IF YOU are Danny Rose’s age, there is only one England left-back. Sunderland’s on-loan defender was 10 when Ashley Cole won his first international cap. Tonight he wins his 100th.
It is a landmark only six others have reached, and it is fair to say Cole will be the least loved member of an exclusive squad. Almost crashing his car because he was offered a trifling £55,000 a week by Arsenal is probably the one incident which marked him down in the nation’s bad books.
Shooting at an intern at Chelsea’s training ground, a vomit-inducing National Lottery photoshoot with Cheryl Cole and his general on-pitch demeanour have all seen it underlined.
For the most enduring and reliable member of England’s failed “Golden Generation” it is easy to lose sight of his exceptional on-field contribution to the Three Lions. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, barely got a kick at Euro 2004.
As someone who aspires to one day wear the England No.3 shirt, Rose is well placed to eulogise a man who routinely gets abused at the Stadium of Light – and most Premier League football grounds beyond Stamford Bridge for that matter.
“You watch Ashley Cole play now and he looks like he is 23 not 32,” he says. “It’s just amazing how he keeps getting better.
“If I could have half the career he has had I would be happy.”
While his 100th cap will add to the celebratory feel around tonight’s glamour friendly against Brazil, Cole is nearing the end of an impressive international career.
When he does retire – possibly after the next World Cup – it will start a scramble to replace a near-immovable object since that game against Albania in 2001. Leighton Baines is already positioning himself as the front-runner – many would like to see him take Cole’s place immediately – but as part of another exclusive club, of English left-backs who are first-choices for a Premier League team, Rose would like to be considered a contender when the time comes.
With 25 England Under-21 caps – the last on a night in Serbia when he found himself the centre of all manner of political controversy after his angry reaction to racial abuse – to add to those he won at under-17 and under-19 level, and an ever-present Great Britain record at the Olympics, the Yorkshireman has long been viewed as an international of the future, if not always in the position he fills now.
“I don’t want to say I see myself playing for England,” he stresses, anxious not to emulate Cole in the arrogance stakes. “I played with the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. It is nice to see them being give the chance to play for the their country.
“When I am playing week-in and week-out, maybe next season, I would like to be considered for that.”
Nothing should be read into the fact Rose has not played for the Under-21s since Serbia. Stuart Pearce experimented in the last game and, only just back from injury, Rose was not considered for last night’s victory over Sweden.
Rose’s England ambitions should warm the hearts of Sunderland fans. He cannot get where he wants to be without regular football and, while he is far too diplomatic to say so, one gets the impression he knows that will not come at Tottenham Hotspur. It is hard to see how Spurs will be able to keep hold of him at the end of a season-long loan which has given him a taste of regular Premier League football.
Rose has fallen head of heels in love with Sunderland. If the Black Cats can agree a fee to keep him, it is hard to see Rose turning them down.
Like Cole, indeed like many modern left-backs, Rose did not start out in that position.
As an Arsenal youngster, Cole was a striker. Coming through Leeds United’s academy, Rose was a left-winger. Even Spurs could not make their mind up whether he was a midfielder or a defender.
At Sunderland, where they have plenty of decent wingers but no other specialist left-back, Rose has found his position. Modern full-backs are expected to be the first attackers not, as their old-fashioned name suggests, the first defenders. The attacking skills learned as a youngster have come in handy, but for those he must add to his repertoire, he has looked to Cole for inspiration.
“I have only been playing left-back for a couple of years,” Rose points out. “I have got a lot to learn compared to other people who have been playing it for their whole careers. Some stuff is all new to me – distances away from your centre-half and the opposition winger – there can’t be many better players to learn from than Ashley Cole.”
Ashley Cole, role model. So long as England’s future generations only mimic his playing style, the country can look forward to a bright future.