With Fabio Capello set to name his final squad before deciding on the shortlist for the World Cup finals, A Different League looks at two of the country’s left-backs pushing Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole for a spot at South Africa.
After Rafa Benitez didn’t see Stephen Warnock as Liverpool’s long term left-back in 2007, questions were asked of whether he had what it took to become England’s first choice left-back, especially with the likes of Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge plying their successful trade for Chelsea at the time.
At 28-years-old Warnock is now certainly ready to take on the responsibility of being a regular England international having had his big money career move when he left Blackburn Rovers for Aston Villa in a £6.75m deal. He has impressed at every club he has been at, from showing early signs of promise in a loan spell at Bradford City, to picking up Fans’ Player of the Year on loan at Coventry City and the Player of the Year award at Blackburn Rovers.
After Ashley Cole fractured his ankle against Everton and all of the recent tension between Wayne Bridge, John Terry and the rest of the squad it leaves Fabio Capello pondering his options at left-back. Warnock has had a solid start to the season being part of a settled back-line at Villa Park which has contributed greatly to Villa’s lofty league position, as they again entertain the dream of breaking the top four. Villa’s main flaw is currently being able to put the ball in the back of the net, so their league position speaks volumes about the defence.
His strengths as a full-back are clear. Warnock is a no-nonsense player who keeps his head down and fits well into a team ethic. He has good positional sense and doesn’t try anything spectacular when on the ball, just keeps the job simple. It is unlikely that in the coming months you will see his name in the tabloids or hear of him falling out with teammates. He has built up a reputation with hard-working, honest and determined performances. Warnock may lack the pace Ashley Cole possesses and hasn’t had the regular Champions League experience in recent years and these are two of the reasons that separate Cole from the competition, but with his injury putting a question mark over his fitness and availability, Warnock provides a suitable alternative.
In recent games, Warnock has showed both his strengths and his weaknesses. At 5’10 he perhaps lacks the physical presence to deal with some of the bigger boys in the Premier League, as many full-backs do. In the thrilling Carling Cup semi-final against Blackburn Rovers, Warnock was left cruelly exposed as he was out-jumped by Nikola Kalinic as the ball deflected off him and went in for the first goal. Seconds later Warnock found himself at the back post again this time being out-jumped by Rovers’ Martin Olsson whose powerful header was spilled by Brad Guzan to Kalinic who doubled the lead on the night. Despite being partly at fault for Blackburn’s opening two goals, Warnock made amends minutes later by showing his attacking qualities and getting into the danger area. He then managed to lash the ball into the back of the net with a finish a striker would have been proud of to bring his side back into contention.
In many performances this season, Warnock has worked the left-hand side tirelessly. He links in well with Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, depending on who has switched to the left-flank at the time. He provides excellent support for the wingers and his high work-rate fits in well with Villa’s counter-attacking mentality. He has yet to score, but has one assist to his name so far in the Premier League this season and has given away only 15 free-kicks, picking up three yellow cards along the way.
Warnock does have flaws. He is vulnerable in the air and is not an explosive full-back. However he is an excellent professional who has a high work-rate and excellent team qualities. He is the sort of player who could fit seamlessly into any side, so why not England?
There is no doubt that Warnock deserves his chance to fill the void. He was deemed a better option at left-back than Nicky Shorey by Martin O’Neill, who has been loaned out, and impressed at, both Nottingham Forest and Fulham respectively. Shorey himself had a stint as the maybe man for the England left-back role whilst a regular performer for Reading. Fabio Capello would perhaps have concerns that if some average Premier League players can get the better of him that he would struggle on the bigger stage. However in the friendly matches approaching for England there are realisitically few better options. He would thrive alongside England’s finest and would be deserving of his chance to add to his eight international minutes so far.