Joe Cole: From wonderkid to just another name's Shikharr Chandra looks back at the topsy turvy career of Joe Cole and why a move to West Ham could be the midfielder's final destination.
At 19 years of age, Joe Cole's career had taken a huge leap when he established a regular first team spot at West Ham United. The Romford born play-maker was touted by many as the next big thing for the England national side who have always struggled to find a player who could dribble past defenders with his skill. Joe Cole provided all these qualities and a deserved call up from the national side at the age of 19 was yet another high for the midfielder who went onto make 56 appearances for the Three Lions, representing them at four major tournaments.

Joe Cole was a part of a West Ham team that included the likes of Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and there was no question that he was the most talked about player amongst them. When he was 16 years old, there were rumours that Harry Redknapp, the then manager of West Ham United, had rejected a bid by Manchester United for the midfielder. Redknapp said “He is an exciting young lad and I would love to see him go right to the top. He could have gone anywhere as a lad – Manchester United, Arsenal‚ every club in the land wanted him but he chose West Ham and now we are talking about a new contract to show our commitment to him.”

At 17 when Cole finally signed a professional contract in 1998, the announcer at Upton Park said "You can tell your grandchildren you were here when Joe Cole signed,". There was a feeling that this boy was destined for greatness. He was made West Ham captain at the age of 21 under Glen Roeder and although he was in top form, he was unable to prevent the Hammers from getting relegated.

Cole played some of his best football at Chelsea

Although according to many, Cole did not make the most of his talent at Upton Park managing just 10 goals in over 120 appearances for the club but he managed to attract a number of clubs for his flair, fearlessness, tricks and movement which eventually resulted in a move to Chelsea FC. Manager Claudio Ranieri was quick to praise the Englishmen on his move by saying, “Without Gianfranco (Zola), I need a player who can dribble – and I think Joe Cole is that kind of player." Joe Cole was a part of the Russian Revolution that was about to begin at Chelsea under new owner Roman Abramovich.

Cole played an integral part in Chelsea's first Premier League title win in almost 50 years as he took advantage of regular injuries to Damien Duff and Arjen Robben to establish himself as a regular first team player. His performances especially in the Champions League ties against Barcelona and Bayern Munich were ones to stand out, drawing comparisons with England legend Paul Gascoigne. The Chelsea midfielder soon blossomed into one of the exciting and celebrated talents in England.

He continued to improve, impress and his title winning goal against Manchester United in 2006 ascended him to being a star at the London club. Cole was also soon included in the PFA's team of the season and was soon rewarded for his excellent display with an improved contract. Although the player faced usual hiccups of injuries, the crowd did not lose faith as he earned the respect of the fans with his determination, loyalty and skills.

Liverpool was the starting of Joe Cole's end

Blighted by injuries, Cole's game dropped drastically as he lost his place in the England squad and eventually at Chelsea too.

Chelsea decided not to renew his contract after their Premier League and FA Cup winning 2009-10 season  although he put in some consistent performances and scored a crucial goal at Old Trafford that tilted the title race in Chelsea's favour. This prompted then Anfield boss Roy Hodgson to pounce as he brought the Englishmen to Anfield on a free transfer with Yossi Benayoun going the other way. Cole was handed over a four year deal on 90,000 pounds per week.

Steven Gerrard after his move praised Cole saying, "Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better." 

The move was an opportunity for Cole to get more game-time and restore himself to the height of his powers. However, his move to the Merseyside club coincided with a period of transition at Liverpool and that didn't help his cause. Roy Hodgson was soon sacked and in came club legend, Kenny Dalglish in whose eyes the midfielder didn't have a prominent role.

Under Dalglish, Cole was soon relegated to the bench and then was loaned out to Lille.

Move to Lille was seen as an opportunity to save his career

Cole's season long spell at the North of France was deemed a curious one by many, but it turned out to be a success. The move was seen as a delight in France who welcomed a Premier League winner and an England international to their comparatively less-hyped league.

500 Lille fans showed up at Cole's unveiling, proud of the fact that their club managed to attract a talent like the former Chelsea star. Scrambling for autographs, the Lille crowd looked overjoyed. “For me Joe is one of the most Latin English players there is,” Lille boss Rudi Garcia commented, praising his new recruit.

He came on as a substitute on his debut against Saint-Etienne swinging the game back to Lille's favour with a wonderful display. It was a reminiscence of his days back at Chelsea and West Ham. Cole felt loved at his new club as the players and fans welcomed him. Eden Hazard, who was his team-mate during a post match interview said, “We’re going to have a lot of fun together this year” when asked about Joe Cole.

However there were patchy times at Lille as well as the midfielder's fitness issues came back to haunt him, where he lasted for 90 minutes in only 6 of his 42 appearances. Cole turned 30 and the age factor was visible as his performance level started to drop and was soon seen as an impact substitute.

Back to Anfield

After the sacking of Dalglish, former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers was quick to recall the play-maker and was quite clear that the Englishmen was going to be a part of his plans after rejecting a bid by both Lille and Spartak Moscow over the summer.

Under Rodgers, Cole's career started mainly on the bench and a couple of appearances in the Europa League before another injury came calling for the former Chelsea man. It was clear that the Anfield faithful were getting tired of Cole and his regular bout of injuries.

Joe Cole's career stats

Season Appearances Starts Goals Assists Wins Draw Lost Win % % Games Played
2012/13 Liverpool 6 1 0 1 2 3 16.7 29
2011/12 Lille 32 4 3 17 10 5 53.1 84
2010/11 Liverpool 20 2 1 9 2 9 45 53
2009/10 Chelsea 26 2 5 19 4 3 73.1 68
2008/09 Chelsea 14 2 4 7 6 1 50 37
2007/08 Chelsea 33 7 5 20 10 3 60.6 87
2006/07 Chelsea 13 0 0 7 6 0 53.8 34
2005/06 Chelsea 34 7 4 25 4 5 73.5 89
2004/05 Chelsea 28 8 2 21 6 1 75 74
2003/04 Chelsea 35 1 5 21 7 7 60 92
2002/03 West Ham 36 4 3 9 12 15 25 95
2001/02 West Ham 30 0 3 11 7 12 36.7 79
2000/01 West Ham 30 5 2 6 9 15 20 79
1999/00 West Ham 22 1 1 8 8 6 36.4 58
1998/99 West Ham 8 0 0 3 2 3 37.5 21

Rodgers soon promoted the likes of Suso Saez and Raheem Sterling into the first team which left Cole isolated and unwanted at the club. The manager soon became vocal about Cole's time at Liverpool and quite clearly criticised the club for their poor management regarding the Englishman openly questioning his wages as well.

Back Home!

A move back to West Ham could be seen by many as the last opportunity for Joe Cole to revive his dipping career. Expectations might be low as he is not the same teenager who sparkled at Upton Park before. He showed glimpses of that form of old following his impressive debut performance 2-2 draw at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup.

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