England’s World Cup squad has raised few eyebrows. Following injuries to Andros Townsend and Theo Walcott earlier in the season predicting the squad of twenty-three was rather straightforward. The only real uncertainty was whether Ashley Cole would make the cut, and this was answered the day before when Cole revealed on Twitter that he hadn’t been picked and so announced his retirement from the international game.
In my mind there is no doubt that Cole should be heading to Brazil next month. To me it’s a simple case of this: you should take the best players that are available to an international tournament. Leighton Baines and Cole are the best left backs in the country so should therefore be in the World Cup party. Cole’s replacement, and understudy to Baines, 18-year old Luke Shaw of Southampton, has received plaudits for his first full season of senior football yet doesn’t tick the boxes that Cole does. The Chelsea fullback has won 107 caps over thirteen years during which time he has been perhaps England’s most consistent and reliable performer and has staked serious claims to be considered the best in his position in world football. In addition he counts appearances at three World Cups and two European Championships on his CV, containing a certain Cristiano Ronaldo on England’s left flank in two quarter finals. In his club career Cole has also played for numerous successful Arsenal and Chelsea teams. If Cole was to go to Brazil as back-up to Baines he would bring a wealth of ‘big game’ experience. My concern is that Baines may pick up an injury before or during the tournament. If before then Roy Hodgson would be left to promote 21-year old, uncapped Jon Flanagan from the standby list.
Like any supporter I wholly advocate introducing new, younger players. The reasoning behind Shaw’s inclusion is sound, getting him integrated into the England setup. However at eighteen he has more than ample time to gain this experience. The Euros in France follow in two years times and then the Russia World Cup in 2018. Should Shaw continue to progress and stay injury free then he could be in or around the national team for the next dozen years or so albeit probably initially as Baines’ understudy. At 33 Cole is not the ‘future’ but for the here and now, and with a World Cup imminent, Cole would be the better choice for the reasons listed above, even if he remains on the bench. When it comes to the big stage he’s been there, done that, and is someone you could rely on if called upon.
Lots of supporters like to talk about “concentrating on the future” to the extent that they think that a particular tournament ought not to be given high priority because they are pessimistic about the team’s chances. Instead they favour channeling resources into preparation for future competitions, (‘building for the future.’) I find this logic baffling in all honesty. If we are to neglect and demote the importance of certain tournaments then what is the point of being there? Should we just withdraw from participating in competitive football for a while? Could you imagine any serious manager, particularly one heading say Honduras or Iran, telling his players and the national media: “Look everyone, we really haven’t got much of a chance to progress very far in this competition, so we’re going to take our foot off the pedal. We’ll give it more of a go next time when I believe our chances will be greater. Sorry.”
Of course it is vital to build for the future but by firstly focusing on the present you can build a platform for the years ahead. How you do in the future can depend in part on the present. Going back to the Shaw/Cole question, I hate to sound downbeat about the former’s inclusion. Shaw may end up appearing in the tournament and looking like a natural when doing so however I stick to my original philosophy of selecting the best, and most suitable, players and going on track record, Cole should have a ticket to Brazil. We will be building for the future at the World Cup – there is a youthful edge to this squad – but there’s also the here and now to get right first.