As the transfer window slammed shut last month, a total of £485 million was spent between all 20 Premier League clubs. The figure meant a rise of around £120 million from the previous summer, yet amid the 33% increase in spending, one of the most eye catching deals was a loan move. Joe Cole to French Champions Lille.
Such is the strength and association with British and home grown players in England, few ever contemplate venturing outside the realms of the Premier or Football Leagues. Yet Cole has always been a special case, having announced himself as a technically excellent outrageously talented teenager, scoring seven times as England beat Spain 8-1 whilst still a school boy.
The race was on for a prospect many believed would be the greatest English player for a generation. He would stay at West Ham, but continued his unconventional rise by being handed the Hammers captaincy at 21. Sleeves rolled up, shirt untucked and with the tongue between his teeth, he tried, but would ultimately fail, to drag West Ham out of relegation danger.
Moves to Chelsea and then Liverpool were sandwiched in between a blossoming England career. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany he was described as the one player in a static Three Lions midfield who could create magic. A stunning goal and assist against Sweden in the group stages proved the pundits right, but as the injuries tolled, his powers began to waiver.
The free transfer switch to Liverpool was supposed to be the turning point. Roy Hodgson promised Cole an starring role as he plotted an Anfield revolution, but a red card on debut, more injury problems and Hodgson's ultimate dismissal left one of England's most exciting talents on the ropes.
At 29, this summer had the look of boom or bust about it for Cole, and for a player who has always been bold and prepared to be different, he swapped the comfort zone of the Premier League for a step into the unknown with Ligue One entertainers Lille.
Based on evidence so far, it appears to have been a master stroke. Under the guidance of the demanding Rudi Garcia, Cole is back playing some of his best football. Garcia has a reputation of rejuvenating players, having transformed the fortunes of players such as Ludovic Obraniak and Rio Mavuba, while blending them with talent like self confessed Cole fan Eden Hazard to build a title winning side.
Garcia's attack orientated style and midfield solidity with Mavuba and the experienced Benoît Pedretti mean Cole's attacking juices can flow. Take away the defensive shackles and add frequent reassuring guidance from the touchlines and passionate fans creating a positive atmosphere, and the Englishman is thriving abroad. Nothing summed this up better than a sublime assist against Saint-Étienne, where he beat four players with a mixture of poise, skill, determination and sheer quality, before laying the ball back for Obraniak to score.
Away from the domestic front, Lille's Champions League campaign continues this evening, as they take on Trabzonspor, who rocked Inter Milan last time out, winning 1-0 at the San Siro. The Turks will be tricky opponents, but Cole, fresh from scoring his first Ligue One goal against Lorient at the weekend, knows this game is about more than three points.
It's just over a year since he missed a penalty against Trabzonspor in the Europa League, as his nightmare start to life at Liverpool continued. Tonight, he has a chance to banish those demons, and with it, give those Premier League doubters a glimpse of what he still has to offer.Reuse content