Club Focus – Liverpool – Keen Cole follows Crouch and Keane’s rocky road

A penalty at the Kop end, a glorious chance to net your first goal for your new club and the eyes of the most famous football stand in the world are all on you. A brief run up, a shot, and the devastation – not to mention embarrassment – of watching the goalkeeper save it.

It must have been hard to be Peter Crouch on the afternoon of November 19th 2005. Still without a Liverpool goal in 16 appearances, and with the media salivating with joy at every minute that passed by without him finding the net, he stepped up to take a penalty against Portsmouth at Anfield, only to see goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown keep it out. Luckily for the Reds, Bolo Zenden followed up to score with a header, but Crouch’s embarrassment was obvious. He, more than anyone, will know how one of his England team-mates felt last night.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Liverpool rarely sign British and Irish players given the baptisms of fire that they experience in a red shirt. Crouch went 19 games without scoring a goal until a brace against Wigan Athletic two weeks after his Portsmouth penalty pain, while three years later, Robbie Keane’s first goal for Liverpool didn’t arrive until halfway through his 11th match, a Champions League tie with PSV Eindhoven. The scrutiny that both players received was largely down to the prices that the Reds paid for them, but the fact that Joe Cole was a free transfer signing for Liverpool won’t make the midfielder feel any better about what is turning into a nightmare start to his Reds career. It’s almost as though he is too keen to do well, and he’s trying too hard to succeed. A red card on Sunday has now been followed by a missed penalty on Thursday, and while there has been much to admire about Cole’s start to his Liverpool career – Jamie Carragher described him as ‘a God’ to the fans due to the way that he has quickly settled into Merseyside life, living in the city centre and regularly bumping into supporters – there is no sugar-coating his luckless form on the pitch.

For much of the Europa League playoff tie with Trabzonspor at Anfield last night, Cole was Liverpool’s best player. Featuring in a team that was a little too top-heavy with players who have had little or no pre-season in which to build and improve upon their fitness, Cole’s movement was one of few bright spots in a disappointing first half, with his assist for Ryan Babel’s excellently taken goal the high point in a disjointed team display. The Reds struggled to get going against a well organised and well drilled Turkish outfit in the first period. Liverpool’s passing was sloppy – it would be easier to list the times that debutant Christian Poulsen didn’t pass the ball to a red shirt than to list the times he did – but such rustiness is to be expected this early in the season, especially given that Roy Hodgson had shuffled his pack and brought in players who haven’t had much football in their legs this summer – this was goalscorer Babel’s first game of football at any level since the last day of last season at Hull.

Yet with the introduction of Fernando Torres, things changed – as they often do whenever the Spaniard is around. He immediately livened up proceedings, and Liverpool could and should have added to the advantage that they’ll take to Turkey next week. That they didn’t was largely down to Trabzonspor goalkeeper Onur Kivrak, whose save from Cole’s penalty was not only typical of the early fortunes of some of Liverpool’s recent domestic signings, but also a hammer blow for the midfielder’s confidence. He’s likely to recover though, as did Liverpool from their poor first half showing. Torres looked sharper than at any point during the World Cup, wingers Milan Jovanovic and Maxi Rodriguez started cutting in incisively from the flanks and Poulsen was starting to find the idea of passing to his new team-mates an agreeable one, not that he agreed with referee Thomas Einwaller’s decision to disallow what would have been a debut goal.

So, a lead then, albeit an uncomfortable one, and attention can now turn to Monday night’s meeting with fellow Europa League participants Manchester City at Eastlands, as Liverpool’s tough start to the Premier League season continues. The match will be the first of Cole’s three match domestic suspension, and so the midfielder will have time to ponder just what is going wrong with the opening of this new chapter in his career. He could do worse than study the tales of Crouch and Keane, take heed of them and learn from his uncomfortable experiences so far.

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