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Football | Barclays Premier League

English football's lost soul - Joe Cole



Joe Cole's return to his roots at West Ham United is his latest bid to revive a career that has been flat-lining ever since he left Chelsea for Liverpool in 2010.

One of his generation's stand-out players, Cole has been a household name in England for the best part of a decade but as he returns to Upton Park after a 10-year absence, there is a feeling that his talent remains unfulfilled.

A skilful and innovative dribbler once likened to Paul Gascoigne, Cole is an untypical British player and has occasionally lamented having being born in a country that prizes blood and thunder over more cerebral qualities.

"Sometimes I feel if I'd been born in a Latin country, I may have been coached better to play as a number 10," he once said.

As a teenager, Cole inspired West Ham's 9-0 rout of Coventry City in the 1999 FA Youth Cup final and was quickly drafted into the senior team alongside fellow youth-team graduates Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe.

West Ham's relegation in 2003 saw Cole resurface at Chelsea and under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, he blossomed into one of the finest midfielders in the country.

Mourinho instilled a new sense of tactical responsibility in Cole's game, turning him into a hard-working wide player, and he was one of the stars of the team that won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.

A glorious volley against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup capped his emergence as the solution to England's long-standing left-wing dilemma but injuries hampered the latter part of his Chelsea career and he was released in 2010.

Liverpool were supposed to provide a fresh start but after getting sent off on his league debut against Arsenal, he disappeared from view when Roy Hodgson was replaced as manager by Kenny Dalglish.

A loan move to French side Lille last season brought another chance of a renaissance and Cole impressed on his debut by setting up a goal with a thrilling slalom through a pack of defenders at Saint-Etienne.

His game attempts to learn French endeared him to Ligue 1 fans but his influence diminished as the season wore on and by the end of the campaign he had lost his place in the team to French winger Dimitri Payet.

Upon returning to Liverpool, he found he had no part in manager Brendan Rodgers' plans and the indignity was only amplified by reports the Reds gave him a £3 million pay-off just to get him off their books.

Cole has long coveted a central playmaking role but West Ham coach Sam Allardyce is not known for indulging creative players and the 31-year-old will have to slot into the team rather than have it constructed around him.

With 56 caps to his name, his England career now appears to be behind him but as a player of wit and boyish enthusiasm, the amiable Londoner remains a popular figure.

Though Cole was raised in north London, Redknapp has described him as "West Ham through and through", and at Upton Park, at least, they will welcome him with open arms.

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