Cole set for England start

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The Independent Online

More than four years after he was first called into the senior squad by Sven Goran Eriksson, Joe Cole should finally make a belated full competitive debut for England on Saturday.

More than four years after he was first called into the senior squad by Sven Goran Eriksson, Joe Cole should finally make a belated full competitive debut for England on Saturday.

The 23-year-old midfielder yesterday acknowledged that should Eriksson select him for the World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland at Old Trafford he would owe his inclusion to the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho.

"He's the first coach to take my game apart, to really look at it," said Cole. "He's been a massive influence on my game."

Mourinho surprised many when, after Cole scored the only goal against Liverpool earlier this season, he used the post-match press conference to launch a scathing attack on the player.

"It wasn't a shock to me," claimed Cole. "It was a crucial game, we were 1-0 up, and I was a little bit indisciplined in the last 10 minutes. Something like [Mourinho's criticism] can ram the nail home and it's in there now so I know exactly what to do the next time.

"It is always constructive criticism. He explains very clearly what he wants you to do and I listen to him. He's a European Cup winner. We had a chat about how he wants me to play and how I can improve. But he also spoke about the things I do well and I came out feeling very positive. I took my chance and I've been playing regularly for the past couple of months.

"I'm starting to finish games. That's important. I feel stronger and faster than I have been. When you are 100 per cent fit you find yourself in the right position to take the right decisions.''

Cole's improvement has not gone unnoticed with Eriksson praising him earlier in the week. Cole said: "It gives you a boost when the manager says things like that. He's obviously been watching me play and he's happy with the progress I've made."

In particular Eriksson noted Cole's improved tactical awareness and the player added: "I've always worked hard and now I'm a lot more disciplined.

"Three midfield positions are nailed on," he admitted, "one place is left. [Paul] Scholes retiring has opened a gap for five or six people and whoever plays on Saturday has got to take their chance."

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