Cole in right shape to fit England's hole

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The Independent Football

The patient waiting and the years of hard work are paying off at last. Joe Cole, the midfielder who sat on more benches last season than a circuit judge, is starting Premiership matches and playing like the match-winner he always knew he could be. By the middle of next week, he could be an England regular as well.

The patient waiting and the years of hard work are paying off at last. Joe Cole, the midfielder who sat on more benches last season than a circuit judge, is starting Premiership matches and playing like the match-winner he always knew he could be. By the middle of next week, he could be an England regular as well.

While Jose Mourinho's arrival at Chelsea has provided the impetus to revive the 22-year-old's club career, Cole may now also be given the opportunity to make his breakthrough for England. The retirement of Paul Scholes from international football has left a gap in what had appeared to be an impregnable England midfield.

As Sven Goran Eriksson, the England head coach, considers his options before the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers away to Austria on Saturday and Poland next Wednesday, he knows that Cole is the man in form. Given the opportunity to play in the role he likes best, in the hole behind the strikers, Cole has quickly repaid the faith shown in him by Chelsea's new manager. Four wins in four Premiership matches have given Mourinho the perfect start and nobody has impressed more than Cole.

"I'm really enjoying it because I'm playing in the position that I like to play," Cole said at England's Hertfordshire training camp yesterday.

"I haven't had the chance to play there since I was playing in youth teams. And the way we've played, passing the ball around, has really helped me to enjoy it.

"I try to get on the ball, keep the game moving, keep passing the ball. There's a lot of running involved as well. Some people see it as luxury position, but when I've played there before I've actually done more running than when I was a regular midfielder, because you have to make sure you're on the ball. That's your job."

Mourinho made it clear from the start where he wanted to play Cole. "He always played with that type of player at Porto and he wants Chelsea to play that way," Cole said. "It's early days for the team, but I think we've put in some decent performances and we're only going to get better."

If last season's statistics told everything about Cole's failure to make his mark under Claudio Ranieri - 17 of the midfielder's 35 Premiership appearances were as a substitute - his position on the fringes has been even more pronounced at international level. Of his 17 caps, 15 have been won from the bench and he has yet to start a competitive match.

England's midfield starting personnel had become clearly established under Eriksson, with David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Scholes starting all four matches in Portugal this summer. The unexpected retirement of Scholes, however, has suddenly left a gap. Eriksson is giving few clues as to who will fill the hole, but Cole must fancy his chances.

"I feel I can offer the team a different dimension, whether it's coming off the left, or playing in the middle, or wherever," Cole said. "Playing in the hole is my best position, but there are many players in the England team playing in what they would say is not their favourite position. Because it's your country you'll play anywhere and that's the same for me."

Has he been frustrated by his lack of chances for England? "I'm still doing what I dreamed of as a kid, so it wouldn't be right to say that I feel frustrated," Cole said. "Every player wants to be the absolute number one, but I'm learning and I wouldn't want to change anything. I'm still 22. There's still a lot of football to be played. I'm only looking to the future, to be doing the best for my country when I get the chance."

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