There is a theory that if Joe Cole had grown up in Cadiz instead of Camden and was called Jose Carbonero or something similar, we would all appreciate his beguiling – occasionally frustrating – talent as a footballer all the more. Cole is stuck with being English, however, and England's match-winner against Andorra appealed yesterday to Fabio Capello to be the first manager to show real faith in him when he picks his team to face Croatia in the World Cup qualifier tomorrow night.
Cole's admission that he has never had a manager who truly believed in him was some statement from the man who scored two goals against Andorra and cannot be sure of his place in the team in Zagreb for what is the pivotal game of the Capello reign. "I have always prided myself on being able to come back from disappointments," he said. "I get my head down, try to do well, playing with the pressure. Two or three years ago it was if I had a bad 45 minutes I might not get back in the team. Now it's down to a bad 90 minutes.
"Sometimes I think if I had a manager who said to me: 'Go out and do your stuff, you can have two or three indifferent games', as players do, then maybe I could be an even better player than I am. I have not had that in my career. I would take playing for England anywhere, sit on the bench, play in goal. But it's nice to have someone right behind me. That [playing consistently] is the Holy Grail for any footballer. You would love to have that kind of belief from your manager. I hope it is my time."
Cole, 25, is perceived as the nearly man of English football for club and country while in fact Steve McClaren, during his reign as England manager, started Cole in every game for which he was fit – 10 in all. Similarly, no Chelsea player started more games than Cole last season. If anything he is one of England's more established players, with four caps – two of them starts – under Capello, and it is hard to believe that Stewart Downing's lacklustre performance against Andorra will keep Cole out the side tomorrow.
As Capello ponders his team will he consider Cole on one wing and Theo Walcott on the other side too fragile a line-up for the Maksimir stadium? Like Jose Mourinho often did at Chelsea, Capello could be seen yelling at Cole, a second-half substitute on Saturday, for drifting out of position against Andorra. "Of course I wasn't disappointed to be criticised by the manager," Cole said. "That's what he's there for. He just asked us [Cole and Wayne Rooney] to play further forward. And, yes, he does know how to swear in English."
Cole's favourite position, he later told us, was playing behind the two strikers and with a mandate to go left or right. "Players like [Lionel] Messi, Ronaldinho, [Cristiano] Ronaldo – they play left, right and centre," he said. He is pushing his luck if he wants that kind of job tomorrow night in what, in all likelihood, will be a 4-3-2-1/4-5-1 formation to ensure a draw at the very least. If Cole starts, it will probably be on the left side, where McClaren favoured him.
Like a few players have said already, however, Cole said that the old certainties about England, with players being guaranteed a place in the team, had gone under Capello. Despite this contradicting his earlier wish for blind faith from his manager, Cole considered that to be a good thing. To judge by training in Barcelona yesterday – England flew to Zagreb last night – Capello is keeping his players guessing again.
"He tells us a couple of hours before kick-off what the team is," Cole said, "but it is not that we are not prepared. You go into the game knowing what you've got to do. You just don't know who the personnel are. I think it is great because no one is safe. For too long we've had established players, who maybe know that they are going to play. Ending that is a good thing.
"I remember the first game we trained under Capello and I phoned my dad after training and said, 'It looks like I am in the team'. Second day I said, 'I'm out of it'. He said, 'What did you do?' I said, 'I don't know. I just trained.' It is a sign of a great manager. Basically, no one is safe and that can only breed competition."