The retirement of a footballer is always tinged with sadness, especially for fans of their former clubs. Last month, it was the turn of Joe Cole to announce his retirement from football, and if ever there was a time to remember how popular a player was with fans and teammates, this was it.
Joe made a total of 147 appearances for West Ham across two spells at the club. It’s his first spell as a youngster that made the most impact on fans and fellow professionals. As a famous Academy graduate, Cole made his full debut for the Hammers at the age of 17. It didn’t take long to notice that he was a naturally-gifted, hard-working footballer with the attitude required to succeed at a high level.
As a season ticket holder at the time, it was the young Cole who epitomised why I enjoyed going to watch us play on a Saturday. He brought flair to a game with the odd trick or flick, but he also went about his business in an understated manner — a combination hard to come by. In his glory years in east London, Joey racked up 13 goals in 150 appearances across competitions. The 02/03 season saw him make his most appearances and win Hammer Of The Year, which was enough to appeal to Chelsea as they snapped him up for £6.5million following West Ham’s relegation to the second tier.
Across his career, Joe Cole played 18 seasons in the top tier of English football. That compares nicely to longstanding servants to the Premier League — Ryan Giggs competed for an impressive 22, Frank Lampard notched up 20 and Jamie Carragher managed 17. If we break down further to average appearances per Premier League season, it gives an insight as to why it’s so often said that Cole didn’t reach his full potential as a footballer in England. Giggs averaged 29 games a season, Lampard managed 30 and Carragher also averaged 30.
Joe Cole managed an average of 21 games per season in the top flight. Granted, his first season allows limited appearances on the count of his age, but from then on he battled a few injuries, sometimes playing in positions he felt less comfortable in and possibly a confidence crisis. A lack of confidence that can, perhaps, be attributed to everyone’s favourite motivational drain, Jose Mourinho.
Back in 2006, Jose made Cole the subject of his public slating by claiming: ‘I’ve told him, one more match like that and he’s out. He has to play for the team and not for the public and himself.’ I don’t know Joe personally, but that doesn’t sound like the player we all grew to love in the early Noughties.
The cruciate ligament damage he suffered in 2009 did set Joe back, something he openly admitted later in his career. So between injury woes, being played on the wing where he was less comfortable and having his self-confidence knocked, Cole faced an uphill struggle to maintain his playing style and success.
Despite this, in a career spanning 20 years, the still fresh-faced midfielder made a total of 677 appearances for seven clubs, scoring 95 times. He also gained 56 England caps, netting 10 times. And with three Premier League titles, three FA Cup medals and having played in three World Cups, it can’t be said that the didn’t achieve anything. His efforts across all clubs, I’m sure, have not gone unnoticed.
On and off the field, our Joe has been a popular character throughout his career. Rio Ferdinand paid a great tribute to him on the day he announced he was to retire, with a touching Instagram post that began: ‘Not seen many kids light up youth football like this guy.’ Eden Hazard was also very vocal in his praise for his former teammate saying that it was Cole who convinced him to play for Chelsea — a decision that the Belgian hasn’t regretted.
Joe’s former Liverpool and England colleague Steven Gerrard also sent a message of congratulations. Stevie had been very complimentary to Cole during his career, stating that whatever Messi could do, Joe could do just as well or even better.
He’s still also friends with Mr West Ham, Mark Noble. A glowing reference to his personality off the field. At the age of 37, it was time for Joe Cole to call it a day. We’ll remember him fondly and always recall how he had some of his greatest days at West Ham as another successful product of the Academy.
Hopefully we can look forward to seeing more of his modest manor and genuine love for football as a TV pundit.