Carlton Cole has missed out on a place in Fabio Capello’s preliminary 30-man World Cup squad, capping a dismal season for the 26-year-old, one that took in injury, serious relegation worries and a distinct loss of form that ultimately pushed the skilful striker down the pecking order.
Gianfranco Zola may have paid the price for West Ham’s failings this season, but Cole was arguably a victim throughout the campaign as he received little or no support from his team mates. Starting the season without an experienced strike partner, until Mido and Benni McCarthy arrived in January, Cole was often paired with either youngsters like Zavon Hines and Junior Stanislas or new arrivals in England, such as Guille Franco and Alessandro Diamanti, and striking up a coherent partnership with any one of the four was often a futile effort. Even when reinforcements arrived in the winter transfer window they were of little help to Cole individually as both McCarthy and Mido flattered to deceive while Cole himself recovered from a knee injury. Cole did recover full fitness but failed to score between November and February, only part of which was spent on the treatment table.
Cole may have matched last season’s tally of 10 goals in the campaign just finished, but in a year where the media hype that had centred on Cole in 2008/09 left East London for Bobby Zamora in the west of the capital, it was not enough to give the West Ham striker the chance to add to the seven England caps already to his name. At their best under Zola the Hammers played slick passing football of which Cole was a central part but the Upton Park club were rarely at that level in 2009/10. Instead, as West Ham’s team toiled with a lack of creativity in midfield and a colander-like defence, Cole was isolated and unable to produce the performances needed to keep Capello’s eye as he was left ploughing a lone furrow all too often. A player the quality of Wayne Rooney may be capable of creating moments of magic on his own but Cole, despite his quick feet and intelligent use of the ball, is not on Rooney’s plane. Without the support of another striker or more assistance from midfield – other than Scott Parker – Cole was unable to dominate games has he had previously.
Cole’s international days are far from over, however, despite the setback of World Cup exclusion. At 26 he is six years younger than Emile Heskey, three years younger than Zamora and the same age as Darren Bent, and with Heskey’s battered frame edging closer to giving up the international ghost and Zamora seemingly unable to attract Capello’s attention, Cole would be in pole position for a trip to the 2012 European Championship. There is much football between then and now to come and before he thinks about regaining his England place, Cole needs to either wait for West Ham’s situation to improve or move on to pastures new.