Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Birchall Reflects on His Debt of Thanks to Cole

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Birchall Reflects on His Debt of Thanks to Cole

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SMITH

ASHLEY COLE'S grotesque take on weekly wages in his much-maligned autobiography has left the Chelsea defender with a legion of critics. But you won't find Barnet's Adam Birchall among them.

Birchall tells the story of the first time he was promoted out of Arsenal's youth squad and invited to join the club's elite for training.

The presence of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp overawed the teenage striker. That was when Cole, then still a Gunner, took time out to put the newcomer at ease.

"Ashley took me to one side and told me it was not going to be as difficult as I might think," said Birchall. "He was very nice about it. He told me to relax, that my game would come out and I would be fine."

Back then, some four years ago, Birchall averagedmore than a goal a game for Arsenal's Under-18 and Under-19 teams and his displays made enough of an impression on youth team manager Don Howe for that veteran spotter of talent to bring his name to the attention of Arsene Wenger. Were it not for the fickle nature of the professional game, Birchall might even have been preparing to partner Henry in Sunday's tie at home to Bolton in the fourth round of the FA Cup sponsored by E-ON.

Instead, he was training with Barnet as the League Two side geared up for Saturday's visit to Underhill of Plymouth.

Birchall's story confirms how quickly football dreams can become nightmares.

Wenger never got the chance to follow up Howe's tip because Birchall sustained a torn ligament between two toes that sidelined him for six months.

When he returned to action, Howe had retired and Wenger's attention was elsewhere. So he went on loan to Wycombe, where four league goals in 11 appearances earned the offer of a contract.

Birchall might have accepted had Tony Adams not quit and John Gorman taken over. …

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