Cohen warns England full-backs to defend first

LONDON - When George Cohen, a 1966 World Cup winner and rated as England's best-ever right-back, says the country's incumbent full-backs need to concentrate on defending first and foremost it is worth taking notice.

Cohen, voted the best player to wear his country's number two shirt, is as excited as anyone about this year's tournament in South Africa but is concerned that the men vying to follow him and left-back Ray Wilson into the Hall of Fame are missing some of the basics.

"Ashley Cole has really developed, you need to see him against a proper winger to appreciate how good he is and how he has become a very good full-back," Cohen told Reuters in an interview.

"But there is a big gap between him and the ability of anyone else coming through.

"I watch a lot of these players and they need to play as fullbacks, they have to know how to defend properly. That remains their primary job.

"On the right Glen Johnson is a very good distributor and crosser of the ball but for me he doesn't know how to defend very well. He really does need to understand that he is a full-back and defender first."

Cohen was something of a trailblazer in the 1966 team having displaced former captain Jimmy Armfield. Alf Ramsey plotted a course to glory with his narrow-operating side but in fact Cohen, with his constant overlaps, ensured that the "wingless wonders" actually had a regular wide option.

"Bombing upfield is all well and good," he says, "as long as you get the ball.

"The problem is if the full-back goes forward and loses the ball - the defence is usually very stretched. They have to go on to the ball with the play in front of them but lots of times these days I see fullbacks disappearing up past the half-way line and expecting a very good ball to get to them. That means they have to wait and control it and they haven't got time.

"I know people are playing narrower now and that gives more room for full-backs to get on the outside but Fabio Capello is becoming more defensive and might play five across the middle so the emphasis really is on the fullbacks to defend."

Cohen, who spent his entire club career at Fulham, is unconvinced by Jamie Carragher as cover and pronounced himself bemused by the Liverpool man's decision, now rescinded, to retire from international football.

"Carragher is not a full-back anymore, he's lost his pace - but he's an outstanding centre-back," said the 70-year-old.

"I don't really understand people who retire themselves. There is nothing quite like playing for your country so that is a bit beyond my comprehension. I would just say 'sorry son, if you don't want to play, goodbye.'"

Cohen said he liked Michael Dawson as a back-up to John Terry and Rio Ferdinand but would not risk Ledley King.

"We've got enough there, there is no point in taking King," he said. "He could aggravate that injury in the first game - that's what happened with Bryan Robson a few years ago - so I wouldn't take him."

James Milner's crossing earns the Aston Villa man a place on the left midfield in Cohen's England team while Peter Crouch is his choice to accompany Wayne Rooney up front.

"Some don't like Crouch but he's very tidy, he scores goals and can knock them down to Rooney," said Cohen. "They read each other very well and I think he's a dangerous player to have up front as well as a good defender at the set piece."


Cohen sees parallels in current boss Capello and Ramsey and expects England to mount a serious challenge.

"They've got a great draw, there's no doubt about that. After the group stage it could open up and if they can't get past America, Algeria and Slovenia then they should go back to subbuteo," he said.

"I've really enjoyed looking at how Capello is trying to put his team together. I think the players understand what they need to do under him - they know what is required, just as it was under Alf and they know if they don't perform they are out."

Cohen's regular stroll down memory lane has been aided this year by his role as an ambassador for online directory's campaign to reunite fans from English football's greatest day.

"You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was fantastic," Cohen said of that July day 44 years ago. "Hopefully we can revive that incredible feeling this time around."

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