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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Will Joe Cole Find Success In France Like Waddle and Hoddle?


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Joe Cole's season-long loan to Lille goes against the prevailing transfer trends of the past decade. The Premier League draws in quality talent from across the globe and most British stars have happily remained in this vibrant environment.

There was a time though when France was a key destination for mercurial talents like Joe Cole. In the late 1980s and early 90s Ligue 1 provided a congenial home for Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle - a pair of artists that English football struggled to make proper use of.

Skill is higher up the agenda of English clubs these days but the old yearning for pace and power to go with it is still there. Cole has always looked like a player searching for a position - supremely talented but unable to hold down a definitive spot.

Jose Mourinho frequently berated him for his lack of tracking back and failing to conform to the team pattern. The Special One often picked the England player but was far more at home with the driving play of Frank Lampard than Cole's bag of tricks.

It's been the same with England. At the 2006 World Cup, Cole scored a stunning effort against Sweden, but too often he became bogged down in the debate about England's left side balance. Everyone seems to want to put Cole in a position rather than build a style around him - even in the modern Premier League the West ham product has been viewed as a luxury.

Hoddle and Waddle would sympathise, although their decision to go to France was influenced by the post-Heysel ban as well as the style of English soccer. Nonetheless, both played their best football in France. Hoddle lifted Monaco to the title in 1988 and was voted best overseas star before a knee injury curtailed his stay.

Waddle was even more of a hit and he landed three titles at Marseillein the early 90s, gathering the nickname of 'Magic Chris' for his blend of dribbling skills and precise eye for a pass. At the time French football was an antidote to the stifling defence in Italy and the system loving fare produced in Germany and Waddle received a licence to thrill.

Ligue 1 is a little less cavalier than it was but the hope is that Cole will be identified as a game turning player and allowed to do his thing. His ability to run with the ball and low centre of gravity make him an awkward customer for defenders but the player needs a licence to attack.

With Lille in the Champions League the English midfielder should have a chance to play at a higher level than he would have waiting for a chance in the sizeable queue for a berth at Anfield.

English football often debates the lack of the genuine '10' in our game- the famed 'trequartista' much beloved in Italy. Joe Cole has always looked like one but spent much of his career pushed out wide. At Lille he might finally be given the opportunity to dictate a game from an advanced position and the England squad can benefit.

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Hugh Larkin

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