"I used to be Joe Cole."
When Brendan Rodgers was appointed manager of Liverpool, one member of the Magic Spongers fraternity (population: two) – a full-time York City fan, part-time Liverpool fan – was pretty happy. ‘Just think’, he crowed, like a crow that had just won a £30 accumulator despite not having arms, opposable thumbs or a brain big enough to put one on in the first place; ‘Just think of Joe Cole in a Brendan Rodgers team. It’ll be f*****g class’.
‘You c**t’, he added, for good measure.
That article, along with many others over the last couple of months, was never written. And, along with many others, it was probably a good thing, as hardly hide nor hair has been seen of England’s ‘most technically gifted player’ for large swathes of this season up to now. Cole, having spent time in France last year, has gained that element of mysticism that, without wishing to come over all Edward Said, means that the level of the unknown brought about by such a trip (except for those following Lille closely, of course) has made us keener than ever to incorporate him back into his Englishness. But there is a nagging doubt, as injuries continue to strike, that in fact – without wishing to come over all Walter Raleigh – he is just a bit of a potato.
Along with fellow ‘most technically gifted player this country has’ Jack Wilshere, Cole’s perceived potential seems to increase dramatically during every spell he has away from full-time action. It’s almost as if just because he displayed bravery worthy of the former England captain by having the big, clanking brass balls necessary to move abroad TO FRANCE, he must be slightly more cultured both as a footballer and as a man. The Premier League’s insularity, if that’s a word, strikes again. After all, no one else has ever left this country to work abroad, so Cole must be a right ‘enigma’.
It’s a good job we stuck an article up on being ‘mercurial’ the other month, as Cole fits the bill perfectly. But he is symptomatic of a very English / Premier League persuasion that revels in the ‘on paper’ scenario – that of unfulfilled potential just needing one more chance to make things work out. I’m not saying Cole’s crap. He clearly isn’t. I am saying that a lot of people will have joined us in salivating over the potential for Cole to deliver in a ‘Brendan Rodgers’ side, whatever that means, but haven’t even noticed that he’s barely featured.
‘Lille wanted to keep him’, the argument might go. Yes, they did. But they’d also just sold Eden Hazard to Chelsea and I imagine if I was Rudi Garcia I’d be fairly keen to keep a player who’d had a decent season, might be available on loan again on the cheap in times of financial hardship and was already ingratiated with his team mates. Plus he’d played a total of 42 times, scoring nine and assisting three, his best season since 2007-08.
The problem here, of course, is that no one really knows if that’s good or bad. Nine goals in 42 is ok for an attacking midfielder isn’t it. Is it good for a ‘forward’? Three assists isn’t so good for an attacking midfielder or a forward. Or just a normal midfielder. What is Joe Cole, actually? What’s his position? Is his apparent decline in England the Premier League’s fault for being too rough or too powerful? That would be a nice vindication of his European-esque technical class wouldn’t it. Are we allowed to stop saying he emerged as a precocious talent yet?
Frankly, we don’t really know what to think (as has perhaps become obvious. About everything). This is a man with three Premier League winners’ medals, three FA Cup winners’ medals, but a man whose ‘Individual Honours’ list on Wikipedia includes one ‘Man of the Match’ from England’s game against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. Which was a 2-2 draw. They didn’t even win. To be fair to him though, he did score a beauty. And once again, there are two sides to Joe Cole: the story.
At least one chapter appears to be closing though – it’s unlikely that England will come calling for the man many hoped would save the abysmal World Cup campaign in South Africa. Perhaps it’s that sensation of doors closing for one of the few Englishman everyone likes to believe the hype about that gives us an even greater sense of longing for him to do well – as if, somewhat perversely for a man who has had an entire career at the top of the game, for his own sake. We all want to see the player that gave rise to all the hype come back, even though he probably never will. Perhaps it’s because back then, rising English footballers were exciting rather than viewed with trepidation or Twitter. Remember the days when Spain were bottlers? They were good, weren’t they.
Plus he’s come across as a pretty nice lad all told, and you don’t often get that around here.
And so, like in so many articles churned out by this fair blog over the years, we stand at a crossroads. To the left, Apple by-the-Sea and plaudits once more. To the right, Onion Town and ignominy. Aformentioned member of the Magic Spongers fraternity desperately wants to be proven right about Joe Cole, not only because he loves to be proven right per se, but because, well, it’s a good fit isn’t it. Joe Cole. In a Brendan Rodgers side.