So England are on their way to Brazil (thank God) and the media furore surrounding the national team and the ‘crunch clashes’ against the likes of Poland and the Ukraine can finally stop dominating the back pages for now.
One thing that should not stop entering the media and indeed conversations between fans is the debate over just which left back should be starting in Rio. Quite a dilemma to have really, and one that will take precedent when it comes to team selection debates.
The rest of the England team essentially picks itself, and yes, there may be a couple of people who differ in opinions, that is football – in fact, that is life. What is a real point of contention is the question of Baines or Cole.
Both are world class, and whilst Cole has recently reached 100 caps for his country and is still undisputedly one of the very best around, he picked a mighty unfortunate time to pick up an injury.
When Cole looks back on the big regrets in his career, admitting he nearly crashed his car when offered £60,000 per week would presumably top the list. That or the cringe worthy lottery advert Cashley and Cheryl participated in.
One that Cole may well now add to his list is missing the qualifiers this past week. Baines more than filled in – in fact the majority of people are now seriously considering him as the first choice left back.
It is a fair enough question to wonder quite why it has taken Baines until the age of 28 (he will be 29 in December) to be considered a main contender for a starting place in the team. Well for a start, Cole has been the first, second and third choice for the last few years, and rightly so.
Secondly, Baines was playing for Wigan until 2007, and Everton since then. Whilst both teams should in no way take offence to this, the fact of the matter is that neither are as fashionable as Arsenal or Chelsea – Cole’s two clubs.
Mangers notice players who are at the big teams – it may not be fair, it may in fact be a huge hindrance to the national side, but it is reality. Therefore Cole automatically had a huge edge to begin with.
Baines is good enough to be playing for a top four side – make no mistake about that, and had David Moyes and Manchester United had their way, he would be playing for the defending Premier League Champions.
Essentially, Baines has played so well that he has literally forced himself into recognition –something that Everton fans will tell you has been a long time coming.
He has twice been voted in the PFA team of the year, and last season the sublime cross that found Wayne Rooney for his goal against Poland was a common feature at Goodison. In fact, a variation of it was seen 106 times.
Baines was statistically the best player at creating chances in the league– creating 116. That, for anyone who was wondering, was 12 more than the second best player (of course that was pre Mesut Ozil.)
In addition to that, the left back managed to score eight goals of his own and played every single minute of every game. Quite a feat really. It would have to be to get fans and pundits hailing him as the one who should wear the number three shirt this summer.
Baines takes set pieces and can whip the ball in towards the players in the box in a way that Cole can only dream of. He is one of the best, perhaps even the best left back in the world when it comes to going forward.
For all that, Baines still has only managed to amass 21 caps for England, and has suffered in the shadow of Ashley Cole. Now however, there is no ignoring him.
Baines has been sensational there is no doubt, but Cole has experience at the very highest level for club and country. He will not bottle it. Even when it comes to taking penalties.
In fact, for all his faults, Cole is one of the very few players in the world who can make the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben look ordinary. Defensively he is second to none -and better than Baines, there is no getting away from that fact.
So how about domestically? Well last season, Baines made more tackles, interceptions, blocks, shots, crosses – you name it, he did it – than Cole. Seven games have been and gone this season, and the trend shows no sign of abating. Statistically, Baines is better.
Perhaps what it will come down to is who England are playing. Should both players be injury free come the summer and coming off the back of good seasons, the choice between who should start could well rest on what is needed from the player at full back.
Against the likes of Portugal or a Germany, Cole simply has to be in the starting line-up. Baines cannot defend as well and has negligible experience at the top level domestically – should Manchester United buy him this January however, that could well all change.
As it stands, Cole has proven he can do the job against Europe’s elite – and should Hodgson decide to start Baines and see him make an error where Cole would not, the knives will be out even sharper than usual.
However, if a goal is needed or the opposition is considered to be weak – and one where the width provided by the full backs is key, then Baines at the minute is deserving of the nod.
Another factor to consider is when Baines is meandering forward, one of the opposition will have to be tracking him – this of course frees up space for other players, not to mention gives who ever England are playing something to worry about. Baines will crucify a side who push forward and leave him space to fly up the flank. Cole will not.
A conundrum for Hodgson? Yes. A problem? No. In fact, you can bet the entire contents of your bank account that Hodgson was wishing he had that problem at right back.
Baines or Cole? Who would be your first pick in Brazil? Let us know your thoughts or tweet us