Cole revels in role as Eriksson's special one

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The Independent Online

He has long been considered the Latino-style footballer who acquired his football education in Islington or England's little ray of Brazilian sunshine - either way, there were few who acclimatised to the heat in Frankfurt quite like Joe Cole. The child prodigy has finally made his mark on the World Cup and nothing was going to prevent him from savouring the three points harvested against Paraguay.

Cole, who agreed a new four-year deal with Chelsea yesterday, is 24 now but he seems to have been waiting a lifetime to announce himself on the world stage. Along the way he has heard so many times the old theory about how Jose Mourinho finally changed him from a show-pony into an international midfielder that he must be tired of being patronised. Ask him who he rates as the greatest influence in his career and he tells you it is Glenn Roeder, his former manager at West Ham.

Whatever your views on how England played in the second half against Paraguay on Saturday, half an hour in the company of Cole makes England's World Cup progress sound a lot more positive. "Proper baking," was Cole's memory of the weather and, quite apart from the dehydration, he has more reason to feel disorientated than any other - Chelsea's right winger plays on England's left and finished on Saturday behind the striker.

"I'm not going to make excuses," he said of Saturday's second half, "we didn't play as well as we could but we got the job done - it was a fighting performance." You can sneer at the willingness to look on the positive side but when Cole sums up the pressure that surrounded England's first World Cup match, he gave a snapshot of the weight of expectation on that team lining up in the boiling heat of the Waldstadion.

"The tension surrounding the first game, every time you look at a telly, you listen to the radio or pick up a paper over the last three months it's been about England and the World Cup and how the country expects," he said. "You go out there and you know the expectation and you know every move will be scrutinised and looked over - every touch and every pass. You just want to get the job done, I think we will be more free and flowing over the next few games."

That is the sincere hope of most England fans. Few players will be more central to the change than Cole who has been pushed round the side like a spare chair and admitted that he did not have "much in the tank" to take advantage of being played in the hole behind the striker in the closing stages. For years he protested this was the position he was born to play, but these days he admits that his preference has changed. "I've played winger for the last two years," he said, "so I just like to think of myself as a footballer."

Cole's debut for England was more than five years ago but he made one fleeting appearance against Sweden in the 2002 World Cup and none at all in Portugal at Euro 2004. Much has been made about how Mourinho has, sometimes brutally, tamed the entertainer in Cole and fashioned him into a more durable, significant footballer. Cole's version of events suggests a progress that is much different.

"Throughout my career, there have always been expectations of me from a young age and people wanted me to be a world-class player at 19 when I came into the England side," he said. "I look at it then and I was a stone lighter than I am now, I was still a boy and I had a lot to learn.

"I learn a lot in the public eye under the scrutiny of everyone, I never lost faith that I would be playing for England at a World Cup. I have had a lot of criticism but I have always had faith in my ability and I have always, whatever has happened, trained hard and got better. Here I am at the World Cup and I just want to do something special."

He says, "with respect", he has not listened to "fans, the media or my friends" when it comes to improvement. He lists Mourinho and Sven Goran Eriksson as his influences but none of them as important as Roeder, a manager whose abrupt departure from West Ham never saw him get enough credit for the player Cole had become when he signed for Chelsea three years ago.

Cole's former West Ham team-mate Shaka Hislop will be in goal when he faces Trinidad & Tobago in Nuremberg on Thursday. Remembering their time together at West Ham, Cole describes Hislop, now 37, as, even then "an old head, on, well, old shoulders".

"Shaka was a diamond for me at West Ham when I was coming through, he used to look after me a lot," Cole added. "He made me feel welcome and brought me into the first-team squad and I was pleased for him against Sweden because he's had a long career and to go to the World Cup and perform like that is great."