Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Editorial February 2010

Editorial February 2010.
Bridge too far?

If people thought that the John Terry scandal was to be the most stringent assessment of Fabio Capello's reign of the English national team, they obviously hadn’t counted on a World Cup-threatening injury to Ashley Cole this week.

Capello, already a media darling with the tabloids, was roundly applauded by all sections of the press for how he reacted to the allegations of Terry's dalliance with the ex of England team-mate Wayne Bridge.

Like Sepp Blatter, Capello was expected to turn all Silvio Berlusconi, shrug his shoulders and privately slap the back of his humbled skipper. It's what managers all across the Mediterranean would have done according to the irrepressible Fifa chief.

But the Italian didn’t. He waited, pondered, most likely sought the counsel of FA bigwigs and even gave Terry a whole 12 minutes of air time before quietly explaining that the Chelsea captain's dreams of holding aloft the World Cup trophy this June were history.

So, that done, Capello's stocks with the English public rose further still.

Fast forward 72 hours, however, and what had seemed a crisis averted was starting to look like one approaching.

Cole, Capello's first choice left full-back for South Africa and one of the most improved players under Blues coach Carlo Ancelotti this season, broke his left ankle in a challenge with Everton's Landon Donovan and has undergone immediate surgery, placing his World Cup participation in serious doubt.

And guess who's been Cole's automatic replacement over the past eight or so years: Wayne Bridge.

Although not as dynamic going forward as the former Arsenal man, Bridge last deputised for Cole in England's previous international game – against Brazil in November – and also played three times during World Cup qualifying when Cole was absent.

The 29-year-old Manchester City defender has been regularly involved in England squads since his debut in 2002 and is without question Cole's natural replacement despite the claims of Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines.

But Capello's dilemma over involving Bridge in his build-up to the World Cup has intensified this week with Cole's injury.

Even before the news of Terry's infidelity became public knowledge this month, the Italian coach must have already pondered whether to take a second specialist left-back to South Africa in his 23-man squad.

Would Bridge be required in the finals? What could he offer as a back-up squad member?

Remember, Capello will already be taking Gareth Barry, who has previously and could in an emergency fill in, not to mention Matthew Upson and the increasingly versatile James Milner, who finished in the left-back position against Belarus last October after Bridge went off injured.

Then the news of Terry's affair with Bridge's former girlfriend and the mother of his child breaks.

Capello knows he wants to ditch Terry as captain, but dropping him from the squad altogether in unthinkable.

But could England's buoyant national team harmony be salvaged by quietly letting Bridge slip out of contention? Might it be best for all concerned if Bridge was conveniently overlooked in preference of Villa's in-form Warnock?

Capello will select his squad for England's next international against Egypt on March 3 in a couple of weeks and with Bridge only just back in Manchester City's line-up after a two-month absence because of a knee injury, and Cole in fine form, he might have legitimately been able to leave Bridge's name off his list.

And he still might, although the decision will be the truest test of Capello's mettle just three-and-a-half months out from England's World Cup opener against the United States on June 12.

Bridge has not yet made known his feelings towards playing alongside Terry for the Three Lions, but he is committed to continuing for England according to club boss Roberto Mancini.

And if there's any good news to come out of Cole's likely absence from his third World Cup it's that it might force an even quicker resolution to the row. Perhaps Terry, Bridge and Capello sitting down for a clear-the-air meeting sooner rather than later is the best resolution yet.

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