LONDON // The path to the players' exit out of Upton Park is a well-trodden one. The long-suffering Hammers fans must look back wistfully at the days when Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Jermain Defoe, David James, Rio Ferdinand, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and, as much as it pains them, Frank Lampard used to strut their stuff in the famous claret and blue shirts.
Yet despite their collective departures generating more than £65 million (Dhs388m) in transfer fees, West Ham somehow find themselves with debts and liabilities close to £100m. It is therefore no wonder the supporters are dreading the opening of the January transfer window, particularly if Carlton Cole continues to play with the same menace and potency he exhibited in the unlikely turnaround against Arsenal on Sunday.
While many were expecting the Gunners, 2-0 up at the time, to cut loose in the second half and compound West Ham's dismal start to the season, Cole had other ideas. He showed the kind of predatory instincts many thought he lacked by heading in the equaliser and then his strength and determination won the match-levelling penalty, converted by Alessandro Diamanti to clinch a 2-2 draw. The performance provided further evidence of Cole's growing maturity and would have offered further food for thought to the watching England coach Fabio Capello, who must decide which two of Cole, Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch will get seats on the plane bound for the World Cup.
Capello, you assume, is in regular contact with Gianfranco Zola, his countryman and the manager of West Ham who has harnessed Cole's considerable talents. Another Italian, the former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, once described Cole, 26, as the best youngster with whom he had ever worked, but the strapping striker looked in grave danger of not fulfilling his huge promise as he drifted from one unsuccessful loan spell to another at Wolves, Charlton and Aston Villa.
Frustrated by his nomadic existence and seeing his path to the first team continually blocked by the raft of high-profile forwards Chelsea signed with Roman Abramovich's millions, he moved to West Ham in 2006 for an undisclosed fee. It took Cole a while to find his feet at Upton Park and win over the supporters, but once he became the focal point of the attack, following another injury to the luckless Dean Ashton, and after Zola's arrival to replace Alan Curbishley, he has not looked back.
It is all a far cry from the days when Cole once turned up for a Chelsea reserve match at half-time and also reported late the first time he was called up by England, for the friendly against Spain in February. Capello is a stickler for punctuality so it should speak volumes for how highly the Italian disciplinarian rates the forward of Nigerian and Sierra Leone descent that he has awarded him six caps since.