Joe Cole had just finished talking about his memorable year in France when he swiftly turned his gaze to the future. Having seen his season-long loan in France end with a standing ovation from Lille s supporters, Cole could have been forgiven if he felt a mixture of wistfulness and anxiety.\Instead, there was clarity and a sense of purpose.
Although West Ham are eager to give Cole an emotional return to Upton Park and Lille would be open to taking him back for another 12 months, the Liverpool midfielder is holding out hope he will be able to rectify the one anomaly in his career.
“When I signed for Liverpool, it startled me a bit,” said Cole, who was brought to Anfield by Roy Hodgson two years ago in a blaze of publicity. “I don’t know if I felt the pressure but the city is so in love with football. It’s a religion. If I go back, I will be more prepared for it this time. I can see why people say joining Liverpool is a culture shock. It is a small place but it has this great buzz. How can there not be in a city that has produced five Prime Ministers and The Beatles? The people are so sharp, quite a bit like Londoners really.”
“There is still a part of me that would really love to make it work there and I don’t want to have a bad spell at Anfield on my CV But it is out of my hands now. At the minute I can’t rule anything in or out. We have to speak to Liverpool and see what happens there.”
Cole’s spell at Liverpool is widely regarded as a disaster, with his performances hampered by a lack of confidence and a series of injuries. He barely figured after Kenny Dalglish replaced Hodgson but the Scot’s departure might yet offer him a surprise opportunity.
Seeing Cole, 30, flourish alongside Eden Hazard in Sunday s 4-1 win over Nancy confirmed he had recaptured his confidence and, given how much havoc injuries have wreaked on him in recent years, there is little doubt he has benefited from playing regularly.
“I’ve definitely broadened my horizons,” said Cole. “I managed to do an interview the other day completely in French. It’s very basic but it’s just the aspect of living in another country. Now I can appreciate the difficulties that foreign players have coming to England. We have got this great league on our doorstep and I am glad I have experienced it.
“There were a lot of hurdles to overcome. But this is something I will be able to look back on with great fondness. Who is to say it is going to end? It was exactly what I needed. It is a bit slower, a bit more tactical. But this has helped me gain confidence in my body again. I have been able to learn about the tactical side of the game. Foreign players tend to embrace that more than we do.”
His critics, though, will claim that a spell away from the helterskelter pace of the Barclays Premier League may actually prove detrimental. The tempo of Ligue 1 is significantly slower and Cole is aware that he will have questions to answer should he return to England.
“I will have to do extra work because it will be going back to that 100mph pace but I m sure it will be OK,” explained Cole, who said he was delighted by the exploits of Chelsea and West Ham at the weekend. “It’s not England, it’s not Spain – they are the two top leagues. But it is comparable with Germany and Italy. This is a very good league. Now I have to keep thinking ahead.”
That is very much how it has been for Cole in France, never looking back or thinking what might have been. Some felt he had an outside chance of being involved in Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2012 but rather than stew on that disappointment, he hopes another door will open with Team GB.
“I haven t played for England for two years,” he said. “I know there is a new manager but I was never contacted. I heard there were strange things going on with the odds on me being cut to make the squad and that made me think maybe. But I have got my eyes on the Olympics now. I am in the mix and it would be amazing to play in that but, again, it is out of my hands. We will just have to wait and see what happens. Whatever is the case, it has been a great year, it has been a great season. I am delighted with how things have gone.” [email protected] – Daily Mail