We already know that Leighton Baines will travel to Brazil as part of England’s World Cup squad, however there is a battle going on for which the other left-back should be. Should Roy Hodgson pick Luke Shaw, the teenage Southampton defender, or Ashley Cole, Chelsea and England stalwart for over a decade but seemingly on the way down?
The players are on a very equal footing, however it is utterly pointless comparing an 18-year-old upstart to a 33-year-old who has been a stallion for club(s) and country for over a decade now. I realise that players shouldn’t be judged on what they have achieved in the past, rather on their current form and fitness, but suggesting that Ashley Cole is past it is somewhat ludicrous. Yes, he has lost his place to Cesar Azpilicueta (a right-footed left-back) in the Chelsea team but when he has been called upon, he has more than played his part. His past three starts in the Chelsea shirt came against Stoke, Hull and Southampton and he excelled in all of these games, even grabbing an assist against Hull.
The idea that he has lost some of his pace is also without proof, and although he bombs forward slightly less frequently than when at his peak, this is a man who Roy Hodgson recently described as having unbelievable stamina and fitness, despite not being a regular for his club side. Despite several off-field misdemeanours in the past, Cole is extremely serious when it comes to his football. The former Arsenal defender is well known to be an extremely hard worker at the training ground (when he’s not busy shooting interns with BB guns) and he will obviously give it his absolute all if called upon for Chelsea or England.
Many people say that we should look to the future if these players cannot be separated on a performance-related level. However the past has shown this is not a brilliant idea. Theo Walcott was taken to the World Cup in 2006 as a 17-year-old, did not play a single minute and suffered over the next couple of years under the weight of enormous expectation. He has in the last few years come into his own at Arsenal, however the World Cup was too early for him and even he has made that clear since. Shaw has played more football than Walcott at that stage, and he is a year older, but he could suffer under the weight of pressure that comes with being an England international. Letting him stay back while Cole and Baines head off to Brazil would be a good idea, while he has many years ahead of him to improve and learn from others. Give him a couple of years and I am sure that he will be 1st or 2nd choice for Euro 2016.
The main reason I would pick Cole over Shaw is his experience. Were Leighton Baines to pick up an injury at any stage of the tournament, would you rather have an 18-year-old upstart with 45 minutes of international football under his belt or a 33-year-old who has won everything there is to win at English club level (including a record 7 FA Cups)? Pressure is an odd phenomenon, and something that can affect people in vastly different ways. Cole has shown in the past that he can handle the pressure of a major tournament, while Shaw has played a very limited number of matches under pressure, and so it is difficult to say how he would handle a match of such importance. This is why I would pick Cole over Shaw every time.