Aston Villa are fast becoming football’s answer to the Priory – rehabilitating footballers’ battered reputations and giving them one last chance to clean up their act.
Philippe Senderos, a laughing stock at Fulham, has suddenly turned into a rock. Alan Hutton, Kieran Richardson and Tom Cleverley are also rebuilding their flagging careers. The one man still waiting to grasp his second chance is Hammers hero Joe Cole. A shadow of his former fleet-offoot self last season, Cole’s Premier League days looked numbered when he was shown the Upton Park door in the summer.
Courted by clubs in Qatar, the US and Europe, the 32-year-old could have been forgiven for taking one last big payday, spending his spare time in sunnier climes than east London and with company infinitely more attractive than Sam Allardyce and Andy Carroll.
But then Paul Lambert came along to offer Cole one last shot at the big time. Both sides recognised it was a risk – Cole would be taking a big pay cut (to around £20,000 per week) to join a club up for sale and down on its luck, while Villa were getting a player who spent more time on the bench last season than the pitch.
A once-great midfielder at a once-great club, both desperately trying to revive fading memories. It had potential for a real tragicomedy. But both parties decided it was a gamble worth taking. Villa were sorely lacking in midfield creativity last season, and when his legs can carry him Cole can still pick a lock in the defence. The man himself will be getting a chance to prove himself again in the Premier League, in his favoured central midfield role.
However, we’re still talking in the future tense. Cole has played just 62 minutes in a Villa shirt, against Leyton Orient in the Capital One Cup, and has been an unused sub for three of our six league games. Among the three he had to watch from the stands were the trips to his former stamping grounds Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Whether he gets to soak up an ovation at the Boleyn next month remains to be seen.
We’re still curious as to what a fully-fit Cole, used in his best position, can bring. Is he still capable of opening teams up, or are the legs just too far behind his brain? We all remember the young Cole, with his quick feet and seemingly limitless potential. The new Gazza, emerging as the old one burned himself out. Chelsea got his best years, England saw flashes of his brilliance. All that, though, is a long time ago. After the disappointment of his time at Anfield, and his second spell at his spiritual home, Villa represents a final shot at redemption. Can his legs take it?