It’s safe to say that for some of Spurs’ younger players, the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane has been a useful one. Harry Kane’s grabbed the headlines with his goals, Ryan Mason is (somehow) a Premier League midfielder, and Danny Rose (while a bit older than the rest) is finally beginning to repay some of the faith handed to him over the past few years with some strong performances in the left back slot.
Before Pochettino’s reign began in earnest, Rose only really had a screamer against rivals Arsenal and an average loan spell at Sunderland to show for a seven year Spurs career, since his switch from Leeds back in 2007 at the age of 17. Now, after about two-thirds of a reasonably strong season, Pochettino has declared Danny Rose the Premier League’s best English left back. Just how realistic is that assertion?
First, let’s look at the season Danny Rose is having. He’s been first choice at left back throughout most of Spurs’ campaign so far, featuring 22 times in the league, and not really showing himself up as a poor quality full back, either. There have certainly been times when his defending has been questionable – for example against Arsenal in a derby which Spurs eventually won – but poor defending has been endemic to Spurs’ season, and is probably more a result of the team play as a whole rather than one full back undermining the entire defence consistently. However, Rose seems more comfortable going forwards rather than going backwards; not a problem in defensively sound teams, but perhaps of concern to both Spurs and England fans should he make the cut for any future Three Lions squads. Rose has four assists, creates quite a lot of chances for Spurs from a wide position, and looks to take on his man often – usually succeeding – but is weak in the air and isn’t as effective a tackler as many modern full backs are.
All in all, Danny Rose has proven himself as a useful Premier League defender this season – it’s hard to argue anything other than that – but England’s best? Even though Ashley Cole, probably still the best English left back presently, is unavailable for England and playing in Serie A, the English national team and the Premier League isn’t suffering a dearth of quality left-sided full backs. If Danny Rose did eventually opt to represent Jamaica instead of his native country, it probably wouldn’t be much of a loss to Roy Hodgson or the England faithful – at least, only to the England fans who didn’t weep after Jlloyd Samuel chose to represent Trinidad and Tobago.
But who are the other options for Hodgson? Surely, Rose can only be judged against his peers?
Luke Shaw had an incredible season with Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino last year, going from young talent to England international under the Argentine manager’s guidance. This, in itself, makes it slightly odd that Pochettino would dismiss one of the players whose careers he’s shaped the most thus far in favour of Danny Rose, but the fact is that Shaw is yet to settle at Old Trafford, and so in spite of his obvious talent, and the fact that very few people doubt that, at some point in the near future, Shaw will take up the mantle as England’s first choice in the position, he’s not had the most impressive season.
Much of this has to be attributed to Louis van Gaal, or at the very least Manchester United themselves. It seems that Louis van Gaal doesn’t rate Shaw particularly highly, at times in the season opting to play Ashley Young as a left wing back instead; Shaw himself has only played thirteen times in the league this season. Despite the prevailing narrative that he’s been a flop so far, in his time on the pitch Luke Shaw’s probably been no worse than any other Manchester United player – despite his relative inexperience and age – and he’s certainly improved somewhat as a defender this season; most of the criticism aimed at him last season coming from a defensive perspective. Luke Shaw should probably remain in the England squad regardless of club form however, because it is only a matter of time before (not a matter of whether) Shaw will begin to emerge as an automatic starter for both club and country.
Shaw’s replacement at Southampton is probably the English left back having the most impressive season in the Premier League, having gone from a poor loan spell with Aston Villa last year to several brilliant showings for the South Coast club. Teammate Nathaniel Clyne made the step-up from the Saints to the England first team back in the Autumn, and while Bertrand has been involved in the set-up before (against Italy and Ukraine back in 2012, and in the youth teams too), he’d never had the exposure to top level club football until this season, where he’s made himself a starter under Ronald Koeman.
Bertrand is a year older than Rose but is equally a much more mature player, too, making him the perfect solution for Hodgson for now, should Hodgson be looking for one; Southampton’s excellent defence is a case in point (especially if England use both Bertrand and Clyne in tandem with each other), while Bertrand’s good contributions to Southampton’s play going forward this season have grabbed him a couple of goals and assists.
Like Southampton, West Ham have impressed unexpectedly for stretches of this season, having added a 25-year old English left back to their team in the summer. A tenuous link, yes, but Aaron Cresswell, like Ryan Bertrand, has had his breakout season this year, and is currently attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City.
A year ago, the former Ipswich and Tranmere man had never even played in the Premier League, however, and so it remains to be seen how consistently Cresswell can play on the top level. He is perhaps an interesting option, but given that he’s yet to complete a full season of Premier League football, he perhaps needs to impress over a slightly longer stretch of time. Nonetheless, with a goal and a good presence going forwards, providing excellent foil for the likes of Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho, Cresswell is probably as good an option for England as Danny Rose in the short term; and, given that Hodgson hasn’t been shy of giving the Premier League’s form players a run-out for their country since taking over back in 2012, it’s not altogether impossible that Cresswell could get the chance to stake a claim for the shirt in the near future.
Having been in the set-up for nearly five years – often picked for the squad, impressing for his club, but never quite usurping Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines – it might seem that Gibbs has been dealt a somewhat harsh hand. He’s shown he’s a very good Premier League quality defender over a sustained period of time, having been probably one of the best defensive full backs in the league over the past few years, but his lack of attacking flair has perhaps given him a perception problem to many fans.
It must be admitted that Gibbs hasn’t played as much as many of his counterparts this season, making only nineteen league appearances for Arsenal, but with a strong work ethic and an improving presence going forward, Gibbs hasn’t exactly let himself down this season either. He probably deserves one of the slots in the squad, and maybe a chance at establishing himself as a starter before Euro 2016; but, given the current depth of talent in the position, it’s not exactly clear that this will happen.
Leighton Baines has been very consistent for Everton over the past few years, and has been a strong presence for the Merseyside club in spite of a difficult season thus far, with two goals and a further eight assists helping ease the creative burden for the attacking players.
However, Everton have been awful defensively all year, and Baines himself is aging; having turned 30 in December, Baines will be past his peak by the time of Euro 2016 and shouldn’t be anywhere near the picture for 2018, and so isn’t a long term choice. His selection only makes logical choice if he is the best left back of the current crop, and Roy Hodgson has, throughout qualification for Euro 2016, seemed to believe that he is; however, against better sides – the likes of which England will have to play – Baines seems to quite often get found out. This was obvious against Italy and Uruguay in last year’s World Cup and won’t have changed after two years of aging legs in France next year, but for the time being, Baines seems to be the most obvious choice to start for England, if only because of his relative experience.
Is Rose an international quality left back? That’s questionable. We’ve never seen him play for England, so until then it will always be unclear, but if what Pochettino is saying is true, and Rose is truly considering representing Jamaica, it will hardly be a big blow to Roy Hodgson and his team. Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Gibbs are probably better intermediate options in the position until Luke Shaw full emerges as the international quality left back which he is expected to become. In that sense, Rose has a choice; wait to see if he can prove himself as worthy for an England call-up over a longer period of time, or represent Jamaica instead. He’s certainly not ready for England duty right now.