West Ham United: Can Joe Cole be a hit again with the Hammers?
Former West Ham United captain Joe Cole is today expected to finalise his sensational return to Upton Park, but will the former Hammer be able to roll back the years and wow the fans with his terrific ball skill or will he be a poor imitation of the player who left for Chelsea in 2003?
Joe Cole was making headlines way before he made his West Ham debut at the age of 17. He famously scored seven times against Spain in a single youth game and Sir Alex Ferguson was keen to take him to Manchester United.
Cole was a midfield magician. He played without fear and had the skill to leave defenders seeing stars. His low centre of gravity, creativity and love of the game had fans and hacks salivating at his every touch. Cole was already being dubbed the new Paul Gascoigne.
Once Cole had broken into the first team there was no stopping him. He cemented his place in the starting XI with a string of top performances and went on to captain the club. Unfortunately West Ham were relegated in the 2002/03 season and it was inevitable that he would be on his way.
The stars of the golden generation that came through the academy were already thinking of leaving the East End. Ferdinand, Johnson and Lampard were all at pastures new before Cole decided Chelsea would be his next destination. Even though he went to one of West Ham's bitter rivals, the Hammers always gave Cole a great reception when he returned and he always appreciated that.
However, despite winning the Premier League title and winning 56 England caps, Joe Cole has failed to live up to his star billing. Some pundits blame this travesty on managers, like Jose Mourinho, who refused to let him play his own game; making him take on responsibility on tracking back instead of getting the ball and creating magic. Injury also hampered his career.
Sure Cole had a number of magical moments that he will look back on fondly - he loved scoring against Manchester United for instance and who could forget the goal he scored against Norwich when he evaded one challenge from behind, then a lunge from the head on, to move towards the penalty box and blast the ball in to the roof of the net - but it should have been so much more.
Cole missed large parts of the season at Chelsea due to knee surgery and it took him a long time to get over them. It's always hard to come back from serious injury and players can become frustrated that their bodies can not do what they used to. They have to adapt. Cole may not be as quick with the legs any more, but his mind is still razor sharp and can split a defence, given half a chance.
For all of Cole's ability, and early promise in front of goal, he was never deadly when it came to scoring. In 150 games for West Ham he only scored 13 and gained 18 assists. At Chelsea he made 281 appearances and scored 40 with 43 assists. More recently at Liverpool, again where his chances were hampered by injury, Cole only scored five times in 43 appearances - one of those coming against West Ham - with three assists.
Statistically Cole's career doesn't look that great, especially when you compare him with another former West Ham youngster Frank Lampard. Most West Ham fans have no time for Lampard junior, but he is always in amongst the goals, has won it all with Chelsea and created a legacy that will live long in the memory of Chelsea and England fans.
But Joe Cole has the ability to get the fans on their feet and turn the course of a game with a moment of sheer brilliance. At West Ham he will be given the chance to excel on the pitch, knowing that the fans, team-mates, manager and owners want him to do well, not only for the team but for him personally.
Cole may not be the same dynamic midfielder that they said goodbye to a decade ago, but the fans know that they have one of their own back in the team and he will give everything to help West Ham's cause.
Joe Cole's return will be a great start to the year for West Ham fans and hopefully his return to his old stomping ground will bring out the best in him.
Calling all West Ham fans: How do you feel about the return of Joe Cole? What do you think he will bring to the club? Can he roll back the years at the Boleyn Ground or do you think he will spend a lot of time on the bench? How would you assess Cole's career? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.