I have to say I was less than impressed to see Joe Cole left out of England’s starting line-up on Wednesday night, particularly with Fabio Capello suggesting he’d be putting out a full-strength squad with the World Cup qualifiers in mind. But I’m even less impressed to see that the England manager apparently considers playing Stevie Me in Cole’s left-sided position as a stronger option. Is he serious?
I just don’t understand why Joe Cole is expected to repeatedly prove himself be it at club or international level. From the minute Cole joined Chelsea for £6,000,000 in 2003 he’s struggled to hold down a place with both Chelsea and England. In fact, rumour has it, with the ink barely dry following his transfer, Claudio Ranieri wanted to loan him out to CSKA Moscow. Cole refused and was subsequently left on the sidelines for much of the 2003-4 season.
Cole’s next season saw him endure public criticism from his new boss, Jose Mourinho because despite scoring the winning goal against Liverpool, his leaning towards attacking football meant he’d neglected his defensive duties. Indeed, Cole was substituted shortly after scoring, suggesting “after Cole scored, the game ended for him. We were playing with ten men afterwards because Cole stopped running, stopped playing.”
Cole meanwhile was taking all this on board, and with Robben taking up a regular place on the physio’s couch, Joe took the opportunity to become one of the stars of our title winning side, picking up a starting place in the England team along the way. He even managed to move up Chelsea’s pecking order in the first half of the following season despite even more competition provided by the arrival of Shaun Wright-Phillips. He ended that season scoring a solo goal that saw us clinch the title against Manchester United and was named in the PFA’s team of the season.
2006/7 saw Cole miss the first three months for Chelsea along with England’s first four Euro 2008 qualifying games following a knee injury picked up pre-season. And in January 2007 Cole underwent surgery for a stress fracture of his foot – not one of Chelsea’s better season’s either strangely enough.
Last season however, arguably Cole’s best at Chelsea to date, the 26 year old midfielder justifiably earned praise from both the manager and media, winning the Chelsea Fans Player of the Year award into the bargain.
And yet here we are again at the start of a new season and already Cole’s place is rumoured to be under threat with the possible acquisition of Robinho, whilst England, who after years of being desperate for a naturally left-sided player appear to be overlooking the one they have in favour of Gerrard.
Whilst I was certainly one of many who found him frustrating during his early days, swinging from either watching him open-mouthed to finding my head strangely attracted to the nearest wall, that Joe Cole has changed. He has a discipline and team ethic now that was missing in his younger showboating days, but more importantly, despite Mourinho’s best efforts, he still has something that sets him apart from the rest of England’s midfield on Wednesday night – flair. Because whilst I’m not going to suggest Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Barry don’t have their own attributes, what they don’t have is the necessary spark that can turn a game in the same way as Cole can.
You see, even on another dire England night, if it hadn’t been for Joe Cole popping up with a late equaliser right at the death, it could’ve been even more pitiful. And yet, even in the face of such obvious disappointment at being benched, again, Cole has responded by vowing to fight for a starting place for the qualifiers.
Following the game, Cole said “It was disappointing yes, I have had a good start to the season at Chelsea. Maybe the gaffer looked at that I missed the first two weeks of pre-season, I don’t know. But I will be hoping to start against Andorra and Croatia. Fingers crossed I’ll get the nod against Andorra and we will go from there. But I’m happy to play anywhere for England and I’m fortunate that I can play anywhere across the middle or frontline.”
When will these managers ever learn?