British academic Jacob Bronowski once said: “…the world is full of people who never quite get into the first team.” It’s a quote that must resonate with Leighton Baines with regards to his England career.
Injury has denied Ashley Cole the chance to reach a landmark 100 caps in England’s in the World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine. Baines, who made his debut two and half years ago, will make his 10th appearance and only his first competitive start tomorrow night.
It’s a frustrating situation for the Everton full back. Ahead of him is the world’s best left back, but read any of the papers this week and it is clear that Baines has come to terms with the fact that his international career has understandably been stalled by England’s best ever full back.
The similarities between both players career a few on far between. Baines, released by Liverpool as a youngster joined Wigan as a professional and has worked his way up from League One to the Premier League. In contrast, having broke into the Arsenal first team as teenager, Cole has only ever known what it is like to compete for Premier League titles.
However, on the pitch they find their similarities. At least in the sweeping generalisation of what it means to be a successful full back. Both are on the short side but are excellent going forward and solid defensively.
As an attacking option, there is perhaps no better full back in the Premier League than Leighton Baines and for this writer he offers more of a threat going forward then his Chelsea counterpart. His crossing and set piece delivery are excellent and his link up play with Steven Pienaar is a joy to watch.
It may sound as if doubts are being cast about Cole’s attacking ability. That’s not in question. He is very effective going forward and perhaps more comfortable taking people on but as an attacking full back Baines just edges it.
But a successful full back is first and foremost an outstanding defender. Again, Baines is a good defender but quite simply there is no comparison to Ashley Cole. He is the world’s best full back and has been for a number of years. Remember England V Portugal at Euro 2004? He gave a defensive masterclass to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet.
The former Arsenal player has always excelled in the big games. Perhaps that is the difference, big game experience. Baines has proven himself in a squad that at best challenges for the Europa League places. Cole has proved he can perform in championship winning sides and in the Champions League.
For the Everton full back to realistically challenge for a starting spot, he would need a move to a club in the Champions League. And he would need to impress. However, barring a significant loss of form it remains unlikely that he would usurp Cole in Roy Hodgson’s plans.
It seems he has come to terms with being the second best left back in the country and for his England career to blossom he will have to wait until Cole retires. At 27, he will hope that happens sooner rather than later.
Getting his first competitive start for England is obviously a huge plus for Baines, but it will be tarnished somewhat by the fact the chance has arisen only due to Cole’s injury.
He is a very good left back, but unfortunately for him there is a better one.