Ashley Cole is about to earn his 100th international cap for England.
When he steps out onto the Wembley turf against Brazil on Wednesday, he joins illustrious and historic company. David Beckham, Peter Shilton and Sir Bobby Moore are some of the few names to have reached this monumental landmark—what company to share.
Cole comes into the game as one of the Three Lions' most reliable left-backs throughout the history of football. At one stage, he was the best left-back in the world.
Where does he rank now, though?
Cast your eyes across Europe and you can find a better left-back than Cole. He's still in distinguished company at the top level, but he's not the cream of the crop.
Philipp Lahm is an unbelievable player. Despite being naturally right-footed and right-sided, he represents the first-choice option at left-back in world football.
It used to be that concern over left-back forced Lahm over for Bayern Munich, as Edson Braafheid and Diego Contento have never delivered. But with David Alaba's switch from central midfield to left-back, and with the Austrian being just 20 years old, long-term concerns over die Bayern's full-back position have finally been put to rest.
He still takes up the left-back role under Joachim Loew for Germany, however, and has every quality required by the modern, dynamic full-back.
But after Lahm it gets a little hazy, and much of it comes down to personal preference.
From a personal standpoint, I'd rather take Cole in my team than Marcelo, but if Jordi Alba brushed up on his defending a little more, he's set to challenge even Lahm in a season or two's time.
The big concern for Cole is that he's no longer "obviously" the best left-back in the English Premier League—a title he's held for quite some time on an indisputable basis.
|EPL Only||Pass Accuracy||Cross Accuracy||Chances Created||Goals||Times Dispossessed|
Reams of people are flocking toward Leighton Baines and his ever-consistent performances, correctly pointing out that he is statistically superior. His key passes, key involvement and attacking prowess all outweigh his compatriots, and some want Baines to take the starting role in Roy Hodgson's XI.
The Everton playmaker has been given a few chances to express himself on the international stage and the decision by Fabio Capello to take Stephen Warnock to South Africa in 2010 is looking sillier by the day.
But using statistics on their own is foolish; context is a must. What's the main difference between Cole and Baines at domestic level?
David Moyes has one of the best left-side combinations in the English Premier League at his disposal and uses it to create a large amount of his attacks.
Baines combines with Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar to deadly effect on a consistent basis; Aston Villa can testify to that recently. Manchester United might well blame that trio for costing them the EPL title last season.
Glance at Chelsea's formation and it's clear the creative onus is not on their left-back; it's on the three musketeers. It's on Ramires surging forward, and if either full-back is favoured as an attacking presence, it's probably Cesar Azpilicueta.
Yet Cole still contributes. He locks up opposing right-backs who remain overly cautious of him and times his runs wisely.
It's a fruitless task comparing and ranking players when system, tactics and tendencies must be taken into account. Cole is not the best left-back in the world, but he's in the top five and he's far from relinquished his England crown just yet.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!