While Joe Cole will get a warm reception from his former fans, his World Cup chances are frosty.
West Ham to Chelsea is a London path well trodden
In an increasingly globalised world, the path from East to West is becoming more familiar. In a cosmopolitan capital, a journey from East to West London still has a rarity value. It was one Frank Lampard made in 2001 and Joe Cole repeated two years later. Colleagues for West Ham, Chelsea and England, the two midfielders have long received contrasting receptions when they encounter their former club. Now they are recipients of very different treatment from two Italians, their managers for club and country.
Not that there is anything abnormal about the handling of Lampard; Carlo Ancelotti and Fabio Capello appear equally convinced of his importance. The 31-year-old has a more advanced role for Ancelotti than Capello, but a seniority and a significance for both. Cole, in contrast, finds himself consigned to the margins. Since his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury to his knee, he has been unable to cement a place in Ancelotti's plans. Overshadowed by Florent Malouda and ignored on occasions for Salomon Kalou, Cole has not left the bench in Chelsea's last two games, though the squad has been depleted for both fixtures.
His contract expires in June. Instead of a summer in South Africa, unconcerned about the future and focused only on the World Cup, the likelihood is that Cole will be ignored by Capello and remain in England, if not at Chelsea. With hints of interest from Manchester United, his services will be in demand, but it would amount to a snub if he were to appear unwanted at Chelsea, his employers for the last seven seasons.
"I think he's keeping a very good mental attitude," said Ancelotti, who was non-committal when asked if Cole will feature today. "He's a very important player for us. Also when he's a substitute he doesn't lose his confidence." But reunions can have a galvanising effect for those at a low ebb. While Lampard is routinely booed by West Ham fans, Cole is cherished by them. The older man, though the son and nephew of Hammers players and a management team at Upton Park, suffered from the perception that he saw the club as a stepping stone; true or not, Lampard's transition from jobbing box-to-box player to one of the epitome of consistent effectiveness occurred at Stamford Bridge.
Cole has long straddled both sides of the style-versus-substance debate, but in each of his three finest seasons he has provided both. They were 2007-8, when he was the outstanding performer in a side who reached the Champions League final; 2005-6, when he finally won Jose Mourinho's approval; and 2002-3, when none did more to prevent West Ham's relegation. It accounts for his enduring popularity at Upton Park. Lampard and John Terry, another with roots in the East End, should anticipate some unsavoury chants from the travelling supporters today. For Cole, it should be a mutual appreciation society.
Perhaps it is a consequence of his talent. Gianfranco Zola, another with a nice-guy persona and a vast degree of ability, is equally assured of a pleasant welcome by supposedly opposing fans. Voted the greatest player in Chelsea's history, the West Ham manager could be forgiven for wishing he met with such unqualified approval at his current club. Last week's defeat to Bolton increased the chances of West Ham being demoted for the first time since Cole's farewell season and amplified the speculation about Zola's position. Zola was not the appointment of the new board, the high-profile joint chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan who have made his salary (£1.9 million, Dh10.45m) public.
"It was not an easy season for Gianfranco because of injuries," said Ancelotti, who sold Chelsea the Sardinian when he was Parma manager. "I hope West Ham stay in the Premier League because I think Zola did a good job. A very difficult job, but he didn't lose his confidence or focus." Zola's side, featuring another former Chelsea striker in Carlton Cole, face Chelsea's third-choice goalkeeper, Ross Turnbull, with Henrique Hilario joining Petr Cech on the sidelines. Both may miss Tuesday's match with Inter Milan and Ancelotti admitted: "We have a problem with goalkeepers but I'm not worried. The performance of the team does not rely upon the goalkeeper."
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