Headgear readjustments this week, as I donned my England hat, carefully placing it alongside the Tottenham version. Although the defeat to Spain didn’t feature any Spurs players, the naming of One-Trick Downing on the left had me sharpening knives, practising my most caustic put-downs, and preparing once again to do battle with those who claim that he’d be a worthy addition to the lilywhite ranks.However, a couple of spanners appeared in the works. For a start, this is hardly new ground. Whether they agree or not, seasoned all-action-no-plotters can virtually lip-synch with me as I trot out my usual lines of argument (decent player but not £14 mil of special; and not exactly a little bundle of unpredictability either), and the responses are themselves fairly predictable too (a natural left-footer provides balance to the midfield; and early crosses for our often ball-starved forwards).
The other problem with revisiting the Downing debate was more practical in nature. If watching “soccer” while holidaying in Oz was pretty darned tricky, then catching a game in New Zealand was nigh on impossible. Just the goals for me then, and the case against One-Trick can be adjourned with no further questions from this particular prosecution.
However, the debate will rage on, particularly in the summer. Rather than just moan about what I consider to be the problem, I shall take the novel and proactive step of suggesting a solution. One other name very briefly linked with Spurs, probably by a gossip-mongerer with a penchant for the particularly tenuous, was that of Joe Cole.
Until around 2004 – 05 the left-wing had been a major headache for the national team, with the list of earnest but inappropriate players shunted into the round hole including Heskey, Gerrard, Barmby, Bridge, Scholes, McManaman and Alan Thompson. Enter Joe Cole, stage left, and the problem ceased to be. Despite being right-footed he seemed to balance the midfield by maintaining positional discipline; he crossed well with both feet; was willing to cut infield (admittedly perhaps a little too willing at times); chipped in with goals; and was (is) pretty much the only player in the national squad with the natural ability to dribble past opponents. He is also one of the few flair players I can think of who is willing to devote as much energy to the hard work of scrapping and harrying as to his dribbling.
And the counter arguments? He can frustrate by failing to impact upon games as much as he ought to; he sometimes dribbles when a pass is on; and he regularly exhibits that most obnoxious of traits – the dive. An undoubted further source of irritation is that he has a voice so high that wild dogs run for cover when a microphone is thrust towards his visage, but the impact of this upon his performances appears minimal.
Not perfect then, but if being compared with One-Trick Downing, “perfection” is a criterion that can be safely tucked away in a drawer and forgotten about until we reach a completely different topic of discussion.
So I’m firmly in the tongue-twisting pro-Joe-Cole camp. Although now out for the season with an injury, there were murmurs to the effect that Cole was not entirely enamoured with life at Stamford Bridge this season. Apparently he was substituted in a dozen consecutive games by Scolari, up until his injury a few weeks ago. With bids of £14 mil bewilderingly being faxed off to Middlesborough there would have been a strong case for redirecting those funds towards Stamford Bridge. It’s all a little academic now, for numerous reasons (transfer window closed, Cole out until the summer, managerial shenanigans at Chelski). However, with our left wing unlikely to solve itself before May, and presuming we don’t continue our buy-back policy and re-sign Steed, I’ll happily design, print out and publicise the bring Joe-Cole-to-the-Lane petition.