JOE COLE - A NICE PROBLEM TO HAVE? - The Anfield Wrap

Problems.

Jay-Z dealt with his by emphasising the positive. He’s a glass half-full kind of guy.

Notorious B.I.G. was more downbeat, seeing the kind of causal link between the accumulation of capital and the emergence of personal challenges with which Rosie Redknapp, also sadly now departed, may have empathised.

Brendan Rodgers might fall somewhere between the two giants of rap (and canine tax administration).

He’s inherited one major problem – Liverpool Football Club. It is, all things considered, a good one to have.

He’s also taken on dozens more, many of which can be boiled down to single words. Codenames, if you will.

Project Carroll. Operation Aquilani Freedom. The Sterling Airlift.

Almost every member of the squad, for good or ill, needs work. Some to develop their existing game, some to realise their full potential, some to be persuaded Craven Cottage is lovely at this time of year.

It makes sense, then, that Rodgers should seek to limit the number of tasks he’s taking on as he seeks to impose his will on the club.

While I’m firmly in the camp that believes Andy Carroll could play a role in a possession-based, short-passing system, there’s also a clear logic to allowing him to leave for the right price, swerving all that extra work and reinvesting the cash.

Similarly, while the romantic in me would love to see Alberto Aquilani sweeping across the greensward next season, from a pragmatic point of view he should surely be moved on.

Aquilani’s hefty salary and reluctance or inability to settle at the club for even a mutually beneficial marriage of convenience suggest an attempt to accommodate him could be more trouble than it’s worth.

The Italian’s occasional langour in possession would represent another challenge, another line on the Rodgers to-do list, another potential barrier to a strong start to the season.

All of which brings us to Joe Cole, another player on big money who’s never properly made their home at Anfield.

Trumpeted in some quarters as the key to help rinse away all the Benitezy pragmatism which led to two Champions League finals and a highest-ever league points tally, he never came close to living up to his billing.

At times visibly unfit, lacking positional discipline and with little to offer in a system based on banks of four, Cole came to be the very definition of a misfit.

It wasn’t all the former Chelsea man’s fault – far from it. He did seem keen to make a go of things. Being publicly disowned by your new manager can hardly be a confidence booster, whether you’re at Liverpool, Halmstads, Orebro, Malmo, Neuchatel Xamax or the Swiss national team.

Nor was Cole by any means ideally suited to slotting into a disintegrating setup where many of the players around him were lacking in confidence, attitude or basic ability.

At times Cole’s displays felt symbolic. That our marquee signing played more like Mark E Smith was a fair enough reflection of the state of the club. That he was still palpably more successful than some other recruits that summer was more damning still.

This season, a fresh start for the club may offer a shot at redemption. With an apparent lack of interest from elsewhere, at least while Harry Redknapp’s out of a job, Cole and Liverpool may be stuck with each other.

While this state of affairs may suit the former more than the latter, it’s also fair to say Cole’s style of play is better suited to Liverpool’s new manager than to either of the previous two.

Blessed with outstanding natural talent, an 18-year-old Cole might have become genuinely world-class under the guidance of a progressive coach. A move to Chelsea came too late, though there were some excellent displays at Stamford Bridge and for England which kept alive the hope that one day Cole might scale the game’s highest peaks.

The time for that may now have gone, but an encouraging season for Lille should not be discounted too lightly.

A major question is where exactly Cole might fit in a Rodgers-style 4-3-3. Lacking the pace to perform in either wide forward role and the combativeness to be one of the two foundation midfielders, the most likely role would be as the furthest forward of the midfield trio.

Operating behind the striker and linking the play, Cole would be encouraged to deploy his subtle gifts and move the ball quickly. Of all the spaces in the system this may be offered the greatest licence to indulge in a riskier, more imaginative pass.

While he would not represent the direct goal threat Rodgers may wish to see from that area of the pitch, he could work well in certain games behind a striker offering the kind of pace and movement which might speed up Cole’s decision-making.

His European experience and relatively decent performances in the 2010 Europa League suggest he could be a useful part of a shadow squad for that competition – albeit a very well-paid one.

All of this could be rendered moot by the swish of a pen and the rustling of notes at QPR, of course, Cole must at least be of passing interest to the likes of Besiktas, currently more active in the transfer market than a temporary tattooist.

Yet should he stay at Anfield there are few fans who’d grumble. A couple of sublime touches against Toronto suggested some magic lingers.

With Rodgers directing him and Liverpool playing to his strengths, Cole might at least become a problem halved. And that might be enough for now.

 

Follow Steve on Twitter @steve_graves