Joe Cole's Move: Great for Liverpool, Bad for Joe

England's Joe Cole in action..FIFA World Cup 2010 Group C..Slovenia v England..23rd June, 2010.

So the Londoner is off to Merseyside.

In what has been a stale post-World Cup transfer cycle, where hearsay reigns supreme over any actual movement, this week saw the first eyebrow-raising move: Joe Cole to Liverpool.

Eyebrow-raising because all summer it seemed that most of the major English power players were in for Cole EXCEPT Liverpool. London clubs Arsenal and Champions League newbies Tottenham were most heavily favored to land the English playmaker. Even Manchester United entertained the thought momentarily. But Liverpool?

To be fair, this is an astute piece of business by new manager Roy Hodgson:

A) it replaces a very effective but neglected Yossi Benayoun

B) does not further sink Liverpool’s financial ship as it is a free transfer, and on wages will only cost them £18.4 million over 4 years

C) gives Liverpool some attacking flair

D) it is a major English signing for Liverpool which always placates the fans

Liverpool come out winners in every aspect of the argument.  At 28, Cole can still resurrect a career that was supposed to be the dawn of that “golden generation” of English playmakers.  When first being introduced to the English game in the late 1990s, Joe Cole was a prodigy: An Englishman with true technical ability, able to pull off ankle-breaking shifts in direction while remaining steadfastly English in determination and work rate.

Joe Cole Celebrates Scoring 1st goal with team mate Frank Lampard Chelsea 2008/09 Chelsea V Portsmouth (4-0) The Barclays Premier League 17/08/08 Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International

It is sad that we have still not seen the very best of Joe Cole post-West Ham.  At Chelsea, he forced his way into Jose Mourinho’s and his successors’ plans, but was always first to look up at the substiutions board when raised.  He never got remotely close to Lampard or Terry reputation, who are first on the team sheet each and every week.

Yet, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched notion to state that a large majority of English football fans keep a special place in their hearts for Joe Cole. This is because they know how few and far between Joe Coles come in England that are actually English. I am not English, but from the get-go I was always drawn to Cole because he was so unlike your standard, direct English player. The masses marvel at his raw, unparallelled technical ability, but sadly for Joe and for England, it is just that that we have always talked about: his ability.

Now, at 28, this is Cole’s chance to prove himself.  To prove that the golden child of West Ham and all of that unbridled potential can be unleashed on the English and European stage. But Liverpool might not be the place for that.

I get it.  At Liverpool, Joe Cole will be second on the team sheet behind captain Steven Gerrard.  He will no doubt be a regular fixture in Hodgson’s starting XI and will be a focal point in attack.  But with Fernando Torres still highly uncommitted about his Liverpool future, and midfield monster Javier Mascherano apparently itching to flee Merseyside, does this move make much sense for Cole?

No one can deny Liverpool’s stature as one of the world’s biggest clubs.  They have earned with tremendous success both domestically (18 titles) and in Europe (5 European Cups).

But let’s be honest.  This is a club on the wane.  Although they are a smaller club, it would have made more sense for Cole to go to Tottenham and reunite with old Hammers manager Harry Redknapp.  He would have an instant impact on sealing Spurs’ advancement to this season’s Champions League group stages, rather than helping Gerrard and company secure passage to the Europa League group stages.

And certainly at Tottenham, Redknapp would start an international-class player like Joe Cole at every opportunity.  So playing time would have been no factor.  The best players belong on the biggest stage, and if Joe Cole wants to get back to being one of the biggest names in English football, he should be playing in the Champions League.  Simple as that.

If Arsenal were serious in their overtures, the way they play their football at Ashburton Grove would have suited Cole perfectly.  His place in the starting line-up may not have been as concrete at Arsenal, but surely Cole would have proven himself worthy after pre-season and coming through early matches unscathed.  There, he would have a title-chasing, Champions League club to play for.  Sure it would kill Chelsea fans to see their old hero line in Arsenal or Spurs colors, but in today’s day and age these things are hardly insurmountable for fans.

Going back to Liverpool’s fragile state as a club.  The Premier League is getting crowded as competition grows fiercer each season.  With Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and a good Aston Villa side in the title and European places mix (not to mention David Moyes’ Everton), who is to say that Liverpool will be battling for anything next season other than mid-table?  If they lose Mascherano and/or Torres, it is not inconceivable to see them failing to qualify for the Europa League next season.

While few can argue the merits of signing Cole from Liverpool’s perspective, arguing in favor of it from Cole’s is a more difficult task. 

Joe Cole needs to be starting day in, day out for a team in the Champions League with Premier League title aspirations.  That is best scenario for Joe, and the best scenario for the English national team in 2012.

What do you think about Cole’s move?  Leave your comments below.

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