While Swansea supporters chanted "We don't need you anymore" and Liverpool fell out of the League Cup, manager Brendan Rodgers can't have helped wondering what might have gone differently had he played more of his regulars from the start, or if he's perhaps given Jordan Henderson the chance to pair centrally with Joe Allen—or if he'd just, somehow, found a way to cobble together a side that hadn't included Joe Cole.
Cole, fit for the past month and training with the first team, must have done something in the time between matches to convince Rodgers he was a viable option. Whatever it was, though, clearly wasn't on display on Wednesday night in a performance that could at absolute best be described as hugely disappointing.
"I can't keep playing Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez while Joe Allen was virtually playing on his own in midfield," said Rodgers following the loss, looking to explain Cole's inclusion in the starting eleven sitting ineffectively off Samed Yesil. Yesil himself may not have done a lot to impress, but lacking service or support and at only 18 years of age, the Turkish-German striker who hadn't expected to contend for first team minutes for at least another season or two can hardly be judged too harshly.
On ninety-thousand pounds per week and with over a decade of first team football under his belt, Joe Cole is a rather different story. And if Yesil looked ineffective, Cole looked worse—he looked indifferent. Indifferent to the vast sums the club have paid him since he arrived from London; indifferent to the fact that this may have been his last best chance to impress at Liverpool; indifferent to the way his poor play would reflect on his manager.
"The club have invested an astronomical amount of money on a talented player and Joe had the opportunity," continued Rodgers. 'He has been back fit a couple of weeks and his opportunities have been limited but you have to see. I thought it was difficult for him, [he] was too slow and it wasn't what I would expect from a team I tried to set up to be dynamic.'
One sad header straight at the keeper in an otherwise anonymous half of action was all Cole had to show for his night, and it's hard not to wonder if in the back of his mind his thoughts might at some stage have turned to Lille as he wandered the Anfield pitch. After all, if he had been willing to take a pay cut, Cole could have remained an important squad player for the French side, the first name off the bench or the first to rotate into midfield when one of the starters needed a rest. Today he could have been in the Champions League and a regular contributor.
Instead, for all that he seems a nice person when being interviewed by the club's official website, for all that he says the right thing about fighting for his position and wanting to impress, and for all that it wasn't his fault Christian Purlsow decided to throw all that money at him, today he's stuck—almost wholly unwanted—at Liverpool.
And the truth is he's unlikely to see another minute of first team action from here on out, at least judging by Rodgers' harsh assessment. Moreover, it's likely that this fact will make the vast majority of the club's fans exceptionally happy—at least aside from that Liverpool will still be stuck paying that outrageous, inflated salary.
That was the choice Cole made when he decided to stick it out at Liverpool: More money to go along with a much lower chance of personally succeeding as a football player as his career enters its twilight. One wonders whether, if faced again with the option of lower wages and an important role on a Champions League side in a lesser league, Cole would make the same decision today.
Though of course all that really matters is the choice he did make over the summer. Now, nice guy or not, the reality is that both his career and Liverpool have suffered for it. Now, the reality is that his Liverpool career is effectively over and that he'll almost certainly spend the rest of the season stuck in the reserves. At least he'll be well compensated for it.