One of the first decisions to be made at Liverpool is deciding the fringe players we keep, and which ones we sell. One of these players is Attacking Midfielder Joe Cole. While I've seen a lot of people quickly dismissing Cole as deadwood on this blog, I'd like to take a closer examination of his career and what he can bring to the table before making a decision. I hope you don't mind.
Most child prodigies burn out in the long haul, but there isn't much precedent for being sought after at age 16 by Manchester United and being part of the England National Team's future plans. While all athletes deal with pressure, Cole had to do it while he was a mere kid, playing in a talent rich West Ham youth system with high expectations starting at the age of 14.
Nonetheless, the pressure didn't seem to bother Cole. His progression through the West Ham Academy was steady, and he made his first team debut in 1998 at the age of 17 (think Raheem Sterling with more hype). By 2003, Cole had quickly developed into a technically gifted midfielder who could pick out the final pass but also finish (only on his right foot, as his weak footed abilities are notoriously bad) and was named as the West Ham Captain that year. Unfortunately for Cole, 2003 was also the year that West Ham were relegated, and so it was time to move on. In his time with the Hammers, Cole accumulated 13 goals and 18 assists.
Cole's move to Chelsea made him, at least for a time, into a true star. He was a driving force in Chelsea's 2004 Premiership title capture, as he scored nine goals from his midfield position, at the time a personal best. The next year, however, he bested himself again with 11 goals and a 4-year contract extension. That year (2005-6 season), he also came through greatly in the clutch with a goal against Manchester United which helped seal a second consecutive title race.
After a previously pain-free career, Cole caught the injury bug, spoiling most of his remaining time at Chelsea. Perhaps it was from all the pressure starting at such a young age causing his body to finally break down, but maybe it just started as a fluke injury to his knee that never healed right. Aside from a strong 2007-8 season, Cole never really got his form back in a Chelsea uniform.
The reason why Liverpool decided to buy Cole was because his name alone brought optimism to Anfield the summer Hodgson was hired, but also because it was well known that the talent was still there. I honestly believe everything might have worked out fine the first time around in Red if not for the red card on the opening day of the season which cost us a vital home win against Arsenal. After serving his ban, Cole never seemed to be a top choice with Roy Hodgson, and when he did play in the Europa league, he wasn't very good. When Dalglish took over things didn't change for Cole and he quietly was loaned to French club Lille over the summer. I thought I wouldn't hear much about him again, but things happen.
New settings can bring back a player's spark, and that's just what happened in France with Cole. He scored 9 goals and had 3 assists, returning to his old form. On moving to Lille, Cole said, "If you add all the minutes together, I played maybe six games at Liverpool, which is not enough. All I need is playing time to find my best." (from LFChistory.net) This seems like a spot on comment from Cole, but the problem is whether or not there is playing time to be had at Liverpool.
If he plays at a similar level to last season, I think he is better than some of the options we have. In a CAM role, he is better than Adam and at this point Hendo, but he'll still most definitely be a role player, something he doesn't want. The dilemma is that he fits Brendan Rodgers' system very well and has the ability to win us games, but there just isn't a good starting place for him at the moment, especially with injury concerns. At the end of the day, Joe Cole should and probably will be sold, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him succeed elsewhere.
Can't decide on whether to do another post like this on Aqua. Vote "Yes" if my Joe Cole analysis interested you.