A year ago today Liverpool fans celebrated news of Joe Cole’s arrival from Chelsea. Exactly twelve months on the contrast could hardly be greater. Cole is daubed the forgotten man, ending last season with a clutch of cameo appearances aimed, presumably, at putting him in the shop window.
His debut season could not have gone any worse. A chronic lack of form, coupled with suspension and injury, dogged his campaign and left many asking whether he’d ever regain his former brilliance.
Somewhat surprisingly the off-season passed with no exit and Cole has returned to Melwood to fight for his place. That fight is made decidedly harder by the acquisitions of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.
At present the reds have twelve midfielders training for the first team, thirteen if you include Dirk Kuyt. That figure also excludes Raheem Sterling who is resting following the Under 17s World Cup. The odds look ominous for Cole, so does he really have a future at Anfield?
According to Steve Clarke the answer is yes. The latter praised the England International this week and stated his belief that he can play a part in the forthcoming season. Cole himself also announced his desire to start afresh following two appearances on the Asia Tour.
The key will be first earning an opportunity and second seizing it with both hands. As a playmaker he has plenty to offer but often flatters to deceive. His tricks are showcased too deep to ever be effective, while he rarely probes a defence, as was customary at Chelsea.
Moreover, his game has become quite simple. Short, safe passes have overridden his old tendency to take players on and make things happen. On arrival Steven Gerrard compared his new teammate to Lionel Messi. Clearly, that comparison was flawed but the crux of his argument was true.
The old Cole could inspire something from nothing, injecting much needed creativity with a quick turn, dribble or flick. Perhaps a lack of confidence and/or injuries have stolen that from his game but if given a chance he must revert to type. Nobody is expecting a typical Messi contribution but the renaissance of a one-time England regular would be welcomed.
Standing-out in a squad bursting at the seams is critical and Joe Cole can, providing he brings together his vast array of talents. In truth that complete package has not surfaced since a succession of knee injuries began in 2009. Only glimpses here and there have been evidenced, a far cry from the all-round player who sparkled under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.
The major obstacle he faces at L4 is an avalanche of competition. One would expect Charlie Adam to feature heavily, as too Downing given his monstrous price tag. Then there is Steven Gerrard who (if fit) is a certainty – while Kuyt always commands a starting berth. Not to mention Lucas, the one defensive-minded player and last year’s outstanding performer.
Can Cole seriously enter that reckoning? Debatable. His immediate rival is surely Maxi Rodriguez. In my mind Cole is a superior player but the Argentine has a healthy knack of chipping-in with goals, something which has kept him at the forefront of his manager’s plans. JC simply must outshine Maxi in the coming weeks if he is to extend his reds tenure.
The futures of Raul Meireles and Alberto Aquilani may also have an impact. If one or both of them remain the likelihood of Cole gaining a start is then on par with his namesake Ashley staying faithful.
Even Jason McAteer could tell you thirteen into four or five simply does not go.
Also undermining the former West Ham star is his reported £90k a week pay. FSG openly criticised the astronomical wage structure in place under the previous regime and haemorrhaging such an amount on a squad player will give them nightmares.
Tellingly, Cole was also absent in John Henry’s bizarre tweet this week, whereby he praised both Aquilani and David Ngog – implying the pair may yet have futures at the club.
Many feel, given the circumstances, cashing in now is the best possible solution. Secretly, Cole may too welcome pastures new as he enters his thirtieth year. But bowing out with not so much as a whimper will mark a sad end to an Anfield career which promised so much.
As it stands he would read another Harry Kewell, Jermaine Pennant or Mark Gonzales. Yet he had the potential to emulate Peter Beardsley or to a lesser extent Luis Garcia, such was his flair.
Sadly, few managers have ever trusted him in his best position, just off the striker. Kenny Dalglish (understandably) is unlikely to buck that trend.
And he may soon permanently dash the bold forecasts we made for Joe Cole’s Liverpool career this time last year. Nevertheless, I for one feel he is worth a final shot at rediscovering himself.