Roy's dilemma: Who will be England's next left-back?
Too many in-form players for one position is a selection headache that has always been a manager’s favourite nightmare. Every England manager has had to scratch his head and compare certain players countless times before finally choosing who to pick.
Sven-Göran Eriksson had to choose between Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, or find a way to incorporate them both, something which he never really mastered. Fabio Capello tried to find Wayne Rooney’s best partner up-front; eventually choosing Emile Heskey, but it obviously never came to fruition.
However, throughout the noughties, the England’s undisputed left-back has been Ashley Cole, and rightfully so. But since his retirement, the vacant left side of England’s defence has not yet been permanently filled. So, with the 2016 European Championships just over 12 months away, who should Roy Hodgson pick? Well, in my opinion, there are six worthy candidates.
Leighton Baines – Caps: 30 Age: 30
After being Cole’s understudy on the international stage, the Evertonian must’ve thought his chance had come, but his form this season hasn’t been of the standard we expect from the set-piece specialist. Despite this, the former Wigan left-back will always offer something that none of the others can, and that is his expertise from 12 yards out, something England crave. He probably would’ve been picked for next month’s matches, but he has an ankle injury.
Ryan Bertrand – Caps: 3 Age: 25
The Southampton left-back has had a fantastic season, so much so that he was named in the PFA Team of the year. His pace going forward has given The Saints another attacking outlet, whilst being able to recover quickly to defend. Despite only having three caps to his name, Bertrand is probably the most in-form of the lot, and after being picked for next month’s matches, it looks like Roy has made his decision.
Aaron Cresswell – Caps: 0 Age: 25
An outsider. His form, similarly to Baines, has coincided with his club’s outings. A storming first half from the former Ipswich Town left-back helped propel West Ham to the height of the Premier League, but has since deteriorated. However, his overall form this season has been very good. It saw him pick up three awards at the West Ham awards night, where he won Hammer of the Year, Players’ Player and Signing of the Season.
Kieran Gibbs – Caps: 7 Age: 25
Lately Gibbs has been playing second-fiddle to a rejuvenated Nacho Monreal at Arsenal, and this would normally deter an England manager from selecting him. But Gibbs no longer needs to prove his worth. His form, when he has played this season, have shown that he needs to be in the England squad and deserves to be showing a defensively astute look, and has offered more going forward. A wise selection.
Danny Rose – Caps: 0 Age: 24
An indifferent season for the Tottenham full-back. His class is obvious, and he can hit a worldie too. But the former Leeds man can be temperamental, sometimes making easily avoidable mistakes. But with vast experience at all England youth levels, he could make a claim that he deserves a first team call up.
Luke Shaw – Caps: 4 Age: 19
This season has been a wake-up call for Shaw. His fantastic form last season saw him burst onto the stage and earn a World Cup call-up, as well as a £30 million move to Manchester United. But he’s struggled to maintain a regular place in the United line-up, with Daley Blind often preferred. The potential is most definitely there however, and at only 19, he is sure to be back in the England squad sooner rather than later.
So, if I was Roy, I’d take Gibbs and Baines. Gibbs has shown, since a young age that he can play with and against the best. The Arsenal left-back can cause problems with his pace, and is intelligent enough to know when to go forward or stay at home. The other contenders don’t play for a top four side or have Champions League experience, except for Ryan Bertrand, but one good season won’t be enough to dislodge Gibbs. However, like many of the candidates, he has less than 10 caps. So, that is why I would also take Baines, who is the most internationally experienced candidate and can give a reliable enough performance with the effect of nerves not playing as big a part as a player with less caps. The Everton left-back also has experience of a tournament, and if it does come down to penalties, you’d back him to score. But I’m not Hodgson, and it will be interesting to see over the course of the next year to see who he favours to permanently replace Ashley Cole.