Desmond Kane

England ‘stand-in’ Baines has Cole’s number

Desmond Kane

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A lone telephone number flashed around a murky Wembley Stadium last night alerting members of the public that help was on hand in case of anti-social behaviour.

Leighton Baines could be discovered moments earlier espousing a mood of sociability, a figure apparently epitomising conviviality in a football player.

With England somehow only leading a tinpot Montenegro side by a single goal, and the tension and anxiety in the vast arena palpable around the hour-mark of the country’s penultimate World Cup qualifier, Baines skipped over to deliver a corner-kick before looking up to a large pocket of home fans to applaud them heartily.

The response was instant and returned in kind, a welcome symbol of confidence emanating from Baines that seemed to have some sort of soothing effect on the 83,000 or so England supporters who rose from their feet to applaud this industrious little figure.

During moments when coach Roy Hodgson would have perhaps been seeking out the digits of the Samaritans, Baines’s gesture said more about his mindset than the drivel that tends to be wheeled out in the immediate aftermath of such frantic international get-togethers.

Crash barriers are planted between players and grown adults working in the media in the bowels of Wembley Stadium. It is easier to arrange an audience with the Pope than a meaningful chat with an England footballer.

Baines tends to do his talking on the pitch this weather. In all weathers as we witnessed when he was a measure of calm in skating around a sodden field amid some hairy times for England.

In a week when Jack Wishere said England must qualify for the World Cup finals because “England is football”, Baines was a figure of trust.

Hodgson's side only need to overcome a Poland side out of contention to reach Brazil after their 4-1 flogging of a Montenegro lot who could have been on Mogadon such was their threat.

England should have won by more, but Baines walked away from these happenings having made a few points of his own. Much like the goal-scoring debutant Andros Townsend, only with much less fanfare.

His energy, use of the ball, self-awareness and passion for the jersey spoke volumes for his character. Baines was only deployed at left-back because of an injury to Ashley Cole, but this was not the performance of a replacement.

One slalom run and cross should have encouraged a home penalty when he was illegally bundled off the ball seconds before Danny Welbeck saw a shot saved.

Baines has belief that he 'belongs'. He provided 116 chances for companions last season, the highest numbers in the Premier League. His level of consistency at Everton continues to attract the interest of Manchester United, but he did not try to crowbar himself out of Goodison Park during the close season. Even if he apparently told the Everton coach Alan Stubbs in private that he wanted to walk.

Baines has grown in stature to such a level that he surely has squatter's rights to the number three jersey that Chelsea full-back Cole has owned for so long. That is not to suggest Cole, only 32 with a sweltering 105 caps, is finished with England.

Cole’s performance in covering his central defenders when pressure is coming directly on top of England remains admirable. His output in helping his country depart Ukraine with a 0-0 draw last month was exceptional, but Baines has 20 caps, is slightly fresher and possibly offers more prospects bounding forward clamped to a voracious ability to deliver free-kicks with scientific sweetness.

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Whatever is made of his libido, Cole’s longevity should not be in doubt. Cole may not be a favourite among England’s fans, but he is a fierce patriot. England for the English from the week that was.

Hodgson could look to accommodate both men in his team. One suspects Baines would be better at right-back than Kyle Walker. Or Glen Johnson.

That is just a thought. The time comes for experimentation after the joust with Poland as England seek out the points they need to validate their journey to the finals.

Baines must surely be ahead of Cole for sheer reliability. Learn to love yourself, warts and all, is half the battle to achieving tranquility in life. Baines seems to have journeyed between self-love and over-confidence to achieve an impressive mixture of humbleness and arrogance. Self-improvement brings with it self-belief.

If a man is the sum total of all his parts, Baines is in fine working order.

The Everton manager Roberto Martinez will testify to such a thought process having been forced to endure a close season of some discontent with Marouane Fellaini and Baines apparently destined for Manchester United. Fellaini went for £27.5m, Baines stayed put with his £18 million asking price failing to be met.

He harpooned West Ham’s net with two free-kicks in Everton’s 3-2 win three weeks ago to attract his manager’s goodwill.

“The only thing that concerns me is just to make sure he’s as fit as he can be and gets in a stronger position and balances the demands of England and club level,” said Martinez. "That’s what I’m focused on, that his day to day is perfect.

“Everything else, behind the scenes we’re happy with the situation, and we’re making sure he’s happy as well.”

His obvious assets can be a heady brew on breathless nights.

England will again teeter on the brink of social unrest against Poland, but men like Baines seem to bring a formula built to outlast these slightly ghoulish evenings.

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