Could Joe Cole have been a great value signing for Tottenham?
As an exercise in trying to keep my expectations for the future of our thusfar golden season grounded, I decided to have a little flick back into the archives today and have a look at what the state of things was like during preseason. It made for pretty depressing reading: people on this site were growing unsettled about our apparent lack of ambition in the transfer window, Luka Modric was teetering on the doorstep of Spurs Lodge with the scent of Russian money wafted his way teasing him out for good. Peter Crouch was still on our books with at that time no signs of moving. Perhaps most tragically of all, a point I had all but forgotten about up to now- we were linked with Joe Cole.
A ‘triffic lad he may be. A talented winger with a few good seasons at a top club behind him arguably. But as a marquee signing for a club that was at the time struggling to come up for a reason as to why it should be breaking back into the Champion's League place it had forfeited the season prior, surely not. I don't know for sure, but I'm almost certain that Daniel Levy baulked just as much as the fans at the idea of bringing a 30 year-old who by all accounts had spent a year proving that he is completely past it at Liverpool FC. So why is it then that I find myself looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, and wondering if a move for Joe Cole would perhaps have been a tidy bit of business?
Reflecting back on the decision to bid for Scott Parker over the summer, Harry Redknapp recalled telling Daniel Levy: "forget looking for £20m players or anything else, Scott Parker is what we need at this football club". He was correct: Parker has brought a match-winning, tenacious edge to our squad in recent months. Prior to this, when speculating as to whether or not a proposed loan deal for Emmanuel Adebayor would go through, Redknapp noted that "he has fantastic ability, and he had that spell at Arsenal when he was unplayable". Again, since then, he has been vindicated time and time again by the quality Ade has brought in the final third.
At the time, however, you might have been tempted to ask Harry why, if both players could offer so much to the club, Spurs weren't facing serious and sustained competition for their signatures. The answer is simple: both had been overlooked, for different reasons, as unnecessary risks not worth putting money down for. What else links the pair? Both have turned out to be outstanding coups for the club this season. Put simply, I trust Redknapp when he claims he can get the best out of players that other managers won't.
Largely, this state of affairs has been down to the fact that, as has been elaborated upon heavily elsewhere on this site, Harry is exceptionally good at allowing players to do what they do best. Between allowing Bale and van der Vaart to play where they want to spurning ‘tactics' proper as a dirty word, creative freedom has emerged as our manager's buzzword of recent seasons: and I would argue that with few players would this have been more effective than Joe Cole.
If anybody has been the victim of poor career choices and bad management in recent years, it's Cole. Ask anyone what his position is today and most people would tell you he's a winger. This is a total misconception; he started out playing in the Paul Gascoigne attacking midfielder role, and this remains the best outlet for his creative spark. It has been the misuse of him on the flanks at both a club and national level that to me has been the root cause of his inability to fully achieve the heights that his potential should have helped him too. Similarly, his failure to truly shine for England, despite strong showings at the 2006 World Cup, has not been helped by the kick-and-rush tactics favoured by the national team which do not suit his style of play. By contrast, under a manager who allows his players to occupy the roles they are most comfortable with, the natural gifts which Redknapp identified in a young Joe Cole may finally make a belated appearance.
And yes, I do believe Cole does possess such gifts, even if statistics from previous seasons might seem pretty grim. He's never been a leading assister or goalscorer for any of the clubs he's played at to date: never the star of any squad he's yet featured in. But he does, undeniably, possess remarkable technique and vision. David Bentley can fluke balls into the back of the net with equal ease, but he can't show the flashes of brilliance that Cole has when he's shimmied round defenses and put them to the sword. And he has never demonstrated the same level of commitment and work rate that Cole has at his best. All of this is real and raw potential that a manager willing to gamble on giving the midfielder the breathing space he desperately needs might yet be able to tap.
Yes, I was against Joe Cole signing for Spurs in the last two windows, and yes, I would probably still bristle slightly at the suggestion now- the memories of his abject failure of a season at LFC still fresh in the memories.. And yes, Harry Redknapp's total football tactics won't in ever case make duds fire, as Roman Pavlyuchenko proves week in and week out. But with a naturally gifted player like Cole, it might just have proven to be a good fit, and I feel I've seen enough this season to trust in Redknapp when he says he can get the best out of a player written off in most other quarters.