At first glance, the signing of Joe Cole by Liverpool might seem like madness. Cole will be twenty-nine years old later on this year and has had a wretched time of it with injuries over the last year or so. He remains a player whose best position remains something of a mystery after ten years of professional football. His four year contract will be worth almost £19m, and his physical condition is, if anything, more likely to slip further rather than improve as he turns thirty. This could turn out to be wrong, but in terms of signing footballers, as in the buying and selling of all other commodities, it’s a matter of balancing probabilities.
Yet, and this particularly feels like a surprising thing to say when discussing Liverpool over the last couple of years or so, Cole’s signature feels like A Good Thing for both player and club. From the point of view of Liverpool Football Club, the enormous cost of Cole’s transfer will be partly offset by the transfer of Yossi Benayoun in the opposite direction. Chelsea are said to be paying £5.5m down for Benayoun, and the Israel captain’s salary at Anfield was said to be in the region of £50,000 per week. In the current financial environment, every little helps. A signature like this, especially when added to the arrival at Anfield of the current manager du jour, Roy Hodgson, hints that those running the club could be looking to try and get the supporters back onside. Will these trinkets, however, be enough to satiate them?
For Cole himself, on the other hand, the appeal of the move is obvious. What is striking about the last few months is that Chelsea were apparently unhappy to match the £110,000 per week valuation that he (or those operating on his behalf) placed upon himself. We will probably never find out the truth of what happened during his negotiations with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, but Liverpool were willing to pay him £90,000 per week, which is obviously not be sniffed at, and offer him a four year contract, by the end of which he will be a few months shy of his thirty-third birthday. He may or may not have seen his best days – we will have a better idea of this in a year or so, but he can hardly be criticised for accepting such a lavish payday at such a point in his career.
It also feels as if a move across London would not have been particularly good news for Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. Joe Cole doesn’t seem to fit the profile of the sort of player that Arsene Wenger would be looking at for Arsenal and, with first team football reportedly being one of his prime considerations, it would perhaps have been possible that he would have unbalanced a Spurs team that last season finally seemed to find some degree of the sort of rhythm that their supporters have been waiting a couple of decades for. Spurs might not even make it into the Champions League next season (they have to play a two-legged qualifier first): what if Cole had signed for Spurs and had played badly enough to be partly culpable for an early European defeat for Spurs?
None of this is to cast any aspersions upon Cole, Arsenal, Spurs or even Liverpool. It just doesn’t feel as if a move to either of those two particular clubs would have worked particularly well for either of them. Joe Cole to Liverpool, this summer, at this point in his career and at this point in the recent troubled history of the club, might just work. Whether Liverpool can afford him is another question, of course, but, considering the off-setting that the sale of Benayoun brings to this deal, it seems like one of the wiser gambles of the summer, in spite of concerns about his long-term fitness and how he will fit into Roy Hodgson’s tactical plans for the team.
All of these considerations, however, pale in comparison with the bigger prize for many Liverpool supporters. Gillett and Hicks remain at Anfield, and it doesn’t look as if they are going to disappear at any time in the near future. Should Liverpool be more successful over the coming season (and it is difficult to envisage them being much less successful), they need to keep their eyes on the main prize. To this extent, Joe Cole is a mere bauble – something shiny that the owners may or may not be hoping will deflect attention away from their management of the club.
Perhaps the biggest test that Liverpool supporters might face this season will come if the club does get itself into a position of being able to win a major trophy. Will they continue the protests in the inevitable face of those that claim that they should (as Gillett and Hicks would most heartily approve), “just get behind the boys”, should their team’s performance improve on the pitch? We may or may not find out the answer to this question over the next nine months or so. In the meantime, though, the long term game for Liverpool supporters must remain the same – the removal of Gillett and Hicks from Anfield.