The unknown future of Joe Cole has become the major transfer news so far this summer. That’s not entirely surprising given that the only other major transfer news has concerned an out-of-favour England goalkeeper (and we all know how popular they are at the moment), a lanky Serbian centre-forward – who’s nickname at Birmingham will resemble one half of a breakfast puppet duo – and Martin Petrov’s indifference inspiring move to Bolton Wanderers.
What has also been interesting about the Joe Cole news is the salivation of the top clubs over the prospect of signing the 28-year-old. Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United have been linked – though, United have debunked the rumours today – with the former Chelsea midfielder. So why has Joe Cole become such a hot property?
Well, first and foremost, it is his undeniable ability. He has the foresight and judgment to see a pass and execute it, he’s comfortable in possession and has the belief to run at his man, and he’s one of a few technically-gifted English players. He also rarely loses possession for his team: in the Chelsea game against Wolves last season he made 45 passes in total, with only 6 of them going astray. And, as you can see from the diagram, most of those he misplaced were in advanced areas.
Secondly, he is an extremely versatile player. This aspect has almost been to his detriment by being forced wide on his unfavoured foot for England. Nevertheless, Cole has never complained and has even out-performed many of his compatriots in past competitions.
This is because he has grown used to playing anywhere in the attacking half.
The heat map to the left is of Joe Cole’s positioning in the Chelsea home game against Fulham last season. Cole has more-or-less covered the central midfield and both wings with his movement. Compare that to Frank Lampard, another man you would normally associate with diverse positioning, and Frank’s omission of the right half is clear.
Linked to that positional diversity is Cole’s determination, of course, which makes him a firm favourite to fans and it’s probably why they have been so frustrated by his absence from the World Cup campaign so far.
The diagram of his game against Wolves illustrates this perfectly. Although he’s clearly been asked by his manager to stick to the left flank, Cole still drifts inward to create a pass or to receive the ball; his industry even sees him appear on the right on several occasions. Moreover, this spontaneous inward movement allows a slightly deeper Florent Malouda – and, normally, Ashley Cole – to drift into the space he has left. This is yet another aspect England has been missing recently with the left-back watched closely in the game against Algeria because there was no one else on the left.
In addition to that, he also has the ability to do something immeasurably special like this:
Joe Cole, imbued in a laconic summation, is real quality.
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