Cole can be England’s trump card
THE FIRST game of England’s qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup is a dim memory now but if this run ends with a final in Johannesburg, it is worth noting that it began with two goals from Joe Cole at the Olympic Stadium in Montjuic, Barcelona.
It would be an exaggeration to claim that they saved Fabio Capello’s skin, but at half-time in his first game against Andorra, his new England team had fared no better than the old England team under Steve McClaren, and the score was 0-0. It was at this point that Capello asked Stuart Pearce, the England under-21 manager, what he would do as they walked towards the tunnel. Pearce said he would give the starting XI another 10 minutes and, if they were still without a breakthrough, make changes. Capello walked in and immediately hooked two players, Stewart Downing and Jermain Defoe, for Cole and Emile Heskey.
Within 10 minutes of the secondhalf restart, the time that Pearce was going to use to wait and see, England were 2-0 up and Cole had scored both. That is why Capello is capo di tutti capi and why Cole, whose season is only now beginning after injury, remains one of the most important players in England.
He may not make Capello’s starting XI but there is no more significant member of his squad. Talking with Steven Gerrard last week, the subject of the landmark 4-1 win in Croatia came up and it was not until Gerrard mentioned watching it with friends that I recalled he was not on the pitch for the game that slipped the Capello
era into top gear. Cole played in Zagreb, until removed by the brutal Robert Kovac, but not before England had established a lead.
Gerrard regained his place, obviously, but if he was to be injured, the outstanding candidate to take his free role, starting on the left, would be Cole. The same is true of Wayne Rooney, the support striker for Emile Heskey. In his absence, either Cole would take his place, or Gerrard, with Cole moving to his position. If England lost their fast wide men, Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott or Shaun Wright-Phillips, Cole could play right side midfield, or swap with Gerrard again. His return in a Chelsea shirt not only solves the teething difficulties of Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond formation, it gives England options that were sorely missed. David Beckham is no alternative to a lightning fast winger, but Cole is; he has a complexity to his game that goes far beyond being good with a dead ball when the play stops.
It was Cole who for a long period solved the problem on England’s left midfield under Sven Goran Eriksson. In the desperately disappointing 2006 World Cup finals campaign, his display in the group game with Sweden in Cologne was one of the few moments of brightness from an England forward.
It would seem Capello has his starting line-up and Cole is not in it, but that does not mean he will not be a key player this summer; indeed, he could still finish the World Cup campaign as he started it. And wouldn’t that be something?