Sam Wallace: Just as Ashley Cole reaches the elusive century, he is no longer England's best left-back

Talking Football: Leighton Baines is quick enough to attack, strong on his right foot; he can shoot and take free-kicks. What’s not to like?

There is plenty for the Football Association to concern itself about when it comes to the thorny issue of Ashley Cole earning his 100th cap for England on Wednesday night. Will he play ball and speak to the media about it? Will he crack a smile for once, having been more inclined to scowl since about 2006? Will #BUNCHOFTWATS start trending at a critical juncture in the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations?

So much to worry about for what should be a joyous occasion in the life of any footballer. But here is the most curious thing about @TheRealAC3, the most-capped left-back in the history of the England team: he is, for the first time in more than a decade, no longer the pre-eminent English left-back.

International football is a strange beast. The picture can change very quickly and the limited number of games make it seem that opportunities expire much faster than they do in club football. A landmark that appears easily obtainable, like Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals for England was at different times for both Gary Lineker and Michael Owen, suddenly drifts out of reach. Scott Parker, England's 2011 player of the year, is not even in the current squad and as a result was not at St George's Park last night when the 2012 award was handed out.

Cole, 32, is a brilliant footballer in so many ways. It is sad, when compared to the other England centurions, that the public perception of him is so negative – an outcome partly, but not entirely, his own fault. Now, on 99 caps, and about to join a select group currently comprising only six men, he has finally been overtaken on the field. If Roy Hodgson had to pick the best current English left-back to face Brazil on Wednesday, that would be Leighton Baines.

It may be that Hodgson does select Baines ahead of Cole. Or he may feel that there is not much in it and that it would be just so much easier to get Cole's century over and done with now. He may believe that the shirt is still Cole's to lose. But whatever happens, the certainty around Cole's place in the England team has gone.

He has been the default choice at left-back for England since around September 2001. He has been to three World Cups and two European Championships and he was England's player of the year himself in 2010. That Chelsea have given him a new one-year contract suggests that, despite his ankle problems, they believe he still has much to offer.

But Baines, at 28, and almost exactly four years younger than Cole, has stepped it up a level from the performances that once put him at the front of the queue simply to be Cole's understudy. At times, Baines is Everton's key player, and that is quite an achievement for a left-back.

The full-back has always been an awkward position to fulfil well: too small to be a centre-half, not sufficiently trusted to be a winger and a man who must always guard against the possibility of being on the periphery. Or, even worse, being extraneous to the good parts of a team's performance and culpable in its worst.

If Dani Alves represents one end of the scale, as the classic wing-back, the bomber-on, then Cole is probably the best at the other end – the master at defending against the modern goalscorer who likes to start out on the wing and cut in. As it stands, Baines is demonstrating an expertise in the ying and the yang of the role as well as anyone.

His two goals against West Brom on Wednesday in an Everton team battling above their station when it comes to the finances showed just what an exceptional player he has become. He is quick enough to attack down the touchline, he is strong enough on his right foot to cut inside. He can shoot. He can take free-kicks. What's not to like?

By the mid-point of last month, Opta Stats calculated that Baines had created 76 goalscoring "chances" – as per their definition of the term – for Everton this season, more, at that point, than any player in the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga or Serie A.

And then there is something else about Baines. You can see it in his old-school goal celebrations. He raises one arm to the crowd but already he is turning away from them and back to his team-mates for the jog up the pitch. He does not have any tattoos. He is not on Twitter. Not that there is anything much wrong with either, but, well, with Baines it just fits the mood of quiet achievement.

It is not just the sideburns and the haircut – which, paired with his Movember effort, set him squarely in The Beatles' Sgt Pepper era – that make him look like he could belong to a more innocent, less lucrative time in English football. It is the attitude too. He is not as outspoken as Sir Bradley Wiggins, but he has a touch of Wiggins about him, in that he appears more determined to remain an ordinary bloke the more successful he becomes.

Baines, like Cole, prefers to keep his public profile low, although with rather more success. He has a very dry sense of humour, although unfortunately he is followed around by the "homesickness" line that convinced Fabio Capello to leave him out the 2010 World Cup squad. What he was trying to say was that, like anyone, he would miss his family while he was away, but coming from a quiet Liverpool lad it just came out wrong.

But that is in the past now. Baines will surely be on the shortlist for both the Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year award and that of the Football Writers in the next few months – and that is no mean feat for a left-back. On Wednesday night it will, in all likelihood, be Cole's moment. But when it comes to the future with England, this is Baines's time.

Qatari cash would sully Beckham's good deed

It does make you wonder if those who advised David Beckham to announce that his Paris Saint-Germain wages would go to charity had just assumed that would be the end of it and no one would pose the question of, er, exactly how he is going to get paid.

Which brings us to Qatar. The latest suggestion is that Beckham will become an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup there and play some part in the Qatar Stars League for PSG's Qatari owners. This is the same World Cup finals that will either be played in 40 degree summer heat or wreck the domestic calendar for years by being switched to winter. No one's decided which yet.

Beckham was in Zurich in December 2010 for the Fifa 2018 and 2022 host decisions. He knows as well as anyone the whole thing stank. Now joining forces with Qatar? Say it ain't so, Becks.

Gascoigne may need help – but whose?

Every time Paul Gascoigne hits rock bottom, the finger gets pointed at the usual suspects – the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association – and the question asked: what are they are doing to help in this very sad, troubling story?

The FA has done what it can, and the likes of Gary Mabbutt have helped out too. It is not obliged to but it clearly feels it has a moral obligation given Gascoigne's part in the story of the national team. Among those who never get asked what they might do to help Gascoigne: those who made money out of his talent and fame and those fellow carousers who bathed in the glow of his celebrity.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine