I think there is no doubt that England is currently in a period of transition. It seems that under Roy Hodgson’s guidance they are finally turning towards a youth movement as far as their selection policy is concerned.
Whether the youth movement is a choice or was the only option for Hodgson is a debate for another day. However it does appear that we have reached the end of the so called ‘golden generation’.
With John Terry ending his International career, Rio Ferdinand’s being all but over there is now only a handful of players left from the promising but overhyped generation.
Frank Lampard Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole are the latest players who face questions over their international futures. However whilst there is not a huge amount of competition for Gerrard and Lampard’s positions, Cole is facing a major challenge from Leighton Baines.
Over the past few seasons Baines has been consistently impressive for Everton. Becoming one of their most influential players at the club and earning respect from piers as well as players. His ability from free kicks as well as penalties provides the team with more options going forward.
Cole though is still a world class full back, at his peak and with his mixture of experience and ability, probably still just about pips Leighton Baines as an individual footballer.
But it’s about so much more than that.
At twenty seven years old Baines is entering the peak of his career whereas Cole, now thirty one, is reaching the end of his prime. By the next World Cup he will be thirty three, meaning it will probably be his final International tournament.
Another factor to consider is that while the two players may be similar on the field, of the field they couldn’t be any more different. Cole is notorious for creating controversy and the spotlight of the media follows him everywhere, almost to the point where you start to believe that he enjoys it.
His latest incident insulting the FA on twitter has once again cast a shadow over his obvious talent as a footballer and makes you ask whether he’s more trouble than he’s worth.
Baines on the other hand is much more reserved. A model professional, he prefers to shy away from the media. The fact that he doesn’t even have a twitter account and rarely does interviews puts this into perspective.
The reason I’m raising this point is because the last thing that England need, especially in major tournaments is controversy or the squad be disrupted by constant harassment by the media.
One major on the field benefit of Baines playing is that he already has a solid partnership with new first choice centre backs Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott. These three were part of a watertight Everton defence before Lescott’s Manchester City move and could well deliver the same success at International level.
Overall then whilst Cole is currently the better player, Baines provides many other positives such as age and professionalism. He is in the form of his life and deserves a small run of games in the starting line up at the very least.
Whether he gets the opportunity comes down to how committed Hodgson and England are to developing youth. If they are committed then I feel that (depending on the form of Cole, Baines or any other left back) Baines will get the nod ahead of Cole by the time the World Cup comes around.
Whatever the decision, it is one difficult choice Hodgson will enjoy having to make.
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