'm very disappointed. Ashley is a very important player for me. I hope he will be quick to rest and he will come back before the end of the season. It is a realistic possibility. He will go surgery today.
"I think that in three months he will be ready for play, also for England. I think he can play in the World Cup."
And Terry? Ancelotti said: "He will be back for the next game against Wolves. I think he will come back strong and make a recovery." Terry and Bridge? "It's not my problem this."
Question is, will Capello avoid the issue and play Gareth Barry as his emergency left-back against Egypt on March 3? Or will he go for the regular understudy and call Bridge into the starting eleven?
Cole has been Capello's first choice at left-back, playing 16 times while Manchester City's Wayne Bridge has played nine, Joleon Lescott five and Aston Villa midfielder Barry three.
Me? I'd pick Bridge. Let him have it out with his former mate if necessary. Word is he hasn't been taking calls from Terry during the uncomfortable situation which has arisen in the last fortnight.
Bang their heads together, Fabio. This is England's year. An easy Group C, the Yanks, Slovenia and Algeria. Back to Rustenburg near the training ground for the first knock-out game if we win the group. And then it's the quarter-finals.
Even Sven Goran Eriksson got us that far on a regular basis. This is England's year. South Africa won't be too hot. And after three weeks of preparation at the best training facility in the country at the highest altitude available, nobody will be more ready.
As long as the off-field disputes are firmly thrust behind them.