The forgotten man of English football will watch Chelsea take on Blackburn Rovers tonight with the usual reluctance of the injured footballer. But if Joe Cole has one crumb of comfort he can take from a season wrecked by injury then it will be that, in his absence, Chelsea's assault on a third consecutive title has hardly been easy.
This weekend the 25-year-old will have to suffer the announcement of another England squad in which he does not feature, and the knowledge that the left-wing position he secured at the World Cup finals is again up for grabs. The recovery from a stress fracture in his foot has proved long and complicated, so much so that even Jose Mourinho has publicly complained of delays in decisions over surgery.
Cole said yesterday that he believes he will definitely play the last month of the season, in which he hopes that Chelsea will still be in contention for the Premiership title and the Champions' League at the very least. "Things are hard, it's not easy. But I work as hard as I can," Cole said.
"Lots of people might have an awful time at work and they go home and are wallowing in it. I won't. I had one moment when I was hacked off. I was speaking to my mate, and he said, 'What are you moaning about? I've got to drive a fork-lift truck for seven hours. I'd much prefer being an injured footballer.' My family and friends won't let me be miserable."
Cole spoke of a regime that sees him at Chelsea's training ground from 9.30am to 4pm everyday, working hard on the parts of his fitness that do not involve him putting pressure on his foot. An indicator of his progress is that he is still wearing his protective boot, a part of the healing process that Wayne Rooney came through within weeks of breaking his metatarsal bone last April.
It has been a desperate season for Cole even within the context of Chelsea's long injury list. With Arjen Robben potentially returning tonight, and John Terry due to come back at the weekend against Charlton Athletic, Cole's return is still some way off. He injured a knee in pre-season and came back to feature in October and November before discovering in late November that he had a stress fracture.
He said: "I won't just sit on my arse and wait to come back. I want to hit the ground running. I was healthy and professional before, but I've really sat down and thought about my whole game. It's hard for me to watch. I come and wish the boys the best, and we try and have a bit of banter on the bench. But no footballer is a great watcher when injured.
"It's easy in life when things don't go well, it's easy to come in and be miserable. I come in with a smile on my face. Other people don't need to see Joe being miserable because he's injured. But I know I will have something to say this season, I will come back. I've got games in me this season. But what will be, will be. I'm really excited to come back and help the boys win some trophies."Reuse content