Liverpool: After A Year In Lille, Has Anything Changed For Joe Cole?

Joe Cole was the first important Englishman to try his luck right across the channel since Chris Waddle in the early 90’s (A Tyrone Mears year-long holiday excluded). What did it bring him? And Lille? Or even for the French league?
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Joe Cole was the first important Englishman to try his luck right across the channel since Chris Waddle in the early 90’s (A Tyrone Mears year-long holiday excluded). What did it bring him? And Lille? Or even for the French league?

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"Joe Cole will stay in Liverpool. The new staff in charge decided to hang on to him. We will keep a superb souvenir of the player but even more of the man.” These words were pronounced very recently by Lille’s coach Rudy Garcia but could have been the ones of anyone who met this expat during this season.

While agreeing to seal this loan deal last summer, both Cole and Lille took a risk. One of them ended a clear winner the other one is still penning down the pros and cons. The LOSC emerged as the main beneficiary of this year long deal.

On the pitch, he adapted quite quickly to his team mates and to the Ligue 1 requirements. On his first appearance on day 5, he only came in 25 minutes from the final whistle but found enough time for his first class act of the season. He offered his first assist following a fast dribbling session in the middle of four Saint-Etienne defenders. Two weeks later, he scored his first goal with a long range effort against Sochaux. This way he made sure everybody knew the info sending him to France was not a fluke.

It had to be this way because he actually did not make much ado outside the pitch. You did not see him in any talk show, or interviewed in any paper. The language barrier was probably the main reason but not the only one. He seemed shy and/or focused on his objective.

On his arrival, he clearly expressed his will to find the playing time and exposure Liverpool couldn’t offer him anymore. He secretly wanted to get back to a positive momentum offering him a chance to be picked for the 2012 Euro with the three lions.

Last summer, he was told by the reds' management that he would be at best a 3rd choice on his wing for the upcoming season. That was not matching at all with any of his objectives. Nobody in the Premier League was able to offer him top level football (Champions’ League football) with a starting eleven spot almost certain. He had to look away from England then, abroad, where professional English footballers refuse to go.

The Lille choice seemed to be an obvious and wise one, the city capital of the north being only a stroll away from his native London

The Lille choice seemed to be an obvious and wise one, the capital of the north being only a stroll away from his native London and being directly qualified for at least six Champions’ League games. At first sight it looked like a win-win-win deal. Liverpool was striking through half of his enormous wages for the season, Lille was hosting a player with international recognition which will be of interest on and off the pitch, and Joe Cole was enjoying playing time and exposure without having to shamble his family life.

For a few months, it looked idyllic. He was piling up the good performances with Lille, and you could sometimes notice a few English journalists knock on the training camp door for information. His best moment strangely came a few weeks after the beginning of the bad news. Right after the Christmas break he scored a hat trick in a French cup tie but a few days before this break he said goodbye to international football, Lille finishing last of its pool in the Champions’ League group stage.

Halfway through the season, his bet was still ranked as feasible. Capello’s staff even came to Lille once to overlook his performances. Unfortunately it wouldn’t go further and Capello’s resignation has nothing to do with it. Cole’s performances had.

Indeed, his performances faded, his ratings started to fall down in the beginning of 2012, and so did his playing time. He was little by little replaced on the pitch by Dimitri Payet, a younger, faster and more efficient version of Cole. By the end of the season he was only taking part to the dying minutes of every game. His dream was gone a while ago… Nonetheless, he remained as cool and professional as you expect a gentleman to be. He never had a bad word to anyone, accepted his fate without stopping to be a model team mate to the others.

Although his professional gap year can be considered to be below expectations, he certainly enjoyed the cultural experience and shared this to their advantage with people he met during his stay. The rumor has it that he became good friend with Eden Hazard and that he was influential in the kid’s decision to join Chelsea rather than a Manchester side…

In a nutshell, as Waddle did in his time, Joe Cole improved considerably the opinion French opinion has about British citizens. He will be missed and everybody here must be joining me in wishing him the best of luck under the new management in place at Anfield.

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