Far from sole sentimentality: The return of Joe Cole

Of all of Tony Carr’s international-laden production line – Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Glen Johnson – Joe Cole was always the likeliest to return, and return first.

After all, Cole has enjoyed the mutual applause and respect of the vast majority of West Ham’s fans since his departure – in contrast to the likes of Lampard and Defoe.

Leaving the club for Chelsea was of course not the most popular decision, but few West Ham fans could fault Cole’s endeavor and ingenuity in his final season as an enthusiastic deep-lying playmaker – having been taken away from his favoured, natural number ten role.

His Ketsbaia-like explosion of passion in his celebration after a his 14’ equaliser against Newcastle on 11 January, 2003 was perfect evidence, with Cole desperate to give West Ham their first home league win of the season.

Remarkably, this commitment and class became interwined despite Glenn Roeder shackling Cole with the club captaincy in the Premier League’s most competitive ever relegation battle from December, 2002, which saw West Ham eventually relegated with a record forty-two points.

Cole’s professionalism throughout his time at Upton Park was also to be admired, acting as a throwback to the days of Moore, Peters and Hurst in the ‘60s, and the Englishman never let media or female attention curb his family values.

Given the fate of similar prodigies like Ravel Morrison in English football since, this was no mean feat.

After all, Cole was the standard-bearer of West Ham in 2002/2003, displaying the focus and professionalism that the likes of other core players – Defoe (come and get me pleas) and Paolo Di Canio (public fall-out with Roeder before Trevor Brooking’s recall) – should have shown.

Sure, in hindsight of his incredible career, neutrals wonder why West Ham fans were so flippant with Lampard when he was Cole’s age, but Cole represented Lampard’s antithesis: a working-class boy who became infatuated with the club, rather than a particular manager (Harry Redknapp) or coach (Frank Lampard Sr.).

Also, amid the incredible hype that Redknapp entertained in Cole’s breakthrough in 1999; an England call-up by Kevin Keegan in August, 2000; and well-publicised interest from Sir Alex Ferguson, Cole never had his head turned.

Still his time to leave eventually came and, intriguingly, it was Sam Allardyce and Bolton who edged the Hammers out that season.

However, the Dudley native is far from a sympathiser or sentimentalist and while Cole is still “haunted” by Bolton’s forty-four points that season, Allardyce would not have given that 2002/2003 campaign a second thought.

After all, Allardyce’s popularity is at an all-time high with West Ham fans – crystallising in the turning point victories over both Fulham (3-0 on 1 September, 2012) and Chelsea (3-1 on 1 December, 2012).

With Kevin Nolan’s influence and popularity growing immensely, following the initial difficulty of replacing Scott Parker, it is clear that Cole will not serve the predicted role: an-ex club favourite to placate fans and bridge the ideologies of Allardyce and the Hammers’ faithful in the number ten role.

Effectively, that bridging has already been established with the all-action success of Mohamed Diame and the cult status of Andy Carroll so Cole’s arrival serves as a typical Allardyce signing: a cut-price player who, potentially, can be resurrected.

Youri Djorkaeff, Bruno N’Gotty, Iván Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Gary Speed, El Hadji-Djouf (twice), Joey Barton and Gaël Givet have all felt the Allardyce effect in re-igniting their footballing passions.

Given how recent Cole’s successful spell at Lille was – where he was pivotal in helping the club qualify for the Champions League – there may be a suggestion that Allardyce will not need to work his magic to the same extent, particularly with the familiar surroundings for Cole.

Also, Cole’s immensely-underrated set-piece delivery, tenacity (was even bloodied against Manchester United on 5 January, 2013) and crossing will be vital assets to Allardyce’s trademark playing style.

However, warily, Cole’s aptitude and commitment at Liverpool was at an unprecedented low and the high-energy emergence of Raheem Sterling’s accentuated this fact.

It even led to the usually supportive Brendan Rodgers effectively disowning Cole, following the Englishman’s poor display against Swansea on 1 November, 2012:

Joe Cole had an opportunity, the club has invested a astronomical sum of money on a talented player and he has to seize his opportunities.


It was too slow, it just was not what I would expect from a team I had set up to be dynamic so I think it was a difficult night for him.

Even in looking at two of the other ten appearances Cole made for Rodgers this season, his departure seemed inevitable. Firstly, in the opening defeat of the season against West Brom on 18 August, 2012, Cole emerged as a substitute on 68’ but had to go off with a hamstring strain just eleven minutes later.

Then, against West Ham at Upton Park on 9 December, 2012, Cole netted his first Premier League goal of the season for Liverpool – and it was a crucial equaliser and pendulum swinger, on 76’ – but could not bask in the celebrations due to his immense respect for his former club.

In truth, Cole’s time at Liverpool was fatefully flawed: dogged by Steven Gerrard’s comparisons with Lionel Messi, the £90,000 wage the notorious Christian Purslow afforded him, and being unable to channel anything near the over-zealousness that, ironically, got him sent-off on his Liverpool debut, against Arsenal on 15 August, 2012.

A return to West Ham is a return to the happiest time of Cole’s career, with “familiar faces” and the chance  to be able to play in the disciplined wing role that coincided with Cole’s peak years under José Mourinho.

Given the fact that the likes of  Pop Robson, Frank McAvennie, Julian Dicks and Tony Cottee enjoyed successful second spells at Upton Park, there is nothing to suggest that in “coming home” and re-claiming his cherished number twenty-six shirt, Joe Cole cannot end his career as he started it: with a bang.

The Author

Ciaran Kelly

Sports writer and author of José Mourinho: The Rise of the Translator, featuring exclusive interviews with key figures not synonymous with the traditional Mourinho narrative and Johan Cruyff: The Total Voetballer, an ebook which peaked in the Top 40 of Amazon's top 100 Sports Books' chart. I have also written for Britain best selling football magazine, FourFourTwo and other British publications. I am a fully qualified reporter with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and a Masters degree in Sports Journalism from St. Mary's University, London.

2 thoughts on “Far from sole sentimentality: The return of Joe Cole

  1. all the anti chelsea brigade are out all guns blazing about joe cole including you, but sentimentality and churlish hatred can’t obscure the fact that if you ask JC whether he would have liked to have spent his entire career at west ham and never won anything or gone to chelsea and won virtually everything including club player of the year , league titles cup medals and champs league runner up medals — what do you think he’d say? crass sentimentality in the service of anti chelsea bile.

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