Time Cole left Liverpool in search of his final challenge
Once upon a time, Joe Cole was a fairytale made flesh. He was young, gifted and coveted. But as the boy grew into a man, reality intervened. Ambushed by injury and assailed by sudden self-doubt, he found himself at Liverpool, trapped in a waking nightmare.
Cole’s career at Anfield started badly, thanks to a red card on his Premier League debut against Arsenal, and went downhill from there. Two years on, having spent more time in the treatment room than on the training pitch, he attracts more attention on the balance sheet than the teamsheet.
It is not his fault that Liverpool gave him a four-year contract worth in the region of £22m, despite the misgivings of manager Rafa Benítez (who had been sacked by the time Cole arrived). But it makes him vulnerable at a time when Brendan Rodgers needs to reduce the wage bill in order to give himself wriggle room in the transfer market.
Rodgers is yet to start Cole in the Premier League, though there have been glimpses of the natural talent which anointed him as the chosen one when he emerged at West Ham. His measured and respectful response to scoring against his former club at Upton Park last Sunday underlined the personal qualities that make him a popular figure.
Footballers have an instinctive respect for someone with Cole’s technical ability, and the response of Liverpool supporters to his latest comeback suggests the discontent about the lack of return on the club’s investment is beginning to dilute. His approachability also ensures most of the media give him the benefit of the doubt.
There is, however, no avoiding the harsh truth that, at 31, Cole faces a stark choice. He may be suited to the Spanish-style false No9 role that fits so perfectly with Rodgers’ philosophy, but it would be naive to suggest that he has won his manager’s trust. Realistically, he can either run down his contract and continue in a lucrative limbo, or give his career the denouement it deserves.
He is intelligent enough as a player to adapt to an inevitable reduction in pace and mobility. His successful loan spell at Lille, which the French club wish to repeat, proved his ability to adjust to differing demands and contrasting cultures. He will fit in well in most dressing rooms.
He should put Liverpool down to experience, and give his story a fitting final chapter elsewhere.
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