There has been few modern-day players as controversial as Cole.
A bad off-field reputation has spilled over onto the football side over the last couple of weeks.
First it was his four-letter Twitter rant at the
Keown describes these scrapes as "unfortunate" and, like many who know the 31-year-old well, feel Cole is badly misunderstood.
For there is no doubt, as he gets set to win his 99th England cap in Tuesday night's (Wednesday morning AEDT) World Cup qualifier with
Speaking at the McDonald's FA Community Awards, Keown said: "I knew he was an outstanding talent.
"He was a winner and he was committed.
"His first game for Arsenal was at Newcastle a few days before the UEFA Cup final.
"I played in that match and could see he was the standout young player amongst the group.
"At the start of the following season he played a few games and then was left out.
"He was tapping me on the shoulder asking whether he should go and see the boss and ask why he was not in the side.
"I could sympathise with him. He was only a teenager but he wouldn't stop at anything to get what he wanted."
Keown is not entirely sure what makes Cole tick.
He wonders whether it is a deep desire to prove people wrong, which surfaced as a kid growing up in Stepney.
Evidently, it has not always led him down the right path.
"Getting involved in what he has been involved in at the moment has been unfortunate," said Keown.
"He has been misunderstood to a large extent.
"For all that, what you cannot argue with his success on the football field because Ashley is a phenomenal player.
"He keeps putting in the performances year after year.
"You couldn't say he was going to win 100 caps because a lot of things have to come together to achieve something so amazing.
"But if he had a point to prove he has proved it.
"When he has finished he will look back at a fine career - and I think he still has some way to go yet."
Cole looks set to be part of a much-changed England line-up, with
"That stadium is one of the most intimidating I have ever been in," said Keown of the
"I have played in
"England are always the big team for
"Let's hope they don't handle the pressure of beating England at home."
Frank Lampard admits he has learned to love playing for England.