Liverpool fans are sure to experience a host of names linked with improving the Reds' defence over the summer, but Brendan Rodgers would be smart to move for Jan Vertonghen over Ashley Cole.
The London-based duo are two high-profile players to be touted for a switch to Merseyside, as reported by Rob Shepherd of the Daily Mail:
Liverpool lead the queue to sign Jan Vertonghen in the summer.
[...] Belgian international Vertonghen has thus become a target for Rodgers who will also seek to sign Ashley Cole, should Chelsea fail to offer the England left back a new contract.
Although Cole is a world-renowned left-back who has won everything worth winning throughout his club career, the Chelsea man wouldn't fit into the ethos of Rodgers' improving Liverpool side.
The Northern Irish manager is more than happy to give youth a chance, as highlighted by the excellent performances of Raheem Sterling. He offers his players responsibility in return for top-class displays, installing a sense of confidence that appeared to leave Anfield alongside Rafa Benitez.
You only have to chart the emergence and use of Jon Flanagan to know Rodgers is looking toward the future. The 21-year-old has made 13 Premier League appearances this season, offering Liverpool a steely and sturdy right-back presence in the absence of Glen Johnson.
Flanagan was substituted in five of six games between December and February, per WhoScored.com, but not because he performed badly. Rodgers was conscious of keeping his youngster fit during a busy schedule, acknowledging injuries could happen if he became fatigued, and allowed the player to catch his breath in difficult encounters.
At 33 years of age, Cole is likely to warrant such a break due to his age. The Chelsea man's career has rapidly fallen into decline under Jose Mourinho's second regime, indicating he and Liverpool are moving in opposite directions.
With just 12 Premier League starts to his name this campaign, one less than Flanagan, he represents someone who is approaching the end of a successful career, not beginning one. Cole will be 34 by next Christmas, meaning Rodgers would have to quickly find another left-back within two years.
This is where Vertonghen comes in. The Belgian behemoth can play centre-back or left-back, both positions Liverpool need to strengthen. At 26 years of age, the former Ajax star also has a hankering to return to Champions League football, something the Reds are likely to offer next season, as he told the London Evening Standard via Sky Sports:
What I want is to be playing in the Champions League with Tottenham, so I hope we get in this year. Do I have a decision to make if we don't? I can't say anything about that. Let's see after the end of the season, after the World Cup.
Although Vertonghen recently fuelled his growing reputation as a "cheat" with an alleged dive against Dnipro—which produced many angry reactions on Twitter, via Squawka—he is a leader on the pitch. He is powerful, strong in the air and possesses decent pace, with an added hint of attacking flair, as Liverpool fans found out when he netted an Anfield brace last year.
Vertonghen is also ambitious, as noted by his aforementioned quotes, and he will look to make real progress after the World Cup. Should he be outlined as a serious target for Rodgers, it would be beneficial to try and snap the player up before he steps foot into the Brazilian tournament, which could see his value significantly increase.
Both Aly Cissokho and Kolo Toure have proven themselves to be unreliable throughout the season, with Rodgers surely looking for improvements at the nearest opportunity. The one spectre lingering over Liverpool's title hopes is the 35 goals they've conceded, the second most in the Premier League top 10, suggesting sloppiness at the back could unhinge an otherwise fantastic season for the Merseyside club.
Vertonghen's signing would be a statement of intent for the future, while Cole's acquisition would merely plan for an immediate impact. Rodgers has shown himself to be an extremely intelligent man-manager across his career, someone who knows how to build a winning team that plays attractive football, suggesting Vertonghen is the next step along Liverpool's evolution.
He may be a controversial figure, someone who splits fan reactions, but this is no different to Cole. As Rodgers has shown with Luis Suarez, he is more than capable of ensuring his players make headlines for their football, not their acts of foolishness.