Leighton Baines Is Under Plenty of Pressure for England at the World Cup

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

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The inclusion of Leighton Baines in the England squad was not something that generated an enormous amount of controversy.

After a couple of outstanding seasons for Everton, he was always going to be on the plane. The debate merely centred on which other left-back would also be selected, and if that left-back had been Ashley Cole, who would be England's first choice in that position.

With Luke Shaw preferred to Cole, a decision that was debatable but perfectly understandable due to Cole's lack of playing time last season, it was clear that Baines was the undisputed No. 1 at No. 3.

Indeed, most of the pre-tournament discussion about Baines seems to have centred on what he will be playing on the guitar he was pictured taking into the team hotel.

However, just because Baines will certainly line up in defence for England's first game against Italy on June 14 doesn't mean there is no pressure on the Everton man. In fact, aside from Wayne Rooney and perhaps Joe Hart, Baines has arguably the most expectation on him of anyone else in the side.

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Apart from anything else, Baines is replacing arguably the greatest left-back ever to play for England in Cole.

The former Chelsea and Arsenal defender won 107 caps, making him England's most capped full-back and behind only Bobby Moore, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Peter Shilton in the list of most capped England players ever.

Cole was perhaps the only member of England's "golden generation," grouped along with the likes of Gerrard, Beckham, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, to really fulfil his potential on the international stage.

The others performed well in patches, but Cole was consistently excellent. Anyone who witnessed his shackling of Cristiano Ronaldo at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup can attest to his brilliance.

And it isn't as if Baines is simply stepping into Cole's shoes.

It's true that Cole's lack of playing time at Chelsea meant his exclusion was understandable, but he was still a viable candidate to make Roy Hodgson's squad, displaying on a few occasions towards the back end of the season that he is still very much a quality player.

Baines has been chosen ahead of Cole on merit because his performances over the last year or so have been deemed superior to those of an England legend. There will be a fair amount of expectation placed on his shoulders to justify that opinion.

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In addition, Baines will be more or less playing without a safety net, or at least a safety net that Hodgson might be reluctant to use.

While Shaw is an enormously promising young defender, throwing someone who won't turn 19 until the day before the World Cup Final is hardly ideal.

Hodgson obviously picked Shaw because he believes the Southampton youngster is capable of performing on this lofty stage, and there is indeed plenty to back up that view, but a single mistake at that level could destroy a youngster's confidence.

With that said, Shaw's enormous promise could place even more pressure on Baines to perform. The Southampton defender has already shown a maturity beyond his years, but this will only improve as he plays morefor the Saints or whichever big club could spend millions on him this summer.

Shaw is already good, but one senses he will get even better in the next few years.

If Baines doesn't play well in Brazil, then Hodgson will presumably have no compunction in making Shaw his first choice after the World Cup and in the lead-up to the 2016 European Championships.

Baines could turn out to be one of England's key men at the World Cup, but he is still under plenty of pressure as Hodgson's men gear up for a huge campaign in Brazil.