Listen to this article
In Sven-Goran Eriksson’s world of calm there cannot be many who nervously await the announcement of an England team, but for Joe Cole the build-up to Saturday’s World Cup qualifier in Austria will be an anxious one.
Injuries have given him an opportunity at Chelsea, and, after a performance against Crystal Palace that had his apologists purring, it could be that the retirement of Paul Scholes and the injury to Nicky Butt provide him with his long-awaited first competitive start for England. “Scholes was a great player for England,” Cole said on Wednesday. “It’s sad to see him go, but maybe it will open doors for me.”
The problem is that he still needs apologists. Few players so divide opinion. There are those who see in his undoubted ability an ingenuity rare in English football, but there are just as many who regard him as a footballing gazebo – pretty, but essentially pointless.
The great positive for Cole at the moment is that England have been crying out for a left-sided midfielder for as long as anybody can remember, and he, recently, has been playing in an advanced position on the left side of Chelsea’s midfield, albeit with licence to drift. Eriksson has hinted that Wayne Bridge would be his preferred option in Vienna, but he has also made the point that England have enough training sessions before Saturday for others to force their way into the reckoning.
“I’m really enjoying it in a position where I like to play,” Cole went on. “In the hole, the number 10 position, where you’ve got to get the ball and keep it moving. I can offer a different dimension coming off the left and into the centre. I haven’t had the chance to play there since I was in the youth team.”
It was in the youth team, of course, that Cole first caught the eye. He has been the great hope of the English midfield for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s still only 22. “People expected me to come in at the top,” he said, “but my career’s getting better and better. I’m improving as a player and I’m playing for a team who are top of the league.”
The question then is whether Jose Mourinho will continue to field him when Damien Duff and Arjen Robben are fit and he has two wingers available. “He’s always played with my sort of player,” Cole said, drawing attention to the physical similarity between himself and Deco, who lay behind much of what was best about Porto last season.
He may be of the same mould, but he is still to prove he is of the same material. Vienna, though, could be the perfect stage.