'He just needed pointing in the right direction'

An outrageous flick in an otherwise forgettable reserve team game against Southend United told Rio Ferdinand all he needed to know about a teenage Joe Cole and underpins the note of caution offered by him that his former West Ham United team-mate has yet to reach international maturity.

"He rolled the ball up and flicked it over his head and over two players and ran around them while I was screaming at him," said Ferdinand, neatly encapsulating the conflict that has dogged Cole in his efforts to graduate from teenage circus act to England regular.

The impressively controlled all-round performance from the 23-year-old in the problem left-side position, capped by the crucial opening goal in England's emphatic 4-0 victory, confirmed the growing belief that the precociously gifted Cole is winning his battle to shackle his talents effectively and inject discipline into his game.

Ferdinand has seen the burden of expectation weigh heavily on Cole's young shoulders. This time, however, he is convinced things will be different. The reason? Jose Mourinho. "I think he needed guidance," Ferdinand said. "He has had all the tools in his locker since he was a kid. He just needed pointing in the right direction and he seems to have got the ideal coach for the way he plays.

"He is not the finished article yet. It's taken the manager he has now at Chelsea and the manager with England to finally get it home to him that the end product is what it's all about and the stuff in between that sometimes isn't that important."

Cole himself agreed with his team-mate's assessment. "I'm improving every year," he said. "I didn't try too hard to impress everybody today. I'm confident in my own ability and I knew that if I just kept it simple and kept the shape of the team I would get the chance maybe to do something."

Wednesday night's game against Azerbaijan will provide Cole with another platform to press his claims for a regular starting place.Ferdinand has few doubts that the midfielder is finally ready to step up a level.

"Joe believes in himself, it's just that he wants to impress everybody all the time and that's in his personality, that's everyone's nature as a footballer, but it's about doing it in the right way."

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