Nothing 'average' about Joe at Anfield

July 21, 2010

A mercurial genius, a wizard of dribble, and an Englishman disguised in Brazilian clothing are just some of the descriptions that have been handed down to perhaps the most skillful player of his generation -- and yet at 28-years-old, Liverpool’s bold new signing, Joe Cole, still has something to prove.

For many critics, the Chelsea years (2003-2010), were the lost ones despite three Premiership medals and two FA and League Cup crowns. After his almost $13 million dollar move from West Ham United to Stamford Bridge, the world was supposedly his oyster.

Here was a youngster that was different from all the rest -- one who had proven it time and time again, even as a teenager. They loved him at Upton Park and they’d do the same in West London, but for some reason it never panned out the way I expected it to.

Here was the local boy that made it good and had all the tools. Perhaps it was too easy for him in his hometown and perhaps this is why he has shunned both Arsenal and Tottenham to ply his trade in one of the toughest, most demanding theaters in football -- Anfield.


On Merseyside he’ll be joining his England teammate Steven Gerrard, who said, “It’s a great signing for us. I know Joe well through the England set-up and have seen first hand just how good a player he is.”

He also added, “Joe’s the sort of exciting talent our fans will love to see.”

That last statement must be music to the ears of the Kop faithful because Cole is the type of player who could quickly work his way into their affection. The question is whether Liverpool can give Cole the role that will allow him dominate football matches in a way he hasn’t managed since Jose Mourinho’s heyday at the Bridge, and that was only fleetingly.

It has been well documented that Cole can comfortably play on either wing but he does have a preference that has been ignored by successive managers. "I want to play in a more central position and I want a manager who has faith in me," he said at a recent press conference. That speaks volumes.

Flair, creative, original players often need the proverbial ‘arm around the shoulder.’ They need to feel wanted, loved, and appreciated because they’re the players with the ‘stones’ to try the unexpected. As you well know, the unexpected doesn’t always ‘come off’ and it's how the manager reacts that can often determine the amount of playing time one will see.

Looking at the cast of characters and the pressure that managers have been under while managing the Blues, you can see why Cole may have often been regarded as a luxury and left in the wilderness. Will new Liverpool boss, Roy Hodgson, come to that realization?

Or will he, after giving Cole the number seven jersey, see that he has something as special as Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan -- both previous owners of that famed number. The next four years will tell that tale.

I think in some ways, it’s a risky move by all concerned. Cole has never played outside of the bright lights of the capital. Liverpool have been burned by big name signings recently (bar Fernando Torres) and Hodgson doesn’t have a great deal of experience managing a big club other than two years at Inter Milan in the 90’s. Yet something also tells me that the ingredients fit.

The expectations for Liverpool while massive compared to many clubs will be understated this season. Qualification for the UEFA Champions League is the goal and anything over and above this would be a huge bonus. This lowered expectation could relieve some of the burden and pressure they’ve been feeling for the last few seasons.

Hodgson is tactically minded in the Rafa Benitez mold, however he does have a better sense of what the league table means to Liverpool supporters. I don’t think he’ll chop and change his team as much as the Spaniard and this will play into Cole’s hands.

The Londoner is a form player who needs a run of games and I honestly think Hodgson will improve Cole as a player. After recovering from 10 months out with a ruptured cruciate ligament, he has the hunger and desire to become a Liverpool legend.

I think he wants to prove to Chelsea that they made a big mistake in letting him go as a free agent and I also believe that there are some untold stories. When asked why he was leaving, Cole said, “I loved my time at Chelsea, I love the fans but it is a story for another day and I will tell it but now is not the time.”

Sunday, November 7th could well be the day that Cole lets us in on his little secret as the Blues visit Anfield. Mark it down.

Nick Webster is a senior writer for covering the English national team and the Barclay's Premier League.