x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Cole could be a Reds coup

Richard Jolly believes Liverpool's new signing may be the summer's best acquisition.

Joe Cole, right, has traded the blue of Chelsea for the red of Liverpool.
Joe Cole, right, has traded the blue of Chelsea for the red of Liverpool.

After Atletico Madrid eliminated them from the Europa League in April, effectively ensuring that a season of almost unprecedented embarrassment would end without the slightest consolation, Rafael Benitez argued that Liverpool's name and history would still lure players to Anfield. It appeared a case of wishful thinking, a chastened manager admitting that five players were required while all present were aware of the context: a distinctly limited budget. Now, after his own dismissal, Benitez's thinking may have been belatedly justified.

By spurning Tottenham and Arsenal, each of whom could offer Champions League football, Joe Cole provided the first proof of Liverpool's enduring pulling power. "A message Liverpool mean business," said Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool vice-captain. "A real coup." While Carragher is no impartial observer, it is hard to disagree. Unless the knee injury that ruined 2009 for Cole recurs, he is the most encouraging arrival at Anfield since Fernando Torres. Significantly, too, it is the first endorsement of Roy Hodgson's regime. The fear was that Liverpool would haemorrhage players this summer. While Javier Mascherano seems eager to depart, Cole's signing is the sort of statement of intent that may persuade significant others to remain, with Steven Gerrard already leading the way. Liverpool could suit the Londoner. For Chelsea and England alike, he had become accustomed to life on the bench. A cause celebre, cherished by players and the paying public alike, his doubters have generally been his employers. Strangely undervalued by two Italian managers, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, an Englishman Wayne Rooney has likened to a Brazilian in his style of play may finally be granted the pivotal role his talent merits. For Cole himself, the ideal would be a central brief. For Hodgson, the 28-year-old's appeal must include his versatility. In a squad that lacks strength in depth, Cole's ability to operate in three positions, whether on the left or the right flanks or behind the sole striker, could make him invaluable; within a 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, Cole provides abundant options. His trickery has long made him a crowd pleaser. Despite a hefty pay packet, it is easy to imagine the Liverpool owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are newfound admirers. Because one interpretation is that his signing on a free transfer completes a fractured swap deal: Yossi Benayoun, another diminutive, skilled schemer, went to Chelsea and perhaps on to Ancelotti's bench, while Cole replaces him on Merseyside. As the Englishman is two years younger and Liverpool banked £5 million (Dh28.5m) for the Israeli, the simple mathematics favour the northern club. Liverpool's other major recruit so far, Milan Jovanovic, was another out-of-contract player, a deal Benitez concluded. The club could also reap £4m by selling Albert Riera, the displaced Spanish winger, generating funds for Hodgson's rebuilding project. The balance sheet is looking healthier. More importantly, so is the team. The oft-voiced criticism of Liverpool was that they were overly reliant upon Gerrard and Torres, a side that contained only two potential match-winners. Cole should complete a trilogy. Should the captain be needed in the heart of midfield there is, at last, a natural alternative as Torres' supplier. He is good enough. Lest we forget, Cole was shortlisted for the Players' (PFA) Player of the Year award in 2006 and was Chelsea's outstanding footballer two seasons later when they reached the Champions League final. His backheeled finish against Manchester United at Old Trafford effectively determined last season's title race. Indeed, that should have reminded a strangely uninterested Sir Alex Ferguson of the gifts Cole possessed, which he coveted when he was a prospect at West Ham. But United and Chelsea's loss is Liverpool's gain. In these cash-conscious times, Cole may prove the bargain of the summer. sports@thenational.ae