What is it about a World Cup year? All of a sudden, England player’s start dropping like flies. So far this season, David James, Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand, Aaron Lennon and Steven Gerrard have all struggled for fitness. Then in February the news that Chelsea’s Ashley Cole had suffered a fractured ankle following an innocuous clash with Everton’s Landon Donovan was announced.
The talk this month has been of Ashley Cole’s injury, the John Terry scandal, Wayne Bridge’s subsequent retirement from international football and who will play at left back. However, whilst the media have had a field day with the whole affair, there appears to be one component of the story missing. It doesn’t matter whether Bridge retires or who deputises at left back, because Ashley Cole is extremely likely to play for England in South Africa. In fact, the only loser will be Chelsea.
Ashley Cole fractured his ankle on the 10th February. England’s opening match against the USA kicks off on 12th June. That gives Ashley Cole a little over four months to recover from his broken ankle. Cole’s injury is likely to rule him out for up to three months, which means that he would be looking to return mid-May, in time for the Champions league and FA Cup finals, should Chelsea reach them. Three months is a fairly conservative estimate, and not teetering on the optimistic, as with previous injuries to England stars prior to a major tournament (think David Beckham and Wayne Rooney’s injured metatarsals, both occurring in April, prior to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups respectively). Assuming Chelsea do not rush the player’s comeback, Cole should be in full training a month before England’s World Cup campaign kicks off.
Fabio Capello announces his provisional squad on May 16th, with the final squad being announced 1 June. Therefore, assuming Cole does not have any set-backs, he will be available for the provisional squad and the warm-up matches against Mexico and Japan in late May to help with his match fitness.
You cannot help but speculate that certain sections of the media have made more out of the left-back situation owing to the John Terry scandal. Without becoming too cynical, if Ashley Cole’s chances of recovery are played down, it adds drama to the tabloid’s favourite story regarding ‘JT’ and Bridge.
England has a history of losing important players just before a major tournament, and so it is perhaps no surprise that there is concern for Ashley Cole. Whatever people think about Cole as a person is irrelevant. As a player, he has become one of the world’s best left-backs. He provides width for Chelsea’s narrow midfield when attacking, but has also matured into an excellent defender. Likewise for England, with Steven Gerrard set to roam infield from the left to link up with Wayne Rooney, having a player of Cole’s quality cannot be overstated.
Another factor that may play in England’s favour is the fact that Cole will not have to play for England or Chelsea with his marital problems hanging over his head. By the time England kick off their World Cup campaign on 12 June, Ashley Cole and his wife’s separation should be old news. Cole has an opportunity to get his head right whilst recovering from injury, something that John Terry is no doubt envious of. This could leave Cole psychologically fresh for the World Cup, compared with Terry, who may feel drained after a long arduous season on and off the pitch.
Whilst Cole’s injury is bad news for Chelsea, England are likely to receive their number one left back fresh, fit, and raring to go in June. In short, Chelsea’s loss could well prove to be England’s gain.