CARSON, Calif. — Ashley Cole freely acknowledges he once compared Major League Soccer to relaxing on a beach.
The LA Galaxy’s new defender intends to show the world he didn’t move to Hollywood to sit in the sand.
The Galaxy formally welcomed the English star and Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme on Friday, adding two major talents to the five-time MLS champions’ rebuilt roster.
"I’m going to try to work as hard as I can, and change a few views on me being here," Cole said. "And of course, I’m a winner. I always want to win. I don’t come here to sit on the beach to rest. I’m here to play football. I’m not a diva. I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone. I’m here to work hard."
Cole reacted with diplomacy and self-effacement when the first question of his introductory news conference in California focused on his June 2014 comments to Italian reporters upon his arrival at Roma.
Back then, Cole said he had rejected U.S. offers because he was "not ready to relax on a beach yet."
"I’m not going to come in and try to defend myself," said Cole, who will wear his familiar No. 3 shirt. "It was said, but it was for sure taken out of (context). I was talking to the reporter before, and he kind of said it to me: ‘Oh, we’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here. We thought you would go and relax on the beach.’ So in the interview, I (repeated) it.
"You have to understand it was a new team. I had to tell the fans that I was here to fight, there to win things and play in the Champions League in Europe. But of course, hold my hand up, it was said. I have to deal with it and hope I can change the views of me coming here, playing on the pitch and playing as good as I can."
The 35-year-old Cole subsequently appeared in only 11 games for Roma over the past two seasons before terminating his contract last month. He considered joining a Premiership team, but the former Arsenal and Chelsea star’s conversations with coach Bruce Arena and friends Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane sold him on the Galaxy.
"I knew Stevie and Keano before, and I’ve played against Gio (Dos Santos)," Cole said. "I didn’t really want to go back to England. I didn’t really fancy that. I’m happy to be here. It’s a great club."
The Galaxy also signed Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, who will arrive later in the month. The three over-30 European veterans should give an entirely new toughness to the Galaxy, who struggled on defence late last season while failing to defend their MLS Cup title.
Cole and Van Damme already get along, as evidenced later in their joint interview. When Cole was asked why he chose the Galaxy, Van Damme cracked him up by slyly interjecting: "The beach."
"I’m proud to be here," added Van Damme, the former Standard Liege captain who will replace U.S. international Omar Gonzalez in central defence. "I think it’s the biggest club in MLS, and so hopefully we can win some trophies."
The Galaxy begin their MLS season at home March 6 against D.C. United. They’ll also play CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup games during a gruelling 2016, adding more motivation for their extensive additions to one of the deepest rosters in MLS history.
"We have more big-name players than I think this club has ever had," Galaxy President Chris Klein said. "But we’re judged by wins, not names. We don’t make decisions based on the number of shirts we can sell. We make decisions based on wins and character, and in the case of Ashley, it’s not hard to find guys that back him. We talked to three: David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane."