Early Doors

Joe Cole: What went wrong?

Early Doors

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There
were some grumpy hacks around Anfield last night, as a much-changed Liverpool
side struggled to a goalless draw against Utrecht.

Early
Doors didn't bother to watch the game, and doesn't suppose it was much good to
watch, but there is thinly-veiled fury aplenty following Roy Hodgson's u-turn
over the participation of Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina.

Hodgson
promised before the game to field a strong side containing both players, but in
the event neither played.

Words
like 'desperate' and 'mockery' were bandied around by frustrated scribbers, who
in their anger largely overlooked the reality that this was a game Liverpool
did not even have to win, and that they achieved their aim of topping their
Europa League group.

The Sun's David Facey
called it "the best-attended
reserve match in the club's 118-year history" and among the second-string
stooges was one Joseph Cole, whose dismal performance was singled out as
particularly hopeless in Hodgson's post-match interviews.

This
may sound like an enormous dose of wisdom after the event (the best kind of
wisdom, if you ask ED), but it is very hard to see why everybody loves Cole so
much.

At
the World Cup, widespread popular opinion said Fabio Capello had to ditch his
4-4-2 for 4-2-3-1 in order to accommodate Cole.

When
he eventually did come on against Slovenia and Germany, he was accorded one of
the loudest roars of England's tournament (not saying much, admittedly), but
was just as hopeless as everyone else.

His
decision to quit Chelsea for Anfield on a free transfer was meant to be one of
the summer's biggest transfer coups, but it now looks like little more than a
tragic waste of £80,000-a-week.

And
having missed out on Cole, Harry Redknapp promptly lucked into an £8m deal for
Rafael van der Vaart, who has shown what a real attacking midfielder looks
like.

Hailed
as the crown jewel in an exceptional crop of young players at West Ham, Cole lost
his way until Chelsea signed him, then Jose Mourinho turned him from an
attacking central midfielder into a hard-working wide player with a degree of
technical ability.

Did
he have the talent and imagination coached out of him? Was a rare gem forced to
abandon his free role behind the strikers, and shoved out on the wing, in order
to conform to a system?

Or
was he never really that good, and his repositioning on the left flank was the
only way to get something useful out of a player with obvious and significant
limitations?

We
love to beat ourselves up in this country about our failure to get the most out
of so-called maverick geniuses. There is a feeling that the likes of Cole,
Wayne Rooney and now Jack Wilshere should be left to their own devices, and
allowed to play the game in whatever creative, carefree manner they see fit.

Do
we (or in Cole's case, Mourinho) crush their spirit by emphasising work rate
and discipline - or is it just a normal part of the modern game?

Certainly
Spain's midfielders have no problem combining imagination and technical
brilliance with the tactical awareness to work within a system and put in a
shift on the defensive side.

And
countries that produce more than one talented player every five years can see
the odd one fail to make the grade without being thrown into an existential
funk - there will be another off the production line before we know it.

Cole's
Liverpool career is not irredeemable, and ED suspects stinking out the joint
against Utrecht may represent a depressing low rather than the norm.

But
it hardly matters any more. He is now 29. He will never be the player we hoped
he could be.

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HEADLINE OF THE DAY:
'Mrs Rovers in a new attack on Allardyce' from the sport
index of the Daily Mail's website. Big Sam criticised BY A WOMAN! The indignity
of it all.

QUOTE
OF THE DAY:
"I don't think he is
really unhappy ... I hope he continues to be unhappy if he is scoring goals
like this." Roberto Mancini on whingeing skipper Carlos Tevez

FOREIGN
VIEW:
Internazionale chief Massimo Moratti on the joys of football in the
Middle East, following Inter's Club World Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi: "It was also a strange atmosphere, as there was so much
silence around me. There was no real enthusiasm and the people in the VIP
section didn't cheer on either side."

COMING
UP:
Juventus v Manchester City
sounds like a pretty good game until you realise it's a Europa League dead
rubber. But we'll be following it live anyway, so why don't you?

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