Joe Cole: Joe-ker in the pack worth the risk

Fabio Capello is a man that appears to give short shrift to reputation. After all, he was the man who had the rocks to drop David Beckham at Real Madrid, and has been the first England manager to jettison Steven Gerrard out to the problematic left flank.

Throughout the course of his England tenure he has vocalised and abided by a strict remit to select players based on form and fitness. However, as the World Cup draws ever nearer and d-day for the 23 approaches, his stance has somewhat waivered. Based on form and fitness alone it is stretching it to justify Joe Cole’s inclusion in the provisional 30 let alone the final 23. Since rupturing his knee ligaments 15 months ago, the Chelsea midfielder has struggled to produce anything approaching his best form – which to many observers would be the 2005/06 season, culminating in his starring role for the Three Lions at the last World Cup.

If we look at Cole’s statistics this season they do not particularly strengthen shouts for a seat on the plane. Although the former West Ham man missed the start of the season, and the importance of a decent pre-season with it, he has had ample time since his comeback to forge a starting role for club and country, yet those shouts have barely registered a whimper. His first game of the season was in mid-October and Chelsea have played over 40 games since then. In all competitions Cole has started only 22 of those games, being withdrawn in the majority, and has come off the bench in a further 16. In a side that have scored nearly 150 goals this season, Cole has found the net just twice and has dramatically fallen down the attacking pecking order at Stamford Bridge. The stand-off over a contract extension is partly due to differences over wage, but given the peripheral part he has played for the club this season, may just as much be about his value to Carlo Ancelotti’s team.

After an indifferent term, Cole can no longer class himself as a first team regular and that has manifested itself into Ancelotti’s team selections with Little Joey regularly overlooked for the most important games. His goal and overall showing in the title decider at Old Trafford was a timely reminder of his talent but that game was the silver lining round a cloud, for the most part, Cole has struggled. Cole’s case is partially enhanced thanks to the failings of his competitors with the likes of Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon not affirming a place on their own merits, and essentially being slight variations on the same touchline-hugging whippet theme. So often in international football pace can be nullified whereas a bit of nous can make the difference. At least Cole can offer some choice and can play all across the front and potentially has the guile and creativity to open any defence. Also in his favour was his showing in Germany in 2006 and a catalogue of Champions League campaigns for club.

The problem with Cole is at the moment all this is theoretical and in the past. In practice he is struggling to deliver and taking him to South Africa represents a gamble, but no more so than any of his rivals. At some point, England will need some spark and invention from the bench, and Joe Cole – regardless of his domestic campaign – is the best man to do that job. If there is a space for a wild card, he is still worth the gamble.

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