At first glance, it's almost impossible not to compare Roma's signing of Ashley Cole on a two-year contract to the club's purchase of Maicon last year. Both full-backs came from top clubs in the Premier League after seasons that did not quite work out for them, at ages over 30, with massive experience winning trophies on the European stage.
Dig deeper and the comparison starts to fade. Cole won the Champions League, of course, but he's never set foot inside of Serie A before. Maicon's six years at Inter made his transfer more comforting. Even if most agreed he had lost a step or several while at Manchester City, he had the knowledge of Italian football earned only by someone who's won four Scudetti and two Italian Cups. Cole will be adjusting to life in the peninsula for the first time at the age of 33, and despite the league's reputation as slower-paced and defensive, it will be no easy task.
The move, however, makes sense on a number of levels for Roma. The left-back position was perhaps the club's biggest question mark last season. Federico Balzaretti began the campaign with the spot his own, but he has been plagued by injuries. Brazilian youngster Dodo has done well when called upon, but seems destined for a loan move to help him adjust to the league, if not an outright transfer. Alessio Romagnoli, a center-back, even played out wide at times when first-choice stand-in Vasilis Torosidis was unavailable.
It has been years since Roma last qualified for the Champions League group stages, and club president James Pallotta is ensuring that his side are not shell-shocked in their group -- which, due to seeding and Roma's low coefficient is almost certain to be an immensely difficult one. To that end, the side have already brought in Seydou Keita, who won the competition with Barcelona. When combined with Cole's European medal -- as well as his Europa League trophy from last season -- Roma have added vital European experience that no one else in the squad shares besides Maicon himself.
Cole's license to roam down the flank in manager Rudi Garcia's system will be enhanced by Daniele De Rossi dropping deep between the center-backs, which creates a back three of sorts when Roma has the ball, allowing the full-backs to go forward. For Cole's time at Roma to be a success, his linkup play with Gervinho and Mattia Destro will be absolutely vital. Perhaps of more importance will be the 33-year-old's ability to cope with Italy's pacier wingers.
Cole is joining Roma to jostle for a starting position in an area the club have not quite sorted out. Director of football Walter Sabatini's newest acquisition is a low-risk investment -- as Cole's Chelsea contract expired at the end of June, making him available on a free transfer -- with potential for a very high reward. For a club that's in need of experience and full-backs, there's every chance Ashley Cole will prove to be Roma's man.