• Cole nears 100-cap milestone in World Cup qualifiers
• Hodgson praises Cole despite problems for FA
Roy Hodgson has paid a glowing tribute to "fantastic" Ashley Cole as the player approaches the milestone of 100 caps for his country, despite the fresh problems the left-back has heaped on the England set up on the eve of two crucial World Cup qualifiers.
Cole is expected to become the sixth player to reach the century in Warsaw a week on Tuesday, presenting the Football Association officials – whom on Friday he labelled a "bunch of twats" – with a dilemma over how to mark the moment.
But after another taxing week that included a storm over an aside made by Hodgson to a punter on the London underground about the international future of Rio Ferdinand, the manager says he could even consider making Cole captain for the occasion. Hodgson was speaking before Cole's outburst and subsequent apology on Friday, but stands by his comments in praise of the Chelsea left-back. It is understood that while Hodgson said he deemed the idea worthy of consideration, Steven Gerrard is expected to lead the team as normal against Poland on his return from suspension.
Hodgson and Cole spoke on Friday afternoon and the player will join up with the squad as planned on Monday. The 31-year-old has previously shown little interest in wearing the captain's armband but when it was suggested to him, Hodgson said the idea was "worthy of consideration" to mark the achievement. "It is something that would need an awful lot of consideration and you would need to discuss it with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have been captaining the team. It is not something you should take lightly. It is certainly worthy of consideration," he said.
"What is more worthy of consideration is the fact that Ashley, at a relatively young age and with more football left in him, is likely to get his 100th cap very soon – and that is fantastic. I don't think we should ever underestimate the value of that."
Hodgson said he put Cole in the same bracket as the Italian international Paolo Maldini and that he respected Cole's decision not to speak to the media in the wake of the off-field incidents that have sullied perceptions of his stellar career on the pitch. "I for one respect that wholeheartedly and have found him to be an excellent professional and a very, very enthusiastic and important member of the group and I'm looking forward to working with him for a period of time to come," the England manager said.
"He has done it with consistency and there is no reason why he cannot set his sights higher. I must say it is an achievement we shouldn't be underestimating and if people are going to praise his achievement it is something I would endorse."
Hodgson, who defended Cole's right to do his talking on the pitch, said that was also true on the field of play: "Every player has the right to be true to their own feelings, and his is that he will do his talking on the field, I don't want to give lots of interviews, I want to be judged as a pure footballer."
The FA was hoping that the issues around John Terry and Rio Ferdinand would blow over by the time the squad convened on Monday, so the focus of the media could coalesce around the official opening on Tuesday of its new £100m national football centre at St George's Park. But the fallout from Cole's criticism of the "evolution" of his evidence contained in the written reasons for Terry's four-match ban for racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand is just the latest example of the shadow the incident continues to cast over the FA despite the Chelsea captain's decision to retire from international football.
Hodgson was also forced to again justify his decision to leave Rio Ferdinand out of his latest squad for the games against San Marino at Wembley on Friday and in Poland the following Tuesday despite limited options at centre-half. "There may be a time when I need to go to Rio if he hasn't himself called time on his career – and I have no reason to believe he has. When the day comes that I need to go to him it will be because I want him to go straight into the team for one particular reason," he said.
"I haven't made that decision on this occasion so next time I will have to make that decision is in March. Who knows in March what the situation will be, who knows what Rio will say?"