In a somewhat inevitable twist of fate England have suffered yet another injury to a key player on the road to a major footballing tournament. With Ashley Cole ruled out of action for around three months following an ankle break in Chelsea's away loss to Everton on Wednesday, our national team has suffered a very inconvenient stumbling block in the build up to 12th June. This news is potentially very damaging for Fabio Capello's World Cup aspirations and yet the comic side to it just cannot be ignored.
It was only two weeks ago that the Terry saga dominated the sporting world. The underlying point was often made that Terry and Bridge would never have to play together for England because Cole's place in the starting 11 was a certainty. But here we are with the distinct possibility that the two will have to play along side each other in the friendly against Egypt on 3rd March and in South Africa this June. This is such a funny twist for this on going story to have taken, I bet John Terry could not believe that his luck could have got any worse!
Of course ultimately this story is not a comical one for any follower of the Three Lions as Ashley Cole's importance to the team is massive. When you look for world class players in the England team there may appear to be many on the face of it, however in terms of players who would rank in the top 3 or 4 in the world in their position there are few. Along with Rooney and perhaps Gerrard or Lampard (although I would not personally say so) I don't believe any other of our players could claim such an accolade. Cole is the one exception who certainly could.
Ashley Cole, despite being a massive prick and very unpopular with most football fans across the country because of his whiny nature and his off the field antics, is of great importance to the team. He is probably, on form at least, our best defender. This season he has come into the best form of his career dominating players defensively (just ask Theo) and looking more menacing than ever going forward. Carlo Ancelotti, and perhaps the competition of having Yury Zhirkov in the squad, has brought the best out of Ashley Cole and he was no doubt pivotal to England's World Cup hopes. He has been a solid performer for the national team and makes the side stronger in attack as well as defence.
This injury just echoes the problems experienced by previous managers in the build up to past World Cups. Rooney, Owen and Beckham are just three names of key players to suffer broken bones in the months going into the biggest tournament in the footballing world. From now till 12th June every time an England player suffers a hard tackle or falls awkwardly the nation will hold it's breath. It highlights the fragility of our World Cup dreams as the hopes of so many rest in so few. This sort of bad luck is almost unavoidable, will there be any teams in South Africa with their first choice 23 players fit and ready? This is something that all managers, club and national, have to deal with and Capello's decision for Cole's replacement is another test he will have to face and I am confident that he will not fail us.
In terms of replacements the three that are in contention must be Wayne Bridge, Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines. Bridge, himself just returning from a lengthy injury may be the logical and preferred choice of many but he is not mine. Warnock and Baines are both risks, good premiership players who are in good form for their respective clubs but they, unlike Bridge, lack experience on the international stage. Nevertheless I would rather one of these two were given a go in the side while we await Cole's return from injury. They are both promising talents who are playing better football than Bridge and deserve their chance. I suspect that looking to a replacement will prove unnecessary beyond the friendly against Egypt however.
The chances are that Cole will probably be fit in time for the last few weeks of the premiership season and thus be in Capello's squad and he will most probably start against the USA in England's opening game. The situation is likely to exaggerated to build the story into a bigger deal than it may in fact be. The fact that Chelsea back room staff are already stating that he is likely to be fit in time for the World Cup indicates this. It is always hard to see how injury comebacks will go as they can be so easily aggravated if rushed back. Cole will have limited time to re-find his form and fitness before South Africa though so he is no way a dead cert to start come 12th June. Because of his importance to the team and the lack of an experienced quality replacement I and the rest of the nation's football fans will be keeping a keen eye on his progress.
The injury to Cole may also raise the usual questions about the strength in depth of English football as we rely so heavily on a core of quality players and lack quality beyond it, but as this post has already gone on far longer than I intended I will save that issue for another day.
As ever thoughts, comments and opinions are very welcome...