Thursday, 27 May 2010
The Forgotten Man
Joe Cole must be sweating ahead of the culling of seven from Fabio Capello’s party of 30. It has been a season to forget for the Chelsea playmaker. The most mercurial English talent in a generation has struggled with injuries and form and for all his side’s domestic domination, Cole has been afforded but a bit part, offering only rare glimpses of his undoubted flair.
The word ‘shackled’ springs to mind when Cole’s name is mentioned. Imagine the player we might have witnessed over the past 10 years had he gone to ply his trade at Old Trafford or the Emirates. He became a very well-rounded midfielder under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho, but the price paid was a blunting of his natural expansive game. Too much ‘off the cuff’ and Cole would be off the pitch. Mourinho himself conjured up the image that Cole had a duplicitous playing character, where his beautiful side was tempered by an ugly propensity to neglect the defensive aspects of the game. Had Cole been born Brazilian or Portuguese, surely such a lop-sided nature would have been nurtured; ‘Sod defending when he is this good going forward.’ But with prodigious skill seems to come the inevitable suspicion in the Premier League. He may be able to do a Maradona turn in a packed box, but he can’t put his foot in when it matters.
It is a curious position the 29-year-old finds himself with regards the national team. Cole was, in this observer’s eyes, the best English player in the last World Cup. Few of his peers could score a goal this good, for example. He now seems to have fallen behind Adam Johnson in the pecking order, with Capello waxing lyrical about the young Manchester City winger and probably wooed by the fact that some English midfielders do have a left foot and are actually quite good (not you Stewart Downing). But given the choice between an untested rookie who was plying his trade in the Championship at the turn of the year, and a reliable veteran on the international scene with 10 goals in 53 caps over nine years, the solution should be glaringly obvious.
Cole’s dip in form can perhaps be explained by the trouble encountered when he tried on and off to fit into a team that was already performing well without him. Offering something different to most of the Chelsea squad, Cole never managed to click. Moments of magic were fleeting, such as the innovative back heel at Old Trafford in April which reminded everyone that lest they forget, Joe Cole is actually a great player. On either flank or at the tip of a diamond, Cole’s flexibility would offer England that certain je ne c’est quoi they are going to need to forge openings against the Spains and the Brazils of this world. He has all the quality needed to have a successful tournament, and given Capello’s apparent reneging on his promise to pick on form (see Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Emile Heskey), hopefully his heart will rule his head and the little maestro will be boarding the plane to South Africa. Adam Bushby