Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Roy Hodgson's guarantee of regular football swung it for Joe Cole

Joe Cole

In the end, it was the football that swung it for Joe Cole. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were both waving tempting offers in his direction, but neither club could promise quite the security that Roy Hodgson was all but guaranteeing at Liverpool.

Not financial security, for he could have earned similar amounts to the £90,000-a-week deal his agents have negotiated with Liverpool at either club. But footballing security, the comfort that comes from knowing the manager likes you and wants to put you in the team, the kind of security that Cole once enjoyed at West Ham United but he never really felt at Chelsea.



During his seven seasons at Stamford Bridge he yo-yoed in and out of the team under successive managers from Claudio Ranieri to Carlo Ancelotti, failing to convince any of them he should be an automatic selection. Cole started his Chelsea career as understudy to Juan Sebastian Veron, and ended it as stand-in for Florent Malouda.

Along the way he filled his trophy cabinet with three Premier Leagues, three FA Cups and two Carling Cups, and his bank account with plenty of cash, but he was left frustrated because while England team-mates such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole were all key figures, he was peripheral, a useful man to have on the bench.



Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, claimed at the weekend that Cole's departure was "economic" but there were also some serious footballing considerations behind the decision to let him walk away. Cole wanted to play every game, and his frustration at not doing so was felt throughout the squad. His replacement Yossi Benayoun, signed for £5.5m from Liverpool a month ago, will not rock the boat if he is left out.



At Liverpool, Cole will find in Hodgson a manager who does not tend to chop and change the side from week to week, a manager who likes his teams to play a passing game, a manager who values English talent, a manager who is universally respected by the players under his charge. Cole will also find a club where creative players are idolised by their passionate fans, a bit like West Ham with knobs on. This is what Cole craves. As the former Liverpool captain Jamie Redknapp said yesterday: "He needs to go somewhere, be loved, and play football and get back to being the Joe Cole we all know and love."



Cole's early career was very similar to that of Wayne Rooney. There was a lot of talk about them before they broke into their respective first teams at West Ham and Everton, when Cole was 17 and Rooney 16. They stayed put for a couple of years before moving on to bigger things, and that's where their stories diverge. Rooney blossomed at Manchester United into the finest English player of his generation, while Cole struggled even to find his best position at Chelsea.



Loved by the fans but not by the managers, in his seven seasons at the Bridge he took on a variety of jobs, but sadly his most regular position was on the bench. Last season Ancelotti tried him in several different positions, from playing in the hole behind the strikers to a place out wide on the right, but Cole never looked convincing, despite moments of inspiration such as a back-heeled goal in Chelsea's 2-1 victory at Manchester United that helped them win the title.



That will be the biggest change for him at Liverpool, that he will have a settled role in a settled team. Cole was given no assurances that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres would be staying: the most important thing for Cole is that he gets to play. He may even be given the famous No 7 shirt, as worn by Liverpool legends Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. Who wouldn't be swayed by such a prospect? It's almost as good as the No 10 shirt with Brazil.



And there is little doubt they will love him on the Kop. No manager has ever criticised Cole's work-rate and commitment, characteristics that have earned him the adoration of the supporters at both Upton Park and Stamford Bridge. If he can also win the love of his manager, then Cole will be in his element. As Liverpool's most famous sons once sang: "All you need is love."



The drawback for Cole is that by moving north to Liverpool he is undoubtedly taking a step down, from the champions to the team that finished seventh. Chelsea are aiming to win the Champions League this season; Liverpool are hoping to qualify for it next season. That drop in class will be made evident to Cole all too swiftly. His last appearance for Chelsea came in the 1-0 victory over Portsmouth in the FA Cup final that sealed the Double. His Liverpool debut could be the second leg of the Europa League qualifying match against a team from Armenia or Macedonia. But at least he should be guaranteed to start.



The Cole conundrum: the many sides of Liverpool's new man

10 International goals scored by Cole in 56 caps. He hasn't found the net for England since his double against Andorra in 2008

£7m In the midst of Roman Abramovich's initial spending spree at Stamford Bridge, Claudio Ranieri signed the 21-year old for £7m in 2003 after he was relegated with West Ham

7 During an England youth-team match against Spain, Cole scored seven of eight goals for his side

33% Despite the admiration fans had for the winger, a third of Cole's appearances for Chelsea came from the substitutes' bench

4 In April 2006, Cole was ranked fourth in The Independent's list of Britain's happiest people

17 His age when Cole made his first-team debut for West Ham

  • "Joe Cole is an intelligent player that can play in many different positions" - Fabio Capello, England manager
  • "He's plays hard and always tries to do the best for us. I like him very much" - Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ex-Chelsea manager
  • "The problem was economic. This is the life of footballers. Cole did a fantastic job, but it's time to move on." - Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea manager
  • "Any side in the country would miss a player of Joe's calibre. He has that bit of fantasy that can open up defences" - Ray Wilkins, Chelsea coach
  • "I think he has two faces – one beautiful and one I don't like. He must keep one and change the other one." - Jose Mourinho, former Chelsea manager
  • "I still rate him as the best young player I have ever worked with. He was on another planet to everyone else at Upton Park." - Harry Redknapp, then West Ham manager

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