By Kevin Koczwara
“I would hope (I’ve returned to Liverpool a better player) because I am all about that. I love my football, I love training and I love learning – and I did learn a lot out there. It opened my eyes to a new way of approaching football and the continental way. I really loved the style of play we had – not many teams in the Premier League use it,” Joe Cole told Liverpool’s official website.
“I’m always trying to learn, pick up new things and improve myself. What else are you going to do? I strive to get better every day.”
When Joe Cole signed for Liverpool in the summer of 2010 I was happy he chose the club, that he didn’t carry a transfer price, and that Liverpool, for once in recent memory, pipped the clubs in London to sign a talented and accomplished player. Roy Hodgson’s appointment was another story, one where I think I lost a few years of my life because I was so bewildered by the appointment.
Then Cole was sent off in his first appearance for the team and there were countless disappointing performances before being he went to the recovery ward with injuries. Hodgson was replaced, but it was too late. The damage had already been done. The team wasted money on Cole and wasted valuable time and assets to hire Hodgson and allow him to sign players.
Two summers on, Liverpool is in better shape, but the lingering memory of the first half of the 2010/11 Premier League Season still leaves a bitter taste. It’s still the summer where Liverpool went from being close to contending for a top-four place — at least within reach — to a team searching for its soul and for players who could rekindle the glory. With Cole’s return to the team from his loan spell in Ligue 1 with Lille, it’s time for him to show the team, and the fans, that he is part of the re-building and not an unwanted leftover with a bloated contract
Cole was once the wonderboy of English soccer. Since signing with Liverpool he’s became a laughing stock, though. An overpaid player without a position or the know how. He was let go by Chelsea on a Bosman for a reason, and Liverpool should have known. But it didn’t. And the move didn’t work out.
A loan move was needed to revitalize Cole’s career. Off he went to Lille in France and Cole succeeded. Now he’s back on the Merseyside training with the new boss, Brendan Rodgers, and hoping to make an impact, again, because he doesn’t want to be perceived as a failure who took too big of a bite from the apple when he signed with Liverpool for all that money.
“I don’t want to leave Liverpool one day having not been a success here or having left something here. I want to make an imprint at the club,” Cole told Liverpool’s official website.
“I’ve been a success at West Ham, Chelsea and Lille – I don’t want people to be able to say that I haven’t here.”
Good news for Cole: there is still time for him to be a success. Well, a relative success.
France has become a hot supply line for Premier League clubs in recent years. Several of the world’s “next big thing” (see Edin Hazard, Gourcuff, Yann M’Villa, Gervinho, and all the others) have come through the ranks at one French club or another. Each team in the Premier League is scouting Ligue 1 for the next player, the next breakthrough, because the prices coming out of Ligue 1 are fair and not the astronomical ones demanded by teams in Portugal – another well established feeder league – or the Netherlands.
For Cole, France was another shot at rejuvenating his dead corpse of a career. It was a chance for him to explore new territory as an english player on foreign soil. It was a place where he could learn how to play in new systems. It was a place where he found a home. Liverpool now hopes Cole’s time in France was the wake-up call he needed. The team hopes he can become the player it thought it was signing in the summer of 2010 to that big – way too big – salary.
At Lille Cole was the kind of playmaker the team lost when Gervinho signed for Arsenal that summer after winning the league. Cole got a chance to play on the opposite wing as Hazard, now a Chelsea player, and got a chance to operate with plenty of freedom as a winger with creative license, for the most part. He got a chance to retool his bag of tricks and a chance to learn how to play a different brand of soccer. Most importantly, he got a chance to get away from the team as it struggled to rid itself from the stigma and attitude it had acquired during Hodgson’s reign. Kenny Dalglish restored sanity at the club, but he couldn’t quite heal the damage done during the 2010/11 season (some of it his own doing in the transfer market). Now Cole gets to return on a high after playing well overseas. He gets a clean slate to show what he’s learned.
Cole made such an impression on Lille that the team wanted him back this season, but couldn’t afford him. He’s back on English soil with something to prove. He needs to show the Premier League and Liverpool he’s worth that kind of money and that his one season at Lille wasn’t a fluke. He needs to show that he still has something more to give. If he doesn’t, Rodgers and the rest of the Liverpool staff needs to find a way to move him on, because there isn’t time or room for a player with that kind of salary during a rebuilding period.