Clarke offers hope to Cole as Liverpool clear midfield clutter

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You imagine that Jevan Joel Raj would want Joe Cole to stay at Anfield. The 15-year-old queued for eight hours at a shopping centre in the Malaysian capital to get Cole to sign a Liverpool shirt. He intended to have it framed but should the 29-year-old leave the club, as has seemed likely all summer, it may have to come down from the wall.

This time last year, after a move in which Steven Gerrard played a prominent part, Cole was seen as part of the new, significantly more English, wave at Anfield under Roy Hodgson. However, his Premier League debut, which saw him dismissed against Arsenal, was indicative of what was to come. In January he scored his first league goal for Liverpool, a tap in from a yard that snatched victory against Bolton and which seemed to have salvaged Hodgson's job. It was a stay of execution that lasted only a few days.

And yet in the club's assistant manager, Steve Clarke, Cole has someone who coached him at Chelsea in the years when he seemed sometimes to be the best and most inventive midfielder England possessed.

"At the end of last season he was not getting in the team because the team was playing well," Clarke said, explaining why Kenny Dalglish's arrival seemed to send Cole deeper into internal exile. "But he has trained hard and gone away and had a good summer. Joe Cole is a top international player. He has got a big contribution to make to the future. He is the same Joe Cole I coached at Chelsea, just a couple of years older and a little wiser. He has always had this same fantastic attitude.

"He knows the position he is in. It has been difficult for him because he has not been involved but, when he gets the chance, it is up to him to take it."

Whether other midfielders will get their chance in a side that is cluttered with footballers is a moot point, as Liverpool experience for the first time the consequences of having three managers in 18 months.

Milan Jovanovic, the final signing made by Rafael Benitez, and who was quickly discarded by Hodgson, was like Cole and Maxi Rodriguez, a free transfer on enormous wages. The three of them are reportedly paid a combined salary of £15m a year; costs that only the Argentine, with two hat-tricks as Dalglish's revival gathered momentum, came close to justifying. By the time Cole celebrates his birthday in November, all will be over 30.

Jovanovic will be the first departure. He has been courted by both Lille and Anderlecht, although the latter seems the likeliest destination as his wife prefers Brussels to northern France.

With Alberto Aquilani, whose elegant game has never appeared remotely suited to the Premier League, receiving an endorsement via Twitter from the Liverpool owner, John W Henry, there may be additional pressure to sell Rodriguez.

Last month he revealed he had been contacted by the president of his former club, Newell's Old Boys, and said he would be keen on a return to Argentina provided his contract that has 18 months to run could be "loosened".

For whoever remains, Liverpool's serious work is just beginning. Another Scottish manager, George Graham, once remarked that turning round a struggling team was one of management's more straightforward tasks. Getting them into the top six, something Clarke and Dalglish achieved with remarkable ease, was harder, while the top four was be an Eiger-like ascent. The first steps have already been taken.

Should I stay or should I go? Liverpool's crowded midfield

Alberto Aquilani Signed by Benitez. Cost £20m. Though he was loaned out to Juventus last season, his prospects seem surprisingly good, at least in John W Henry's opinion. Verdict Stays.

Raul Meireles Signed by Hodgson. Cost £11.7m. Has been linked with Internazionale but he was Hodgson's most successful signing. Verdict Stays.

Steven Gerrard Signed by Liverpool Academy. Cost Nothing. Despite struggling last season, he is Liverpool's most iconic footballer since Dalglish. If fit, he plays. Verdict Stays.

Joe Cole Signed by Hodgson. Cost Nothing. Despite support from Clarke, departing Anfield for London might be merciful relief. Verdict Leaves.

Maxi Rodriquez Signed by Benitez. Cost Nothing. Liked by Kop but Downing will displace him. Verdict Leaves.

Lucas Leiva Signed by Benitez. Cost £5m. Still has a role. Verdict Stays.

Jay Spearing Signed by Liverpool Academy. Cost Nothing. Loaned out last season. Verdict Leaves – on loan.

Christian Poulsen Signed by Hodgson. Cost £4.5m. The Kop has never remotely taken to the Dane. Verdict Leaves.

Jonjo Shelvey Signed by Hodgson. Cost £1.7m. Versatile. Verdict Stays.

Milan Jovanovic Signed by Benitez. Cost Nothing. Unlikely to last until the end of the week. Verdict Leaves.