Ashley Cole’s broken ankle has exposed a distinct lack of depth in certain positions in the England squad. Wayne Bridge is the obvious candidate but regardless of personal issues he has had injuries this season so is hardly an ideal candidate. Just who else could play at left back if Cole can not make it to the World Cup?
Ashley Cole is probably the best left back in the world and even his detractors would have to admit he is certainly amongst the best defenders in the world. There are very players in world football that could replace him yet England may face this difficult problem in Rustenburg. The prominent candidates include Wayne Bridge, Joleon Lescott, Stephen Warnock, Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines.
Wayne Bridge is the most obvious candidate for the role. Bridge and Cole have spent the last 5 years competing for their club and country jersey. Bridge is a solid left back and would not look out of place at the World Cup. There are two doubts as to his claim to the position. Firstly Bridge has only just returned from injury, and although he is not a particularly injury prone player he will need a run of games to rediscover his form. The other issue needs little introduction but whoever plays at left back will be alongside the much maligned John Terry. I do not believe that non-football issues should be prominent in team selection. Partnerships are essential however and there will forever be doubts as to the camaraderie that could exist between the two men. Should Bridge however also lose his chance of playing at the World Cup as well as his relationship with his ex-partner because of Terry’s indiscretions?
Another player to have played at left back for England is Joleon Lescott. The left footed centre half would certainly bolster the defence and offer an added threat at set pieces. His move to Manchester City has stuttered however and he is not in the form he discovered at Everton. He has only made 13 league starts this season but if he can get fit then he may well be a safe option for Capello. He is a good defender and it will help avoid the controversy surrounding his Manchester City teammate.
Stephen Warnock has blossomed at Aston Villa under Martin O’Neill and looks like an accomplished player. He is a tenacious defender and he would offer good options to the squad, able to play on the left wing and even if needed in centre midfield. An unlikely call up as he only has 1 England cap, but Capello craves players who are on form and Warnock is having arguably his strongest season to date.
In a similar vein to Warnock, Everton’s Leighton Baines is a consistent player competing for a good ‘top 8’ side. Baines is a quick full back who provides good delivery into the box and he will attack with zeal, without neglecting his defensive duties. Despite being included in some recent squads he has never represented England, but he does however have 16 under 21 caps.
The other option I mentioned was a make shift one with Gareth Barry filling in at left back. He has played in this position before at Aston Villa and he will do a good job. He is however a strong part of Capello’s midfield plans and it would seem odd to pick him when there are natural left backs able to provide solid cover in their own right.
Other English players able to play at left back include Paul Konchesky, Nicky Shorey, Danny Higgingbotham, Matt Taylor and a player with some Champions League experience in Keiron Gibbs. Any of these names would be a bigger shock than Theo Walcott’s inclusion in 2006, but it shows there are a surprisingly high number of English left backs regularly playing in the Premier League.
If Cole does not return to fitness in time, then Bridge is in pole position for the number 3 shirt. He has been Cole’s understudy for many years but players such as Warnock and Baines will be hoping for a chance to impress in the squad. When it comes to the big games and the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery or Lionel Messi are attacking, England’s fans will be praying that a fit Ashley Cole will be defending the left flank. He has a knack of rising to the occasion against stars like Ronaldo and any replacement for him will have big shoes to fill. The potential loss of Ashley Cole would be a far larger blow than losing John Terry as captain, so hopefully the doctors can get Cole fit in time for South Africa.
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