Joe Cole struggling at Liverpool after being hailed as England’s saviour

Has any player’s stock fallen so far in less than a year? Just last summer, Joe Cole’s peers and critics were proclaiming him the solution to England’s lifeless World Cup performances and Steven Gerrard declared Liverpool’s high-profile Bosman capture the equal of Leo Messi. Yet Cole has endured a nightmare on Merseyside. He has made just eight Premier League starts this season – none of them under Kenny Dalglish. He has appeared low on confidence and struggled to exert an influence on games, with many Liverpool fans citing his lack of pace as a particular problem.

Perhaps this should not be surprising given how little football Cole has played over the past three seasons, a catalogue of injuries a major factor in him starting an average of just 12 league games per season over the past three campaigns. Then there are the well-documented issues concerning his best position. Cole is on record as saying that he sees himself as a classic No 10 operating behind either one or two strikers, where his bag of tricks, probing runs and eye for the spectacular can be given free reign. However, English football has rarely catered to this type of footballer, tending to mistrust them as ‘luxury players’ who lack the discipline to be allowed a starring role.

Sure enough, Roy Hodgson’s early flirtation at Liverpool with using Cole as the link player in a 4-2-3-1 soon gave way to the traditional English solution to accommodating flair players, and he was shunted out to the left wing. It should be noted that this was also how Sven-Goran Eriksson and Jose Mourinho approached the Cole conundrum, but where he impressed for England and Chelsea, he floundered at Liverpool. His failure to adapt seemed to frustrate Hodgson, who remarked of Cole shortly before his sacking: “If he says ‘Well I’m not playing in my right position’, then you’d have to ask him what his right position is. If he says the only place he can play is behind the striker, then he is limiting his chances of playing here.

If it was not clear where the player fitted in under Hodgson, it is nigh on impossible to see where he might be accommodated in Dalglish’s brave new world, where finding a place in the same team for Gerrard, Lucas, Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt takes precedence before Cole’s name is even considered. His 88th minute introduction in the weekend win over Sunderland, not to make an impact, but to save the legs of match winner Suarez, was telling. It seems that Liverpool are doing fine without him. It is difficult to envision a future for the one-time starlet on Merseyside. Even post takeover, with the club relatively flush, Liverpool can little afford a substitute earning a rumoured £90,000 per week. The player seems to know as much himself, admitting to the Guardian’s Andy Hunter just a fortnight ago that he was taking life at the club “day by day”.

Joe Cole seems destined never to fulfil the mountainous hype and potential of his teenage years, but at 29, he still surely has plenty to offer English football. To do so, however, perhaps he needs to move to a less illustrious club, one who will more regularly utilise his considerable talents, and take a step backwards in order to move forwards.

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