Joe Cole at the crossroads as Liverpool dream turns sour once more

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Unwanted by club and country, the former teen prodigy faces a big decision on the eve of his 31st birthday

When Joe Cole was 19 he was one of the football prodigies featured in Alan Hansen's documentary Football's Dream Factory that correctly predicted a future in which boys would be signed up at ever younger ages by clubs hungry for the next big star.

Even at that young age, Cole had already established himself in the West Ham first team and had a wardrobe full of the shirts of famous opponents in his home in Romford that he proudly showed to Hansen. An England debut came that same year, 2001, and two years later, when West Ham were relegated, he moved to his boyhood club Chelsea.

In so many respects, Cole's career has been a great success. Three Premier League and three FA Cup winners' medals, 56 England caps and a place on the plane to four international tournaments. His wife, Carly, gave birth to their second child, a boy, last month, and he has played in a generation of English footballers for whom the rewards have been golden, if not the success for the national team.

As for Cole's current career, his part in Liverpool's Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea City on Wednesday was the latest evidence that his time at the club is going nowhere. And yet by the standards of the modern footballer this one-time child prodigy is not that old at all. He will turn 31 on Thursday.

Brendan Rodgers was outspoken in his criticism of Cole on Wednesday, especially in a scathing reference to his "astronomical" salary, estimated at anything between £90,000 to £130,000 a week and negotiated by the Christian Purslow regime to bring the player on a free transfer in the summer of 2010.

"Joe Cole had an opportunity, the club has invested an astronomical sum of money in a talented player and he has to seize his opportunities," Rodgers said. "It [Liverpool's approach] was too slow, it just was not what I would expect from a team I had set up to be dynamic so I think it was a difficult night for him."

Having returned this summer from a reasonably successful season at Lille, a bold loan move by English standards, Cole now finds himself caught in modern football's familiar bind. His contract at Liverpool until 2014 is lucrative but his career is going nowhere. If he strikes a deal with the club to walk away, he will lose out financially. In doing so he may also salvage something of the twilight of his career.

In the last two years, he has faded swiftly from the England team. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Gareth Barry, Scott Parker and Michael Carrick are all older than Joe Cole and, while they have had their highs and lows, all of them are in a stronger position at this moment.

Where did it go wrong for Cole? His suitability or otherwise to fit the template for English football, and Jose Mourinho's many criticisms of him, can be debated endlessly. What is not in doubt is that when he went to Roots Hall on 14 January 2009 for a FA Cup third-round replay against Southend United he was still a key member of Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea team. He ruptured his cruciate ligament and did not play again until the following September.

By then Carlo Ancelotti was Scolari's successor at Chelsea and, while the Italian continued to pick Cole for many of the club's big games in their Double-winning season, he did not seem convinced. When Cole signed for Liverpool he was perceived as a Roy Hodgson buy, although Hodgson later suggested that was not the case. A red card early in his Liverpool career, the resultant suspension and injury meant that, under Hodgson, Cole never got going. When Kenny Dalglish took over, he immediately relegated Cole to the bench. Under Rodgers, who will have known Cole from Chelsea, he came back for a second chance and Liverpool turned down an offer from Spartak Moscow.

At Lille, where Cole made 38 appearances last season, he would have had the chance to play Champions League football, an opportunity that was not on offer at Liverpool. This season there have been more injuries. On Wednesday he was selected to operate as the No 10 behind Samed Yesil but it was not a success.

There will be much cynicism expressed about Cole and the contract he is on at Liverpool. Nevertheless, the club agreed it and, whatever their feeling now, there was great optimism about a player who arrived at Anfield announcing that he had immersed himself in Liverpool's history and was looking forward to a new start in a new city. Cole also said when he signed for Liverpool that he had turned down Arsenal.

As an England player, he won his last cap as a substitute in Bloemfontein in the defeat to Germany at the 2010 World Cup finals. Yet along the way he scored some crucial goals for his country. He will always be remembered for that spectacular long-distance goal against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup but there were others.

When Fabio Capello was under his greatest pressure in the first nine months of the job, Cole scored in the last minute against the Czech Republic to rescue a draw at Wembley. Then he got England's two goals in an awkward win over Andorra in the first 2010 World Cup qualifier and was part of the team that beat Croatia 4-1 in Zagreb, a result that gave Capello's regime lift-off.

If Capello was grateful to Cole, he certainly never showed it. To his credit, Cole was one of the most outspoken about the failings of the 2010 World Cup team and was never selected again, although given his Liverpool form the following season that is hardly surprising.

Staying at Liverpool, isolated and unwanted, would be a sad way to see Cole end his career. He will feel, with some justification, he is not obliged to walk away from his contract. He may believe that Rodgers crossed a line on Wednesday by mentioning his salary. If Cole regarded a loan move to Lille as a drastic solution to his save his ailing career last season, he may be in need of something even more radical this time around.

Cole in numbers

100 Minutes played for Liverpool this season – including just two starts.

45 Minutes Cole lasted on his Liverpool league debut, v Arsenal, before being sent off.

2010 Cole's last England cap came against Germany in the 2010 World Cup second-round defeat.

38 Games played by Cole on loan at Lille last season, scoring nine goals.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower