Carlo Ancelotti yesterday delivered an honest assessment of Joe Cole's form since returning from injury, saying the Chelsea midfielder is lacking in confidence and "could do better".
Cole, 28, has been keen to impress Ancelotti after returning from eight months out with a cruciate ligament injury. A few match-winning performances to catch the eye of England manager Fabio Capello also wouldn't hurt, although he won't be able to impress this weekend after Chelsea's match at Hull fell foul of the weather.
Earlier in the season Cole was handed his dream role, just behind the strikers at the tip of Chelsea's diamond midfield and the stage appeared to be set for him to mature into the player he has threatened to be for the past decade, a player who can become the creative inspiration for Chelsea and England. But it has not happened, yet.
Ancelotti claimed Cole simply needs more time to fully regain the confidence. He said: "He could do better. He must improve his confidence. I was out one year with injury and it's not easy to return. You need to have time to play and improve the confidence in your possibilities. It's not easy to come back and do the best immediately.''
Yet time is a commodity that Cole does not have in abundance, with little more than three months to go until the end of the season and the start to the build-up to the World Cup finals in South Africa. Ancelotti acknowledged as much, saying: "For him it's an important moment. He has an important appointment to achieve this season. The World Cup means it's important to play well for Chelsea. At this moment he has good mental attitude and good condition. He's very close."
Cole evidently does not feel entirely comfortable in the current Chelsea team. He has started 12 of the last 23 matches since his return from injury, never starting more than two games in a row. In a recent interview he spoke of the pressure of playing in his new role, just behind the strikers. "I have to be the best player on the pitch. In that position, you have to be the one that's making things happen and dictating the pace of the game. I've got to get back better than I was before," he said.
To complicate matters further for Cole his current contract runs out in the summer. Chelsea say talks are underway with Cole's representatives but the club seem in no hurry to agree terms on an extension. Had Chelsea's game gone ahead today Cole would have started three games in a row for the first time this season.
Nicolas Anelka is back to fitness following his hamstring injury. The Frenchman looked sharp in training at Stamford Bridge yesterday, scoring one delightful goal with a shimmy and a dummy that totally wrong-footed Petr Cech. Ancelotti admitted he has been impressed with Anelka since he arrived at the club in the summer. "For me this was a surprise," he said. "I didn't know Anelka. As a man he is very good, very quiet and very calm. He has a strong personality."
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