By Arun Nair
After just 45 minutes of the Capital One Cup tie against Swansea, Brendan Rodgers had seen enough. With Liverpool trailing 1-0 to a header from Chico, Joe Cole was substituted. The pre-match talk had indicated that the former England star would be given a chance to impress against the Welsh side, but after an ineffective showing Cole was hauled off to be replaced by Steven Gerrard.
When Cole joined Liverpool in the summer of 2010, he was hailed as an inspired signing by then Reds manager Roy Hodgson. After being released by Chelsea, Cole received offers from Arsenal and Tottenham, but opted to leave the familiarity of London and head up north to join Liverpool.
The transfer captured the imagination of the Anfield faithful. After a dismal performance in the Premier League the season before, finishing 7th under the tenure of Hodgson’s predecessor Rafa Benitez, the Reds fans believed that Cole could be the inspiration to catapult their side back where they belonged, back into the Champions League. Gerrard was quick to praise his new teammate, speaking of his delight at his signing and that “Joe Cole can do things even Lionel Messi can’t do.” Such praise from the captain increased anticipation levels around Anfield, and fans couldnt wait to see the new man perform for the Reds.
However, things didn’t go quite the way the Reds faithful had expected. Cole was sent off on his Premier League debut against Arsenal, before missing a penalty against Trabzonspor in the Europa League. He grabbed a first goal against Steaua Bucharest in Europe, but struggled for form and fitness throughout Hodgson’s ill-fated spell.
When Kenny Dalglish returned to the Anfield dugout in January 2011, Cole had a new manager to impress. However, he was relegated to the bench, making several cameo appearances without threatening to regain a first team place.
Cole was allowed to go out on loan, and surprisingly elected to join French champions Lille for the 2011-12 season. He took the opportunity to impress, scoring 9 goals in 42 appearances, in his most productive season in terms of goals since 2007-08. Lille boss Rudi Garcia expressed a desire to keep Cole, but new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers offered Cole a reprieve, and the midfielder rejoined the squad for the 2012-13 campaign.
Cole was accompanied as a returning loanee by Alberto Aquilani. Many Reds fans prefered the classy Italian to be retained, rather than Cole. A player seemingly a perfect fit for Rodgers’ system, an elegant passer with creativity in abundance. However, with questions concerning the Italian’s mentality, he was sold to Fiorentina, and Cole was staying put. The Reds even reportedly turned down an offer from Spartak Moskow, such was Rodgers’ desire to give Cole a second chance, while other fringe players such as Liverpool legend Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez were allowed to leave.
Cole made his first start since his return against Gomel in the Europa League, but limped off injured midway through the first period. He returned in time for the beginning of the Premier League, coming on as a second half substitute in the defeat at West Brom, but Cole lasted just 10 minutes before succumbing to injury once more.
The latest injury kept Cole out until October. He made an uninspiring return as a sub in the goalless draw against Stoke, but found a regular place out of reach, with Raheem Sterling, Suso, Oussama Assaidi and even Stewart Downing ahead of him in the pecking order.
But then his big chance came. Rodgers started him, amongst a team including both youth and other players out to prove a point, against Swansea.
Cole failed to deliver, virtually anonymous in midfield. Even then, he had a chance to make an impression, but could only send a weak header into the grateful grasp of Gerhard Tremmel in the Swansea goal.
With his contract running until 2014, Cole has to face a choice: Stay at Liverpool, on the fringes, on wages of reportedly between £90,000 to £120,000, well above his worth to the side, or leave in search of first team football, and in doing so almost certainly take a wage cut. At 31, Joe Cole’s best years are behind him. But, as proven at Lille, he still could have something to offer. It hasn’t worked out at Liverpool. However, Cole does have quality. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Cole can still be an important part of a team.
But that team isn’t Liverpool. Joe Cole has given everything but that hasn’t been enough. Fans don’t like to see players fail at their club, but Cole hasn’t lived up to his billing as the signing to transform Liverpool’s fortunes. Cole’s future depends on whether he accepts defeat at Liverpool and moves on.
Only time will tell.