It’s always being described as a’ nice problem’ to have; too many players competing for the same position, each with different arguments in their favour. For England manager Roy Hodgson, this is the problem he faces. He has competing cases for Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw. All three have strong cases to say they should be on the ‘plane to Brazil. The problem is, three in two doesn’t go – and therefore neither will one of the three. It could of course all be solved by an injury to one of the contenders. These things happen. If not however, Hodgson is going to have to show his hand and decide which two he will select to guard the left flank of his back line.
Even a few months ago, the argument would have been who is going to go along with Ashley Cole. Here was a player that has been lauded as one of the best left backs in the world for the past six years or so. Laden down with silverware from his days at Arsenal and Chelsea, Cole appeared a shoo-in. Then there was a disappointing performance against Newcastle, and Cole was dropped. In stepped nominal right back Cesar Azpillicueta, and aside from a cameo appearance or two, Cole has been warming the Blues’ bench since. Although he has 106 caps, a wealth of big tournament experience and the kudos of having played through the qualifying tournament when fit, unless he regains his place in his club team, he may well lose out.
Baines has been the ‘coming man’ for some time, but for all his advocates I the press, he has never been able to displace the excellent Cole. He has the added bonus of a deadly precision from dead ball situations, and galloping forward is probably the equal of the Chelsea man. What he doesn’t have however is international experience. Although covering for Cole on some occasions and a number of substitute appearances, naivety at the highest level can cost, as was illustrated when he was caught out for one of Chile’s goals in the recent defeat at Wembley.
Luke Shaw was in the Under 21 team at the start of the season, and seemed destined to be there for a while as he gained Premier League experience. His stellar rise however has meant that he is likely to be the very hottest of British transfer targets this summer and Chelsea and both Manchester clubs slug it out to try and persuade Southampton to sell him. As with Baines however, his international experience is limited, but he has the exuberance of youth on his side and has been tutored well through the Southampton academy understand his role in the team. If Baines was the ‘coming man that perhaps never arrived’ Shaw is unlikely to suffer the same fate. His appearance for England last evening against Denmark, albeit in a fairly tepid friendly was evidence enough of his huge potential.
So, if all three are fit and available, who will Hodgson have to make that difficult ‘phone call to? Popular sentiment at the moment is that Cole’s lack of first team action may just cost him his seat on the ‘plane, and that’s entirely possible. I just have the feeling however that with a fairly novice back line, likely to include Cahill and Jagielka at centre back, the manager may just feel that Cole’s experience should not be cast aside so lightly. If he does go with Cole, it’s likely to be Baines that misses out as Shaw is clearly the future for the position. It will be harsh on Baines who has always had that ‘nearly man’ tag around him. It could be a case however of near but not near enough.
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