Bridge too far for Cole
By Patrick Goss
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Like the proverbial bus, England have waited for so long for a left-sided player that inevitably we ended up with two at the same time - but, ahead of the crunch game against Turkey, should it be Arsenal's Ashley Cole, or Chelsea's Wayne Bridge that is given the full back berth.
I recently discussed the thorny issue with ex-Leeds favourite and former England international Tony Dorigo, and he confessed to being a huge fan of both players - for very different reasons.
"I think Ashley Cole has got the experience. He's a wonderful player and his strength is going forward," said Dorigo.
"But he has been caught out of position at the wrong time, and people are asking if defensively he's the right one."
The questions have certainly started to fly, both in the media and around the country's stadia - and perhaps most worryingly, it appears that the criticism has hit the Gunners man especially hard.
"It's affected the way I've played and in a way it's killed me - my head has gone," admitted Cole to a Sunday paper recently.
"When I came on to the scene two years ago everybody built me up to be the answer to the left back problem but I didn't say anything, I just tried to keep my head down and get on with my game.
"I don't know why people are trying to take me down now because I never once said I was the greatest defender or the answer to all England's problems."
Hyping young players has always been a double-edged sword, and Bridge has perhaps benefited more than most from drifting, rather than exploding, into the public consciousness.
Bridge is a more orthodox left back, capable of supporting the attack, but much happier when he is in his own half - and perhaps most vitally - far less prone to being caught out of position.
"Wayne Bridge's move to Chelsea is going to be a great experience for him, and it's a great platform for him to learn more and progress," asserts Dorigo.
"Defensively Wayne Bridge is the stronger. I've been impressed with him when I've seen him.
"He thinks about his game and he seems to be getting better and better.
"In a one off game, like against Turkey, I would go for defensive qualities."
It is far too easy to paint the argument as a flair versus reliability choice, but this gives neither player the respect they are due.
Cole's pace has made him a perfect antidote to speedy wingers bursting down the flanks, whilst at the other end Bridge is more than capable of providing a wonderful cross.
The biggest argument for Cole's inclusion appears to be for his sheer speed - something that goes a long way to paper over his defensive cracks because he can make up ground that better positioning would not allow.
Interestingly, however, little gets said about Bridge's own turn-of-foot, with the former Southampton man certainly no slouch either.
Gordon Strachan, who managed Bridge whilst he was with The Saints, once said of his charge:
"He gives us more balance, there is no doubt about it.
"We do not have anyone to come in anywhere near the capability and pace of Wayne Bridge."
Chelsea - with all the money they could possibly want in their chase for new defenders - were assiduous in their pursuit of a player that Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe had labelled intransferable.
A cheque for £7 million changed Lowe's mind, and Bridge has slotted into the stellar Chelsea squad with typical assuredness - and an equally characteristic lack of trump.
For my money, it is the Chelsea man that is most deserving of England's left back berth for the game against Turkey.
Given the nod ahead of Cole in the qualifier against Liechtenstein, the only time I noted Bridge's name was when he picked up a booking - and, although the quality of the opposition was not the highest, they were not given any hint of space on their right wing.
As Dorigo points out: "In international football especially, it is about when to attack and when to defend.
"It is okay in the Premier League, you can play on the overlap and if you lose the ball someone will cover and the opposition may not have the quality to punish you.
"In international football when you give the ball away, you are out of position and that is the point they will go to try and hurt you.
"With Ashley Cole, we have foud that on a few occasions that has happened."
The Turkey game could well be one of the most tense in recent international football - with inevitable comparisons to the famous qualification game against Italy that sealed passage through to the 1998 World Cup.
In a game of such crucial importance, where heroes and villains can be created in an instant, I think we should be building Bridges - and not burning Cole.
Am I right? Is Bridge the man for England - or should Cole be given the chance to shine? Please e-mail your view by clicking here