To get the juices flowing ahead of England’s adventure in Russia each week at Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a unforgettable moment from the Three Lions’ World Cup canon.
This time out we revisit a wonder strike from a former boy genius.
We may like to insularly believe that we’re the only nation who builds up our most prestigious talents to impossible heights only to be greatly disappointed when they later have feet of clay but of course everyone does this. It’s human nature after all to be invigorated by the sight of a youngster fearlessly parading their god-given ability as if it’s the easiest thing in the world even when it’s one of the hardest. Glimpses of potential genius is genuinely exciting to behold.
From that enthralling sight naturally we then project hopes and expectations that only the very elite can ever accomplish and when, in the most part, they inevitably fall short condemnation kicks in or, in certain cases, the script is turned into a Shakespearean tragedy.
Such is the way of the world. Such is the tale of Joe Cole.
At fourteen years of age everybody within the far-reaching community of English football knew that there was a very special talent set to emerge. Two years later Manchester United were willing to shell out £10m on a teen who had yet to make a professional appearance and shortly after when he started to twinkle and shimmy and nutmeg and shine for West Ham, that’s when the hype exploded into hyperbole.
The thinking, in an era when England was still hopelessly gripped by insecurity and believed itself to be several lightyears behind the continent, was that we should build our national team around this rare jewel. He was the future, this slight kid who played like he was on the playground and looked like a boyband member gone rogue. He was England’s salvation in waiting.
At the age of 21 Cole was made captain of his boyhood club and just twelve months later won ‘Hammer of the Year’. Then it all slowly, inexorably, incrementally unravelled.
We can blame the big money move to Chelsea. We can blame the injuries. We can suggest that Joe wasn’t all that after all but merely a very good footballer. Whatever the reasons when the sometimes extravagant but often frustrating midfielder found himself in his absolute prime he wasn’t the figurehead for the Three Lions, with inferior fare around him facilitating his powers: he was struggling for game-time in a relatively poor Aston Villa side.
For one season though everything clicked. It shouldn’t be forgotten and that’s what is being remembered here. This wasn’t just good form. This wasn’t simply a shedding of his injury woes. Joe Cole was becoming the player everybody had long hoped to see and after consigning Shaun Wright-Phillips and Damien Duff to the periphery of Chelsea’s third league winning campaign in 2005/06, and deservedly making the PFA Team of the Year, his inclusion in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s squad for the World Cup in Germany that summer was a no-brainer.
Granted, he was never going to be England’s instrumental main man – not now, not when his fellow members of the ‘Golden Generation’ had surpassed him and become household names. He could however be our wild card.
Against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago in routine wins Cole lined up in a midfield four alongside Gerrard, Lampard and Beckham, his peers who had become peerless. His peers who had – in club football at least – lived up to their hype. At 25 there was still time for Cole to produce something meaningful, significant. Something other than a five-minute spell of trickery or a lovely searching pass. Time though was running out.
Then came Sweden, in what was expected to be a group decider and it still was to an extent, only England could afford the luxury of a draw to emerge top. A lot rode on this. The winner would play Ecuador in the last 16. The loser faced Germany.
Half an hour in to an entertaining contest, a period of pressure seemed to have ended with a lengthy headed clearance from Tobias Linderof. The ball fell to Cole a full thirty yards out, bouncing up with such force it necessitated a control off his shoulder to steady its flight. There was no-one around him – so far out that a Sweden player trotted out from the edge of the box, more through obligation than urgency.
The Chelsea star’s initial control had been so good he didn’t need to position himself: he didn’t move a muscle. He just waited for the ball to fall to thigh-height.
Then he thwacked it; he thwacked it so hard his standing leg sprung off the ground for a moment as the contact reverberated through his body. Yet it was also a volley hit with care. It was a gunshot fired through a cushion.
The ball arced and spun and dipped through the air, over the heads of a gaggle of players in the penalty area and away from the scrambling keeper Andreas Isaksson. It took two seconds to find its target, enough time for the commentator’s pitch to rise in astonishment mid-sentence, enough time for a nation to rise from their seats.
He’d done it, this magical little player. Joe Cole may always be regarded as a potential genius who sadly didn’t become a genius. But he’d now given us a moment to cherish forever.
A late equaliser from the Swedes was of scant relevance as England still topped Group B. Ecuador were duly dispatched but then came Portugal in the quarter finals and penalties. There is little to recall in 2006 with a smile – a tournament dominated by WAGs and the Golden Generation panned – but in Cole’s sweet volley there will always be joy and yes, a glimpse of greatness.
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