Joe Cole

Joe Cole
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Joe Cole was once the great white hope of English football, but now, at the age of 33, he is a washed up, never-quite-hasbeen with injury issues. Coming through the West Ham United academy, his emergence coincided with that of Frank Lampard Jr and Michael Carrick (who they brought over from Newcastle United, after Kevin Keegan made the decision to scrap their academy), to great fanfare from the media about him being the future of English football. Cole was seen as a superstar of the future, with his silky skills and flashy tricks making him stand out from the crowd of youngsters coming through.

His skills saw him receive a call up for England while still at the Hammers and he racked up over a 100 appearances for West Ham before their relegation saw him make a nearly £7m move to Chelsea in 2003, big money for the time. There his time was mixed, while the fans loved him for the flashy tricks, managers wanted to see more from him, not just flashy tricks for the sake of them, but an end product, increased workrate for the team and more goals. "He has a lot to learn," said Mourinho. "I think he has two faces - one beautiful and one I don't like. He must keep one and change the other one."

The Portuguese boss said: "Joe Cole scored a goal which was very important. He played really well in terms of attacking dynamism. When he scored the goal the game finished for him. After that I needed 11 players for my defensive organisation and I had just 10. Joe can be a regular but he has to improve when the team needs him to be part of a defensive organisation." The two clashed repeatedly as Cole was relegated to the bench and a bit part role at the Pensioners and, in 2010, he left on a Bosman free transfer to join Liverpool.

Still an England regular, more due to the lack of talent available than anything else, Cole's England team mates, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who had become good friends with each other, persuaded him to move up north for a fresh start, over other offers from closer to home. It turned out to be a disastrous move for Joe, who looked a shadow of the player he was at West Ham, he could barely run and was sent out on a season long loan the following summer with LOSC Lille of France's Ligue 1 taking him. It was fairly successful, but Lille were not impressed enough to make his signing permanent due to his high wages.

Starting the 2012/13 season back at Liverpool, he was bickering with the club over having his contract paid up, which was within his rights, to make a return to his first club West Ham. Liverpool felt that they were doing him a favour by not asking for a fee from the Hammers and letting him move there for nothing. In the end, the move took place in the January transfer window, after the club agreed to pay him off to get rid of him, as it was clear he was not good enough, or fit enough, to make a difference in a good way on the pitch.

The Irons' fans initial excitement at his return was soon dampened after watching him, seeing how he had become a shadow, though a much more rotund shadow, of the player he once was. It was about all he could physically do to make it on to the pitch, mostly through injuries, but also through a lack of basic fitness, as it was more and more clear he was no longer able to complete 90 minutes. He was soon let go, joining Aston Villa on a free transfer on 1st July 2014, where he has once against struggled to make any kind of impact on the pitch, with injuries keeping him sidelined on a regular basis.

The sad tail end to his career is in great contrast from how it began, with a huge hype surrounding him, even as a youngster in the West Ham youth teams, there was talk of how he was the future of English football. Unlike the usual English youth product of the time, he was not tall, he lacked pace and was not built to play long ball football, with the ball constantly in the air. Cole was different, he was not looking to 'get stuck in', he wanted the ball at his feet so he could run at people and try to make things happen.

Unfortunately he always had a tendency to try and do too much himself, always looking for the next flick or trick, rather than looking to create the next chance to score. It reminds me of Peter Beagrie, who would get past his man and then cut back to beat him again and again, rather than getting the ball in to the box while the defence was disorganised. Beagrie just wanted the ball at his feet and to beat people over and over for the fun of it, rather than doing what was best for the team first and foremost.

His ability is without question, there is a real skill there that is among the best, he has the vision to see killer passes and the passing range to play them, he can ghost past a man with ease and do all the fancy flicks, stepovers and tricks to create gaps in the opponent's defence. Cole's low centre of gravity allows him to twist, turn and pirouette through challenges and he has a stocky build that gives him the body strength to hold off an opponent. When he was younger and an emerging talent, he also had a burst of acceleration to help him nip past opponents and to make use of the space he gained when he did beat someone.

In later years injury and a lack of basic fitness have cost him badly, he has lost that acceleration he once possessed and it has left his skills as basically useless. Yes he still has the skill, but, allied to his tendency to take too many touches, that skill no longer creates anything. He beats his man, but the man is back there facing him again before he has had a chance to do anything with the ball. Unless he can learn to change his game, to look to immediately release the ball as soon as he can, then his career is done at the top level sadly.

The technique is still there to score goals like the volley above, but his lack of intelligence means he can no longer get the space and time he once had, lacking the movement of truly top class players. In the past it mattered little, as he was skilled enough to receive the ball under pressure and make himself space, then use that little burst of acceleration to give himself time on the ball. If he had more intelligence about his play, he could have learnt how to change his game to drop deeper and use his passing range and vision to spray the ball about to create for the team.

Unfortunately, Cole still wants the ball at his feet so he can run at people and beat them. His game is still the same immature football of the kid in the playground, looking to keep the ball to themselves and dribbling up the pitch until they lose it. He will have to realise that he is no longer 18, that he no longer can do that on the pitch, that he has to subjugate his own needs to that of the team around him to have any future left in the game.