When Joe Cole left Liverpool to join Lille on loan last year he did so as the embodiment of the failure of Roy Hodgson’s tenure in charge at Anfield. It had all started so well with Cole arriving amidst high expectations that he could finally shine as Liverpool’s number 10 without the defensive constraints that had been foisted on him at Chelsea. Few ever expected him to return to Anfield but a year is a long time in football and Cole now returns to a Liverpool in the midst of Rodger’s Revolution.
While Liverpool’s season coughed and spluttered before failing to really get going under Dalglish, Cole was a player reborn in France. So impressive was the forward that Lille made every effort to keep him at the club but Rodgers ensured Cole was on the flight back to Merseyside as he looks to regenerate the Liverpool squad.
Questions will hang over the future of the England international amid rumours that Sam Allardyce is keen on bringing him back to West Ham for a second stint. During his final games at Anfield, Joe Cole’s body language was appalling, he lacked confidence, form and was clearly reeling under the pressure of the weight of expectation. As with many other players, he seemed to be on the wane as a footballer able to contribute little more than disappointing bit part performances. It was perhaps a bit surprising then that in his first game at Lille, coming on in the 65th minute as a substitute against Saint-Etienne, that he make such a telling contribution. Picking up the ball in midfield, he showed the dribbling skills of his youth as he evaded four defenders before pulling the ball back to assist the third goal.
There were two main reasons for his success in Ligue 1, the type of football Lille played and where Cole played in their team. At Lille, Cole played with players who liked to play with the ball on the deck rather than the air, like Chelsea bound attacker Eden Hazard and France right back Mathieu Debuchy who was once a midfield playmaker. The emphasis was on passing on the ground rather than the high tempo end to end style favoured in the premiership. Within the team, Cole was finally given his favoured free role in the hole behind the striker, able to roam and pick the ball up from deep he did not disappoint in what was possibly the best season of his career.
Now that Gerrard is more comfortable to play a deeper role in midfield, Cole could well be the perfect fit for Rodgers, playing ahead of Gerrard in an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Cole’s clear ability to play the purist style of passing football favoured by Rodgers must make him a favourite to burst back into the Anfield first team. However, Cole may wish to make a move back to London and West Ham where he would be a certain starter for Sam Allardye. A lot depends on Cole’s confidence and ambition, whether he wants to fight for his Anfield career or return to West Ham and Allardyce’s more functional style.