LS Sport’s Daniel McCarthy and Euan Cunningham argue which left back should be ‘left back’ in England (or at least on the bench) in Brazil 2014
Let me start off by saying that this is by no means a resounding vote in favour of Ashley Cole. Leighton Baines is an absolutely terrific footballer and definitely deserves to be in the England fold, not only for his free kicks, but also for his positive running, attacking flair and goal threat. However, for me, Ashley Cole is still the best left back in the country. At one stage, it would have been hard to argue a case against him being the best left back in world football. His blistering pace, sound defensive positioning and tendency to go forward meant he has kept some of the best wingers in the world quiet for many afternoons.
Cole is also as experienced as they come. While some of his off the field antics and debacles over the years may give punters a negative perception of him, he has always remained a consummate professional on the pitch. He doesn’t have the raucous leadership qualities of his Chelsea team mate John Terry but he has always gone about his business quietly but incredibly effectively. On international duty, when Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney have gone missing or struggled, Cole has still looked the part in a laboured England team.
Admittedly, Baines is better going forward and poses more of a goal threat through set pieces and general off the ball movement. However, if England came up against Holland tomorrow and Arjen Robben was charging down the right side of the pitch and cutting in on his deadly left foot, I think I would feel safer at the prospect of Cole’s defensive nous being present.
Baines can count himself unlucky that at the age of 28, he is only just being recognised as a regularly capped member of the England squad. But Cole’s consistency has almost rendered choosing the left back a no-brainer. Luckily, we’re blessed at left back. Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs and Southampton’s prodigious talent in Luke Shaw are good enough to play regularly for England in my opinion.
Like many, I believe the last survivors of the “golden generation” should be phased out after the World Cup, including Cole. Baines’ time will come, but for sheer consistency over the years, Cole deserves one last crack of the whip.
Picture the scene. It’s mid-June 2014 and England are playing their first group game in the World Cup. In baking heat, they’re gamely attempting to break down their less talented but stubborn opponents. Suddenly, the whiff of a chance. A rugged opposing centre back makes a rash challenge just outside the penalty area – the England fans sense danger. A hush falls around the expectant crowd as left back Leighton Baines strides purposefully up to the ball. A swing of that howitzer of a left boot later and a nation roars.
Granted, this is mere hypothetical talk. Ashley Cole has been so consistently excellent for England over the last decade that if the contender for his spot was anyone other than Baines, this discussion would be pointless; there are few better left backs in England and maybe even Europe than Cole. However, I believe Baines is on the same level as Cole as a defender, and offers a slightly greater attacking threat. Not only are his set pieces a weapon that Roy Hodgson would be extremely foolish to overlook (they really are lethal when he gets it right), the Everton man is also younger and less likely to fall foul of fatigue and tiredness in the energy-sapping Brazilian heat.
If England really are intent on building a team which will excel in Brazil and beyond, they do unfortunately need to be take some tough decisions over several of their veterans. Despite the excellent service Cole has given, as I said before I believe Baines is capable of similarly brilliant defending (sitting here for the last few minutes trying to think of a glaring mistake, and I can’t), while going forward his ability from both the dead ball and crossing situations is unparalleled within the team.
The World Cup is a tournament of small margins – I believe that Baines’ ability in the attacking third might well give England an edge that Ashley Cole does not possess.
Daniel McCarthy and Euan Cunningham
Image Courtesy of The Mirror