As the countdown to the World Cup begins in earnest, so do the questions surrounding Roy Hodgson’s England squad.
The status quo for squad selection is to take two players for every position on the pitch. England have three players competing for the left-back spots, and with Leighton Baines practically on the plane already, it’s down to Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw to fight it out for the second seat.
Cole was a guaranteed starter for England last August, but a season on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge may have caused a rethink. Cole is 33 years old and has not played for Chelsea since the end of January. However, there are several compelling reasons why the veteran should make it to Manaus on June 14.
First and foremost, he is the most experienced left-back available to Hodgson. He has spent the last decade of his career competing—and winning—at the highest levels of club football and has never shown any fear against any opponent.
While the attacking duties of an all-round full-back have never come naturally to him, Cole has worked to improve this throughout his career, and he can always be relied upon for a cheeky goal-line clearance or two.
Considering his age and lack of competitive action this year, Cole’s fitness is cited as a cause for concern for this summer’s tournament. However, it didn’t stop him picking up his 107th cap in the friendly against Denmark on March 5, and his performance in the opening 45 minutes only added to Hodgson’s selection headache. The England manager told reporters that evening:
I’m a great admirer of Ashley Cole as should everyone be for what he’s done and for a player who has achieved 107 caps. He’s certainly got my respect.
He’s been unbelievably good in training the last few days. He’s been right at the top of the running statistics for those who pay attention to that sort of thing so there’s no question about his fitness.
His problem at the moment is he’s a specialist player. You don’t normally play two left-backs in a team and at the moment the manager of his club side is choosing someone else.
If a 33-year-old Cole, who has struggled with injuries and has hardly played this season, can beat players who are 10 years younger in a straight sprint, it shouldn’t matter that he hasn’t played much this season.
The argument to take Shaw ahead of Cole hinges on his youth. At 18 years old, Shaw surely represents the future for England, and he could feature in tournaments up to 2026 and beyond. There is no doubt that this will be Cole’s last major international tournament, and with England very much a team in transition, it makes sense to pick experience over youth for one last hurrah.