I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love Joe Cole.
Whilst there’s plenty out there who’ll point to your John Terry’s or your Frank Lampard’s when it comes to their favourite Chelsea players – not for me. For me, Joe Cole epitomises what I want from a player at Chelsea. Over the years I’ve always thought he’s had more asked of him than most of our players and yet during that time I can’t ever remember hearing him whinge about it. In fact, time and again, Joe Cole does the exact opposite.
You see, every time Joe Cole has been asked to prove himself, he’s done just that – and what’s more, he’s ready to do it again. Having come back from a lengthy period of time out with a knee injury, Cole insists “I’ve still got a lot to prove. If I want to play the No 10 position for Chelsea, I’ve got to get back better than I was before. I feel like Chelsea are looking at me and saying, “We want you to prove you can be that player for us”. I’ve got to prove myself again but that’s all right, I’ve had to prove myself all my life.”
Despite constant competition for places and speculation around potential replacements, Cole doesn’t let any of it bother him and remains focused on what he has to do, stating “If you look at it, since Mourinho got here, in the last four or five years, I’ve played more than I didn’t. I played more than the other fellas in the title-winning sides. I’ve done it once, I’ll do it again, whoever they sign. If I’m fit and playing my stuff, I know in my heart I can do it. But I’m not stupid enough to imagine it’s going to happen six weeks after I’ve not played for nine months. If I was picking a team to play in, then I’d play a diamond and I’d play in that position behind the strikers. Of course I would. But Deco would put himself in. I’ve had some great games and I’ve had some poor games. There’s not much in between for me at the moment. It’s frustrating. In training you’re trying and things just ain’t working like they were before and it’s just the body getting used to doing everything again. I’m not being funny, but if I’m going to be playing in the team, I have to be the best player on the pitch. In that position, you have to be the one that’s making things happen and dictating the pace of the game. You can’t just come in as a right back or holding midfielder and have 10 games steady. I’ve got to come in and make things happen. That’s not blowing my own trumpet. That’s the demands of the position I play in.”
Joe Cole received national media attention as a schoolboy, with Manchester United rumoured to have offered £10million for him as a 16 year old. He made his debut for West Ham at 17 and now 28, reflects on the pressures that sort of attention can bring, saying “Theo was the most similar to me because he was getting the attention before he’d achieved anything. Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen burst on to the scene at 17 ready to go. At 17, I was still a kid. I got by with my technique and desire. I wasn’t physically ready to be the player I am now. It took me years and it took Theo a few years to develop. I was saying that to him. He’s a cracking lad, he’s a great player and his head is screwed on. He’s going to be a big player for England for many years. We’ve got a thing in this country about pushing people forward. It’s because we want someone. You see Gael Kakuta come on and have a good 20 minutes and then he’s supposed to change games for us. That’s a lot of pressure for the lad.”
But that’s exactly the sort of pressure Joe Cole has coped with himself and he’s managed to do that without getting carried away with the hype. Whilst there’s plenty of players out there only too happy to have their egos massaged in the press, Cole insists “I’ve always been scared of people seeing me as different. I worry they see me as a Flash Harry. Someone told me there’s a saying that fame doesn’t change you but other people change towards you. I didn’t like it when I was on the front of the papers as a kid. My life changed from there. People just look at you different and talk to you different. It’s never sat comfortably with me. If I could turn back the clock, I’d prefer not to have it. Kids at school thought I was earning five grand a week at 16, which I weren’t by the way. I was earning nothing apart from my £20 a week pocket money from my dad. Some were a little bit more aggressive towards me. Some of the girls were nicer though. There’s always a silver lining.”
Obviously he got the girl, because having married Carly in the summer, they’re expecting their first child in March 2010. So what’s next for the committed midfielder? Well, when it comes to playing towards his thirties, the down to earth Cole has his rivals in mind – as his role models. Because when he thinks about playing on past 30, it’s players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs he identifies as his inspiration, saying “I look at Giggsy and just think he’s the guv’nor, what a legend. I’ve just got so much respect for him. And Scholesy and Gary Neville, all them boys. It’s the way to go, especially Giggsy. I got his shirt a few years back and I’d probably say it’s one of the best shirts I’ve got. I’d like to be able to be playing like him at his age. A lot of players my age could retire and live the same lifestyle. But I don’t do it for the money. I like the money, don’t get me wrong. But hunger is in your character. How can you question someone like John Terry? He’ll put his head in the way of a bus if it means winning a game of football.”
But for me, whilst he clearly still looks up to his captain, there’s one thing that stands Joe Cole apart – even from players like John Terry – because when it comes to his future at Chelsea, Cole is very clear, stating “I want nothing more than to stay at Chelsea, I love it here. It’s not a problem. I don’t want a drama in the papers, either. You won’t hear my agent running around saying I’m going to this club or that club. I want to be at Chelsea and they know that.”
And for me, that sums up everything we need to hear. Top man.