One of the very first signings of the Roman Abramovich era, Joe Cole arrived in 2003 for what now reads like an absolute bargain basement £6m transfer fee — though no doubt West Ham's relegation to the second tier and subsequent need to slash the wage bill had something to do with that. Plus, inflation and TV moneys and all that jazz of course, but £6m barely buys you two Djilobodjis these days, let alone one real player. And what a player he was!
Young Joey, just 22 at the time, was billed by manager Claudio Ranieri as the natural replacement for Gianfranco Zola, who had returned to his hometown (home-island?) Cagliari earlier that summer. And while Cole turned out to be a slightly different player than Mr. Magic Box, he was no less a hero to many. In fact, there's a certain line of succession, from Zola to Cole to Hazard, with whom Joe shared a dressing room at Lille for a season and may or may not have had something to do with Eden's eventual decision to sign for the Blues.
In any case, in what I certainly consider a sign of just how old I'm getting, "young" Joe Cole is solidly in his mid-30s nowadays. In fact, for several years now — almost since suffering the ACL injury in 2009 that changed everything — he's looked one-step in retirement already. But he's making one final attempt at keeping the good times going with League One Coventry City, a far cry from the luxury of the Premier League (as The Sky Blues themselves can certainly attest to since being relegated in 2001).
Whether he can keep going for another 5 years or another 5 months remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, he's a man of great perspective and of sound advice.
"If you're comparing my career to Lionel Messi's, it hasn't been great. If you're comparing it to 99 per cent of footballers' careers, it has been very good. I've seen players more talented than me who haven't played a minute. I've worked hard and had a good career. A lot of players don't and they regret it. I regret the injury, but I've been lucky — I've had a good career."
"Everyone has a different journey. We'll all be ex-footballers one day and I'm just trying to suck it up as best I can, for as long as I can. Coming to Coventry is a way of me saying, ‘Can I get fit, stay fit and contribute?' I feel I'm still four or five games away from showing what I can do. I'm contributing, but I want to do more — I want to help us get promoted."
"Every win, every goal, every assist, I cherish now. I'll keep going as long as my body can. If I feel up to it, I'll go on another five years. If next week I feel my body has given up, I'll call it a day. But I want to keep going. Where I grew up, you keep fighting until there's nothing left in you."
-Joe Cole; source: Times
That's one of the many lovely words from J.Cole in his interview with The Times' Ollie Kay. Reading it is well worth your time, especially if, like me, you loved watching him run around in a Chelsea shirt.