Sun, goals and assists: Joe Cole on how Tampa Bay Rowdies restored his love of football

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The former Premier League star admits his love for the sport had stalled until he went to the new tropical surroundings across the Atlantic Ocean


EXCLUSIVE

Joe Cole counts the 76th minute of the 4-1 win versus Southend, on 14 January 2009, as a pivotal moment in his career as his cruciate ligament injury changed the way he trained, and played, forever. 

His speed of thought remained in tact, as did his love of the game, but after a free transfer to Liverpool he soon realised that his late career would be beset with injuries and that he would struggle to handle the demands of top level football. 

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The much-loved son of an East London market trader was pushing himself to make an impact at Anfield where he suffered a reoccurrence of his knee problems. Cole's journey took him to Lille to play alongside Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet, then to Coventry City and Aston Villa, dropping down the English leagues to continue his career. 

He has now made as many appearances for Tampa Bay in 13 months he had done in the two years before it in England, and says the tropical heat of Florida has brought back much of what he had lost. 

"For sure [I doubted myself in England]," Cole told Goal at the Tampa Museum of Art. "My knee injury in my last season at Chelsea was a big factor in that. It was a big game changer for me as a player and getting back to my top level after that was proving difficult. 

Joe Cole in Tampa Bay

"I was breaking down, the more I pushed myself, the more I broke down. I basically now think, less is more. I cut a lot of stuff out. I train when I feel good, I listen to my body. I am getting better and better. I feel as good now as when I was 30, while I am still enjoying it, I will keep playing. 

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"You eat better naturally in this sort of climate. You eat fresh fish and vegetables. You are out in the pool a lot, walking, keeping your body moving. All these factors led to better health.

"This option just came out of the blue really. I wasn’t really looking for it. When I left Aston Villa, my body let me down. My mind still wanted to play football but it didn’t know whether my body could. I went to Coventry to see if I still had the joy and the love of the game. 

"I wanted to see if my body would also let me. It did and I changed a few things in my preparation. This came out of the blue, I came out for a holiday here and it just looked great so it was a good decision."

Cole is still loved in England. His 56 caps for his country are remembered most by his famous volley against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup, a rare moment of glory in a disappointing two decades for the Three Lions.

At Chelsea, his boyhood club, Cole made 250 appearances and gained eight major honours, ensuring he will always be remembered at Stamford Bridge. However, he has found a new focus and that's on getting the Tampa Bay Rowdies into Major League Soccer. 

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"We want to win the league," Cole said as his side drew 1-1 with Rochester Rhinos, despite his strike in the first half. "It is a play-off system. It is an American league so it is all down to the play-offs so first of all. We want to get into the play-offs which is the top eight out of sixteen. 

"We are sitting high at the minute. We want to go and win the title. Off the pitch, it is continuing the marketing and everything so we can bring an MLS team to Tampa Bay which would be a great thing for the city and a great thing for the fans. Everyone is buzzing and excited about that. 

"The club is ready for it. This town is amazing - when people set their sights to things, Bill, the owner and other people here. They live in America, it is the land of opportunity. It will be done, I am pretty sure [that it will happen]. The day will come for it. 

"That’s the dream, to be part of it, it would be nice to come back here one day, maybe in five years time and see the team established as one of the top teams in the MLS. 

"Soccer is growing out here, with time it could be anything, it could be competing with European league and all that. It is moving at a rate. Kids love it, every kid plays it. It is going in the right direction."

US Soccer is fragmented compared to leagues in Europe and the Rowdies will have to apply to the MLS to be promoted. The club has been a financial success but they are aiming to be one of the MLS four expansion side which, if they get it, would kick start their plans to expand their stadium.

The Rowdies have more history than almost every club in the United States and some in Tampa Bay will still remember the 1970s where they won the NASL in their first season in the competition with attendances reaching a high of 42,000 for their 5-1 win over the New York Cosmos.  

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Manchester City legend Rodney Marsh was firing the Rowdies to glory in the 70s and now Cole, who was brought up on stories of Marsh from his Man City supporting grandad, is trying to do the same thing. 

Cole is into his second season with the Rowdies with four goals and three assists in his 12 games for the club so far. He hopes he will continue playing football but he admits that he is already thinking about his career in coaching after he retires from the game. 

"I will play on, while I am still enjoying it," Cole added. "It is a hard question to answer [whether I will retire at the end of the season]. I am not avoiding it but it is just something that you don’t know but I will be in football, I will stay in football in the coaching or managing side for sure. 

Joe Cole quote

"I enjoy it. I am in a blessed position where I don’t have to be doing something that I don’t like. So my passion is to be in coaching or managing, I am doing something I like and I will go down that road. 

"I do bits and pieces [of coaching]. I am doing my coaching badges. I am finishing them off at IMG, the local academy. I am doing well over there. I will be working with England and the FA. I have done a bit of work when I have gone home with the local teams. 

"You just try to get as much experience when you can. I have enjoyed it so far. I have dipped my toes in and taken my toes out. Let’s see what happens when I do it day-in, day-out but I am pretty sure I still will."

Cole is joined by a host of his ex-team mates including John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole as players who are all making the transition into coaching. However, Didier Drogba has picked a unique path from the group and he has decided to purchase a stake in Pheonix Rising FC, a club at the same level as the Rowdies in the USA. 

Drogba recently scored on his debut for Pheonix, and Cole revealed his chat with one of Chelsea's greatest ever legends.

"Yes, I spoke to him the other day. He is very happy. It is a lovely place that they are in, Scottsdale, beautiful part of the world," Added Cole. "That club is literally a club affiliated with another club and they only had a pop up stadium that they built in three months. 

"They are filling out every week, selling out. People just can’t get enough of it. There are so many opportunities for people over here."

Cole went on to joke that he hopes his friends in London don't find out about his new found love of museums and culture since his move to a new continent - as he tries to take his chance to take in as much off the field as possible. 

"I enjoy life here," he said. "We live next to the Salvador Dali Museum and are near to the stadium so we like to pop in there. We travel too, we are lucky enough to travel too as footballers. We go all over America as well. 

"We were in Louisville the other day, we went to the Muhammad Ali Center, that was amazing. We are going to go to New York in September and things like that. I like to look around, listen to the birds and see the world. It is a great life. As you get older, you appreciate it a bit more."

Joe Cole | Chelsea

Cole has a young family with three children and his sons Max and Harry came along to the interview to experience the Glazer Children's Museum in the child friendly tourist destination. He has lots of visitors from England throughout the year, who use his house as a spot to experience the sun of Florida. 

"Everyone loves it, it is a holiday destination," he added. "You have got Disneyland around the corner, Busch Gardens, the beaches are some of the best in the world. Certainly the best in America. It is a great place to come on holiday and visit.

"I am inundated with visitors. I may as well set up a bed and breakfast. I’ve also had messages from all sorts of people. From players, people in merchandising catering, so many people want to come and work here."

Tampa Bay is a city that is blessed with sporting excellence. They have the Tampa Bay Rays for the baseball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for american football and the Tampa Bay Lightning for ice hockey and they now want their own MLS team. 

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