Chelsea and England have been rocked by news that Ashley Cole has suffered a fracture of his left ankle and will be out of action for approximately three months.
The news is a serious blow to the west London club, for whom Cole had been in superb form, and for England, who will now be left sweating over the fitness of their first-choice left-back for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in June and July.
Although Cole should theoretically be back in action in mid-May, that will leave him with only a month and a handful of games, at best, to regain full match fitness in time for the start of the world finals in mid-June.
Cole limped off in the second half of Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at Everton on Wednesday following a challenge with Landon Donovan, the United States international who ironically could line up against the defender again when England face the Americans in their South Africa 2010 opener on 12 June.
A spokesman for Chelsea confirmed Cole would miss the next three months of the season. "Ashley suffered a fracture to his left ankle in last night's game against Everton and is expected to be out of action for approximately three months," he said.
If Cole fails to recover in time for the finals, it could make life more complicated for head coach Fabio Capello as he mulls how to handle the fallout from the recent furore over John Terry's alleged affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, Cole's under-study at left-back for the national team.
Having Bridge and Terry in the same dressing room will inevitably take some managing and the loss of Cole would likely make Bridge an automatic selection for the final squad. That would not be the case if Cole were fit with Stephen Warnock of Aston Villa currently pushing hard to be promoted above Bridge, who has been plagued by injures and poor form at Manchester City this season.