Cole's flashes of finesse are enough to sway Capello

Despite a poor season, Chelsea man is still the one who can produce the unexpected
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The Independent Football

Joe Cole has not done much this season for Chelsea that justifies his inclusion in Fabio Capello's provisional World Cup squad but one moment of audacious skill was enough. Cole's back-heeled finish to put Chelsea ahead at Old Trafford on Easter Saturday was not just a sublime piece of finishing, more importantly it gave Chelsea the impetus to go on and claim a victory that manager Carlo Ancelotti later admitted was the most important of their title-winning season.

Cole has had a miserable season at Chelsea after coming back from a nine-month recovery from tearing his cruciate ligaments. He has achieved little to advance his case when he meets the club next week to negotiate a new contract. But still he produced a flash of inspiration at the precise moment his team needed it.

His statistics show two goals from 38 games in all competitions for Chelsea this season. More worryingly perhaps, his club manager Ancelotti has allowed him to play the full 90 minutes of a Premier League game only three times.

Yet that touch of class at Manchester United was enough to convince Capello that he cannot afford to be without possibly the most talented player at his disposal. Wayne Rooney is the jewel in England's crown but last November he was only too happy to admit that Cole, 28, is a far more skilful player.

Cole's cheeky goal against United was just the reminder Capello needed, for the midfielder has been in the international wilderness for the past 18 months. The last of his 53 caps came in the memorable 4-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb in September 2008, the game in which Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick. Four months later Cole tore his ligaments in an FA Cup third-round replay at Southend and his life was turned upside down.

The prolonged absence from the England set-up has given Cole a greater appreciation of what it means to play for his country. He said recently: "It just puts more fire in my belly to get there. I will try everything. I'll put my heart and soul into getting into that team. Don't bet against me when I'm in that frame of mind. It's a tall ask but all I need to do is to get back to playing my best and I think I'll merit a place in the starting 11."

Cole's form this season has barely merited his place in the 30-man provisional squad, let alone the starting XI where Steven Gerrard is now settled in the role on the left of the midfield that once belonged to Cole. Capello is clearly an adherent to that old sporting cliché "form is temporary, class is permanent".

Since returning from injury, Cole has struggled for Chelsea. He even suffered the humiliation of being substituted at half-time during an FA Cup tie with Cardiff City in February after one of the worst 45 minutes of his career.

Ancelotti has not given the midfielder much time on the pitch of late but with good reason. Instead of Cole, this season it has been the French winger Florent Malouda who has forced his way into the Italian's side by the sheer brilliance of his football.

Cole looked lively and inventive when he came from the substitutes' bench in Chelsea's 8-0 victory parade against Wigan Athletic on Sunday, something more like his old self, but most commentators felt it was too little, too late for inclusion in Capello's 30-man provisional squad.

It will have counted in his favour that Cole is one of the few players available to Capello who has a proven track record at a major tournament. He was selected by Sven Goran Eriksson for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 squads but ended up being little more than a squad player, with just one appearance as a substitute against Sweden in 2002. However his time came in the 2006 World Cup, where he was, along with Owen Hargreaves, one of the few bright lights in what was another disappointing campaign for England.

Cole started in all five of England's games and also scored one of the goals of the tournament with a long-range volley against Sweden. In a recent interview he said: "It's probably my favourite. Someone showed me they'd been watching the greatest World Cup goals ever and it was up there in the Top 10 with people like [Diego] Maradona and [Roberto] Baggio, my heroes. But when I'd done it, I was just thinking we'd got Ecuador in a couple of days. People always want to talk about it but I hate dwelling on it because I want to go to the next World Cup and score a better one."

That kind of skill, the proven ability to produce the unexpected out of nothing, is what marks Cole out as different from the likes of James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson, the men he is competing with for a place in Capello's final 23. Whether it will be enough for the likeable midfielder to make the final squad will be one of the most compelling issues of the coming weeks.