Joe Cole still plays for Liverpool. You might have forgotten, but he does still lace his cleats and put on his jersey for the Reds every once in a while. It may not seem like the 29-year-old still gets paid by the Merseyside club because he is perpetually injured or out of form. But yes, he still collects a weekly check, and yes, the English media and the players still tout him as a talented midfielder.
And yes, he still can’t find the field in any meaningful games or make any meaningful contributions for Liverpool despite all the promise and hope.
Cole signed with Liverpool on a free transfer from Chelsea in the summer because the London club didn’t want to pony up the England International’s desired salary. The reasoning? His age and his injury problems. Liverpool took a chance on the skilled midfielder. The Reds needed a marquee signing in the summer to show the supporters that the team would somehow fight for a coveted Champions League spot, something the club had missed out on the previous season.
To say things haven’t worked out for Cole at Liverpool is an understatement. This experiment has been disastrous from the first match.
In Liverpool’s season opener Cole ran out with the starting 11, but he was unable to keep himself on the field for more than a half. A sliding challenge on Arsenal center back Laurent Koscielny at the close of the first half by Cole was deemed vicious enough to warrant a red card. Cole has never been a great tackler, and this wasn’t one of his best challenges, but was it red card-worthy? Probably not, but the way things went for Liverpool and Cole on Aug. 15 foreshadowed what was to come for both during the 2010 part of the season.
Cole completed just 9 of 12 passes in 45 minutes of play from the center of the midfield, as the team’s supporting striker, the linchpin to the Liverpool attack. Fernando Torres wasn’t in the side on this day, but still, Cole didn’t help his partner at the top of the formation, David Ngog. Of his nine completed passes, Cole completed two in the attacking half going forward. He had zero through balls, and the majority of his passes, seven of them, went backwards or were in the defensive half of the field. He never broke into the game or dictated any possession. That first game should have been enough for fans to see what this season would be about for Cole: disappointment and bad luck.
Cole played 11 Premier League games thus far this season — none while Kanny Dalglish has been in charge — because of injuries, suspensions or poor form. He has 18 shots, one assist and one goal. His lone goal caused some controversy. In scoring the Liverpool winner against Bolton, he was offsides but the last person to play the ball was a defender, so Cole became eligible to score. But he has been far from what was expected.
There is no doubting Cole’s skill. He has wonderful ball control in tight spaces. He can find a pass to unlock defenses. He has an ability to find space for other players. Cole’s ascent through West Ham’s famed academy made him the team’s captain at 21, but he was unable to keep the Hammers in the Premier League that year and found himself moving to his boyhood club Chelsea.
At Chelsea, Cole won the Premier League, the FA Cup, helped the Blues reach the Champions League Finals and helped solidify its midfield by adding a creative spark.
At Liverpool, Cole has done none of the above.
He has added little to a midfield in need of a player who can break down defenses with a quick pass or through ball. In fact, Cole has been almost invisible at times because of his poor performances and health; both of which have kept him on the fringes of the squad. One of the most telling games of the year for Cole was Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester United on Sept. 19.
The United-Liverpool derby is one of the biggest in the Premier League. It’s one of the biggest in the world. The two most successful English clubs playing is a can’t-miss game. Cole didn’t receive the memo.
Cole attempted 53 passes in the United game, completing 47. A nice completion ratio, but looking at the chalkboards, most of Cole’s passes came as 1-2 type passing situations that resulted in little for Liverpool going forward.
Playing on the left side of the midfield isn’t the best place for Cole, but he was needed out there because Liverpool was missing a truly gifted passer in the midfield. Just as importantly, Cole wouldn’t have been able to handle the physical play inside.
Roy Hodgson had to push him outside a bit to see what he could get out of the 29-year-old. What Hodgson got was one cross in 90 minutes of play. One cross from a wide player is inexcusable (which is why I will never understand how Maxi Rodriguez gets employed on the wings, as he almost never crosses the ball). Cole attempted just one through ball into the box and switched play maybe a handful of times. Comparing Cole’s contributions to that of Paul Scholes on this day, one can see what Liverpool was lacking — a dynamic midfielder with the ability to change the point of attack. That was suppose to be Cole’s job going into the season.
Dalglish has said he hasn’t given up on Cole, but it’s almost time for him to think about doing just that. With an abysmal performance in the Europa League game on Thursday, Cole looked like he was regressing to just another fringe player with an inflated contract. His promise and skill have largely gone unused because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field and teams have struggled to find the right place for him.
After an hour of play and plenty of poor first touches and misguided passes, Cole looked past his prime and almost unplayable. It’s great that Dalglish hasn’t given up on him or his talents, but maybe it’s time to. At least for this year.