Joe Cole: I do the maths

August 5, 2010 § 3 Comments

Here’s some fun statistics about Liverpool’s marquee signing. It’s been widely reported that roughly a third of Cole’s appearances for Chelsea were from the subs bench, which breaks down as follows:

League only: 122 starts + 61 appearances as substitute = 183 appearances in total. That’s just a touch over 26 games a season.

Including Europe and cups: 185 + 90 = 275 total; roughly 39 games a season.

Which, given that he’s had two major injuries – a fractured foot from November 2006 to April 2007, and season-ending ligament damage in January 2009 – doesn’t sound all that bad. Not as many starts as he’d like, certainly, but the competition for places in the Chelsea midfield has been generally fierce, ever since he was bought as part of Ranieri’s first Abramovich-funded splurge.

But of those 185 starts across all competitions, he’s been taken off in 131. Or, to put it another way, in seven seasons at Chelsea, Cole has only played 54 full games of football. He’s completed just under a third of those he’s started. (Illustrative point: Cesc Fabregas has completed 58 in the last two seasons, despite having fractures and ligament issues of his own.)

I don’t particularly want to start speculating on the reasons for all these substitutions, except to observe that being the player that your manager removes whatever the situation is hardly a glowing recommendation. I vaguely remember Mourinho – who took Cole off plenty – talking about two Joe Coles, one he really liked and one he didn’t. But this can’t just be chalked up to Mourinho’s quixotic nature: the rate remains roughly consistent across the parade of top-class managerial talent (and Avram Grant*) that’s passed through Stamford Bridge.

Of course, as the mighty Navjot Singh Sidhu told us, statistics are like mini-skirts: what they reveal is enticing, but what they hide is crucial. But I think this one illustrates exactly why there’s this feeling that after seven seasons at Chelsea – including three Premier League titles – not to mention 56 England caps, Joe Cole’s quality lies as much in what he might be as in what he is. Look at how much better he got throughout the World Cup, every twitch on the bench a sign of frustrated genius.

From a Liverpool perspective, it cuts both ways. On the one hand, they’ve signed for their first-team a player who hasn’t really played that much first team football; who’s been unable to establish himself at the level where Liverpool fans would like to see themselves. On the other hand, all Cole has left to do establish himself as a first-team player. After all, he turned down Champions League football with Spurs and Arsenal to play in the Liverpool first team. Hunger is a powerful motivator. Or is it somehow indicative that no club in the Champions League felt able to offer him the guarantee he was looking for? It’s these questions you don’t expect to be asking about a title-winning international, who should be roughly at the prime of his career, and I think the numbers tell us why we are.

* Twisted Blood would like to formally apologise to Avram Grant, who we have quite a lot of time for, and who, in the wonderful words of Martin Kelner, “looks like he goes to work on a gondola made of skulls”. Sorry, Avram.

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§ 3 Responses to Joe Cole: I do the maths

  • Nick says:

    Nice article, Joe Cole is a funny one, a player in the Italian mould who somehow came to be born in East London.

    I can’t help but think that if Joe Cole emerged in most other European countries, he’d have done way better than he has in England. In World football, there are few players with his combination of skill, passing, big game mentality and eye for the spectacular. Not as talented as Kaka, Zidane or Ronaldinho to be sure, but surely the equal of Sneijder, Gourcuff or Deco.

    His only truly great season was at Chelsea the season where Robben was starting to get injured and Duff was starting to wane. Those two get the credit, but I think he was better than either in the season where they won the second premiership. Mourinho told him to play as a right inside forward or leave, and he did it with aplomb. In addition, over the last 8 years I can’t think of a player who has done better in an England shirt, even though he’s never played as a number 10 or an inside forward.

    Weirdly then, Ancelotti has hinted that his replacement of Cole with Benayoun was because Cole wouldn’t do what he’s told, even though his best performances have been when doing what he was told against his own better instincts.

    So how to solve a problem like Joe Cole. My guess is that he’s got that fundamental stupidity that curses all English players except Gareth Barry, but if someone bollocks him, tells him he’s not as good as he thinks and plays him out of position then he gets over it and works well. My guess is that Roy will use him as an inside left forward, alongside Gerrard and Kuyt and behind Torres. It’s a forward line with workrate, goals, flair, skill and versatility, and it just might work. Roy tends to get the best out of players (anyone who can make Kelvin Etuhu and Aaron Hughes look class must be amazing), so I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to see him explode next year in a much improved Liverpool side.

    Hopefully though, Gerrard will get in his way, and Liverpool will fall apart, with Villa permanently overhauling them and getting CL football. It might not happen, but we can dream.

  • Giles says:

    The last week has not been kind to that last paragraph.

  • twistedblood says:

    There was once a dream that was Villa. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish … it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.

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