July 2010, World Cup 2010

Joe Cole to Liverpool is Truly Boom or Bust

So Joe Cole leaves Chelsea and joins Liverpool for a no doubt whopping signing-on fee plus a comparable weekly wage and probably the promise of greater playing time.

Since bursting onto the scene with West Ham nearly 10 years ago as the next big thing, Cole has flattered to deceive. Whilst obviously talented, Chelsea never really found a regular place for a player who really needs a team built around him rather than trying to fit him into an irregular position or pattern of play. The ironic thing is that Cole has probably suffered through being English as much as anything. If he was from more exotic climes then Cole would have been indulged more but as the peripheral Englishman at the Bridge after the mainstays of Lampard and Terry, Cole has suffered.

He also hasn’t really taken the opportunities as they have arisen for him either domestically or internationally. His great strike for England against Sweden remains his international high point and the fact that he couldn’t get into one of the worst England teams for generations is hardly likely to massage an already fragile ego. The deal has effectively become a swap for Yossi Benayoun, another equally gifted, utility midfielder who has achieved more and enhanced his reputation since leaving West Ham.

The problem for Cole at Anfield is that while he has a new manager who obviously trusts him, his ideal position, behind the striker or front two, is already taken by the man who really runs Liverpool FC – Steven Gerrard MBE. Hodgson needs a big season to avoid being seen as a scapegoat or caretaker so needs Cole and Gerrard to build a relationship from the off but its hard to see either making the changes to their game required to fully unleash the potential and ability of the other. With previous incumbent Benitez casting envious eyes at the likes of Mascherano and others from Anfield, it might be a very unfamiliar squad that Cole takes to the field with against Arsenal on August 15. To be blunt—a manager’s faith in a lad can go great lengths in establishing a foundation for success. That said, a man out of position with a dogged history of underachieving against the best competition goes an equal distance in laying the foundation for failure. As such, a desperate Liverpool have taken a flier that will likely skip the good and bad narrative of the reasonable and head straight for the failure or glory tales that embody the boom or bust world of the club transfer window.

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at Guy@yanksarecoming.com. He also generally kicks ass.

Guy Bailey

  • Dan Cooper

    Couldn’t agree with you more Guy. JCole is a decent signing- especially on a free- but getting the most out of him is going to be difficult because of Gerrard. I wonder if the idea might be to play the 4-2-3-1 thing with Cole, Gerrard and Kuyt supporting Torres.
    Unfortunately for Liverpool fans I don’t think this is where Liverpool need players. A good left back is definitely required, but it’s the 2 in that formation that really make the difference. I’ve never really rated Mascherano- I think he’s a thug with limited ability and the less said about Lucas the better. In my opinion what they really need is to either go Spanish style with 2 deep sitting passers or Chelsea style with 2 battlers (but with more to their game- like Essien.) Either way, these type of players aren’t cheap and I’m not sure Hodgson can find them by raiding Fulham- the firesale at Man City might be a better bet.
    I’m no Liverpool fan, but I do think it’s sad to see a once great team languishing in disarray, and in my mind the Premiership is a better league to watch with a good Liverpool team.

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    If they brought in Dempsey they’d have another battler– but not in the center. You’d have to slot someone inside for that to work and then you create new problems. I like Mascherano a bit more than say a Nigel De Jong, but I agree he’s limited and without a more capable deep midfielder playing alongside him, I’m not certain he’s more than a warm body on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s call an ace an ace–Gerrard and recently Kuyt are pure class and we all know what Torres can do– but I’m not even certain Liverpool are the best team in Liverpool this season, much less on the up to the Champions League.

    I agree with Guy too and don’t see how Joe Cole changes any of that.

  • Jon

    What’s sad about this for the former Hammer is that he could have slotted perfectly into Rafa’s system… but not Roy’s (though I’m sure Gramps has some ideas). Cole is no out-and-out winger, but he thrives in advanced positions, and the Kuyt/Riera/whoever role would suit him just fine. Call it wing forward or attacking side mid if you like. One doesn’t have to be C-Ron fast to thrive in that role, Kuyt’s proven that, and I think Cole’s got enough craft, guile, and creativity to make the spot across from Dirk his own. But Old Man Roy wants to play a 4-4-2 doesn’t he? Seems like Joe’s at sea without a proper position once again.

  • Raf Crowley

    As a Liverpool fan, here’s what I think. Yes, Cole is the best when supporting the strikers, but he has been successful on the wings. From ca. 05-08, we was slotted out there on the England team while Gerrard, Lampard, and Beckham patrolled the other midfield spots. I don’t doubt for a second that he could do this again.

    Yes, maybe he’s better as a WF in a 4-2-3-1 than he would be as a pure winger in a 4-4-2, but maybe Roy will do something innovative (he did win coach of the year after all). I mean….he started the game yesterday with a 4-3-3. I don’t recall the last time Rafa ever did something like that. Here’s what I would do and why…..

    Dirk Kuyt has proven himself to be useless in a traditional 4-4-2 because he’s not fast enough to play a winger and not good enough on the ball to be a support man for Torres. It took Rafa 2 years to figure this out, and until he did, Kuyt did nothing but frustrate me and most Liverpool fans. Assume that Kuyt “has to” play. If that’s the case then…..

    Why not play an old-Arsenal-style 4-3-3 with your strikers having free reign to push toward center? Surely in such a formation Torres, Kuyt, and and Jovanovic would thrive because from Kuyt’s perspective, he could play this more as a winger only drifting toward center when truly comfortable. Then, you play your midfielders in a rotating triangle in the center of the pitch. Gerrard, Cole, and Aquilani would do well in this role. If you want to go to a more traditional DMF, plug in Lucas for Mr. Glass Leg and allow Gerrard and Cole to play narrowly off of one another in the center/switching back and forth all the time, but honestly I don’t think you need to; I think going balls-out attacking with the three-headed triangle of Gerrard, Cole, and Aquilani would be awesome. As much as Bob Bradley would hate this, it forces play through the center of the pitch. At the same time, assuming they can find a viable left back, they already have Glen Johnson at RB, so if they wanted to attack up the wings they could. If you need to, you have Lucas/Aquilani off the bench at center, Babel off the bench to take an outside striker role, and Ngog to spell Torres if/when he breaks again. This maximizes the team’s strengths – a concept American soccer fans must be puzzled to hear but a concept that I think Hodgson has demonstrated the ability to understand. Namely, what I’ve just outlined is a very skilled, very possession-friendly bunch that can dominate a game that is channeled through the center of the pitch, and at the same time are fast enough on the wings to attack there if needed. I see Roy’s 4-3-3 yesterday as evidence that we may be on the same page here…..

    Also, understand that soccer formations are dynamic. Yes, we can talk at length about the merits of one formation over another, but the fact of the matter is that within a game at this level, players are switching, overlapping, etc. all the time. The bottom line as a high-level soccer player is that you’re taught to play toward space. In the end, this is what the good players, including Cole, will do.

    At the same time…..Roy could just go 4-1-3-1-1 like Rafa and have Cole play AMF while Gerrard plays CMF like he did with Rafa. I mean….that’s also an option, and probably another easy solution that I just thought of, but I still like mine better.

  • Dan Cooper

    Raf. Are you seriously suggesting that Woy should start with Torres, Jovanovic, Kuyt, Gerrard, Cole and Aquilani? Never, ever going to happen. I’d love to see it- balls out attack in these days of defensive play, but it would end up being like Maradona’s Argentina team. They would get hammered on the break.

  • Raf

    Maybe, they’d get hammered but it’d be awesome to watch. I doubt it’s realistic, since coaches are conservative, but I’d do it in a second. I think most likely is that it would wind up looking like a 4-1-2-3 where Lucas/DMF plays behind Gerrard and Cole to avoid that possibility.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the counter because if you play it this way, in theory you should be able to control tons of possession and the midfield should be so clogged up that giving an opponent space to play a long-ball counter should be a non-issue most of the time. That said, if they managed to do it, you’d need Kuyt and Jovanovic to track back at least temporarily while the midfield could recover wide and look for their marks. So, on defense, it would almost look like a 4-1-4-1 if you see what I’m saying. I know Kuyt can do this; not sure about Jovanovic.

    That said, I’m 90% sure that if this is done, it’ll be Lucas instead of Aquiliani, but even under these conditions, you’ve still found a way to maximize Gerrard and Cole by making them both box-to-box midfielders that are playing a recessed role behind the striker. I mean….it makes sense to me…..

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