There is something not quite right about Joe Cole in a Liverpool shirt; like seeing Phil Mitchell in the bar of the Rovers Return. Cole, born in Paddington, brought up in Camden and educated at the West Ham academy, seemed like Jimmy Greaves, one of those footballers who was wedded to the capital. Even when Greaves made his brief, lucrative journey to play in Milan, spiritually he never really left the Mile End Road.
Liverpool can be a strange experience; frighteningly insular but also, because of its links across the Atlantic, open and innovative: the first British city to embrace rock music and black immigration. Scousers, they say, are northern Cockneys and even without football the young Harry Redknapp, whose entire career in the English game has taken him no further north than the Seven Sisters Road, would not have starved in the Liverpool of the Beatles. His son, Jamie, did all right at Anfield.
"I got a good piece of advice, years ago," said Cole, settling himself into his seat at his first press conference. "If you are going to sign for a club, you have to immerse yourself in it. I am living in a hotel in the centre of Liverpool and I'm making sure I go out and meet people. It is a very vibrant city. I love it.
"Moving away from London was going to be tough because I have lived there all my life but I'll make this work," he added. And just as Alex Ferguson bought himself various histories of Manchester United when coming to Old Trafford, so Cole has done his homework.
When he joined Roy Hodgson's training camp in Switzerland after signing a four-year contract, he said Liverpool was "the biggest club in the world". It sounded like telling your date she was the most beautiful woman you had ever set eyes on; not really true but the sort of phrase you are expected to come out with.
"But look at the numbers," said Cole. "Five European Cups, 18 titles, seven FA Cups, seven League Cups. I have had two or three days of people talking to me about Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, John Barnes and Ian Rush. These players have names that roll off the tongue. There is a lot of pressure but a lot to be proud of.
"When I signed for Chelsea, the question I was asked was why I'd chosen the No 10 shirt because Pierluigi Casiraghi (whose career was ended by injury) had it and those that had worn it before him had all been flops. But I took it anyway." He will wear it at Anfield. "I didn't ask for it. I told them I didn't care about the shirt as long as it was red."
When he left West Ham in the aftermath of an improbable relegation, he did not have to immerse himself in the culture of Stamford Bridge. He had supported Chelsea ever since he could remember. "I thrived and played the best football of my career," he said. "When I went out there I could remember being at Stamford Bridge as a boy. I want to have that connection and that energy from Liverpool."
Chelsea were his boyhood passion but it was a love that soured. In January 2009 he was injured in an FA Cup tie against Southend. Nine months later, when he played again, Chelsea had changed manager twice and Cole felt less a part of the dressing-room.
"The fans at Chelsea loved me and I can't thank them enough for that," he said. "But I need to feel loved when I'm on the pitch. The manager has to want me there and I don't want to be looking over my shoulder for the board.
"It's not so much that I need a manager to put his arm round my shoulder as for him to remember that in the positions where I play you are going to lose the ball sometimes. You only need to do one thing right – a clever pass, a little bit of skill that can change the game – but to do that you need to feel relaxed and calm.
"I had a year out through injury and last season I was trying too hard because I always felt that if I didn't do something in the first 20 minutes then I would be off. You can't play in my position with that kind of pressure. I played a part in Chelsea winning the Double but I felt more of a part of things in previous seasons, even though people said to me that your goal won the title at Old Trafford.
"I went to Chelsea at the right time; Roman Abramovich had just come in. Hopefully, I have come to Liverpool at the right time. Expectations are low. The previous management, however successful it had been, had come to an end and become stale. Roy has come in with fresh ideas and shaken the place up. I have seen him coach in three different languages. He knows his football and I can talk football to people for ages."
He certainly talked to Steven Gerrard, who since Rafael Benitez's departure has assumed a much more significant role at Anfield, akin to Alan Shearer's in his last seasons at Newcastle. Gerrard did not commit himself to Liverpool when Hodgson replaced Benitez but waited until after Cole's arrival, a move in which he had played a significant role.
"I hope I did play a part in making him stay," said Cole of Gerrard. "Every year the big clubs have come calling for him because he is a fantastic player but at Liverpool this season is about consolidating and moving on. Stevie knows what I can do; we have played together for England for 10 years and my relationship with him is going to be important."
Cole insists he will "give everything" to Liverpool provided that the Kop realise that it is five months since he last played a full 90 minutes and that they give him time to settle. Time may be what Liverpool do not possess. Financially and for every other reason, they have to return to the Champions' League and their opening two fixtures pitch them against Arsenal and Manchester City.
"It will take how long it takes," said Cole. "If you look at the Premier League, the key is the games you should win. There are games like Arsenal and Manchester City that you want to win but the most important are against the bottom 10 teams – beat them home and away and that's 60 points. That was the attitude we had at Chelsea."Reuse content