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A Moment of Fortune and a Season to Regret

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Joe Cole Liverpool flop Hodgson Purslow
Wee Joe also got his reward when he came on to score and he has been doing fantastic in training as well. Maybe the goalkeeper made a mistake but the wee man has got a goal to his name and it won't do us any harm and it certainly won't do Joe any harm either.
--Kenny Dalglish, post-Birmingham press conference

Dalglish may well have been right when he said that. Right that it doesn't hurt Joe Cole or Liverpool in any way; that it may even do some small amount of good for both. But it hardly marks the revival some were eager to bill it as immediately following the match. It hardly changes Cole's status as the club's biggest ever big-money failure.

There is a certain reluctance too push too hard against the wave of nearly unbridled optimism that has followed the demolition of Birmingham City, but in the case of Joe Cole and that game's fifth goal the unfortunate reality is that it is no more a meaningful suggestion of his potential to contribute than was his bundled goal against Bolton on January 1st. It must not be forgotten that that late bit of good fortune briefly seemed a revival to his career with the club--not to mention the possible salvation of Roy Hodgson's. The manager followed that up by shortly thereafter losing his job. Cole followed it up by continuing to be fit enough for about ten minutes of action every second week, staying mostly stuck to the bench, a tantalizing enigma to those who insisted that if he only could get a run of games would surely come good.

Of course Luis Suarez came good after nearly two months without football and a switch to a new club in a tougher league. And the often derided Maxi Rodriguez scored his hattrick against Birmingham after spending an entire month on the bench since his last action, a seven minute cameo against Sundeland on March 20th, and having gone six weeks since he had last started in the match against Manchester United.

So sure, Dalglish is right. It's nice that Cole scored. It was good for the club, since five is always a more impressive score than four, offering a mental boost on top of adding to a potentially difference making goal differential. And it was good for Cole, since perhaps it will help to convince QPR or West Ham or some other side to take a flyer on him, some club that can afford to give him the endless chances he seems to need to potentially regain his increasingly mythical form and fitness while playing as the focal-point of attack he lusts to be.

It doesn't mean a whole lot more beyond that, though. Particularly since, at the end of the day, it was really a quite poor goal that ninety-nine times out of a hundred wouldn't have found its way into the back of the net, instead leaving fans to walk away from a four-nil win shaking their heads at Joe Cole's selfishness and lack of vision. That it went in is nice for everybody, but the endless indecision and refusal to put it quickly to open teammates that proceeded a tame shot, one that deflected first off the defender before dribbling sadly under the hand of Birmingham's back-up keeper, encapsulated all that is wrong with this aging star lacking match fitness who still plays--when he plays--as though he believes he should be any side's centerpiece.

Without that fortunate goal ending the move, it would have been a moment up there with his early season penalty miss, an act which at the time seemed one of supreme, entitled selfishness by a player who bought into the hype that he had come to save poor little Liverpool. And while yet another season spent largely injured or on the bench for two more in a long string of managers who have found Cole largely surplus to requirements may have bruised the ego that was at times on display early in the season, when the ball sat at his feet, mesmerizing as he turned and pirouetted in place against Birmingham, it was the same old Joe Cole. The same Joe Cole who could see Maxi and Kuyt and Suarez largely unmarked in the box in front of him and decide he was going to do it all by himself.

This time he was lucky, but luck doesn't change that at almost every moment leading up to that moment he made wrong choices and repeated the things that have made him such a frustrating failure for Liverpool. Lucky doesn't change that he's not a good enough player now--if he ever truly was--to rely on the occasional moment of good fortune to supplement a locker full of flicks and tricks, as can be the case with some of the game's more selfish superstars. Lucky doesn't mean he's regained any kind of form, not any more than that bundled-in goal in January meant he'd turned the corner.

Lucky doesn't change the fact that he is currently Liverpool's biggest ever flop, a big English name brought in on £90,000 a week and with a hefty £5M signing-on fee that has already seen him cost the club more in total wages and fees than the Robbie Keane fiasco did--or than Alberto Aquilani, who even in his year spent largely recovering from injury at Liverpool saw a greater return on the pitch, will have if he eventually goes to Juventus for the originally agreed upon fee. Though of course that's only if either through some foolishness or an inability to move Cole on he stays with the club. That's only if his wage demands are such that no other side will take him and Liverpool is forced to either wait out the remainder of his gargantuan contract or send him out on loan while paying some portion of his wages just so that they aren't required to pay all of them. That's only if the club continues to tie itself to a player who has contributed almost nothing to the team this season and will only become less relavent next if the expected squad reinforcements arrive in the summer.

Admittedly it does feel a touch overly cynical and negative to question so strenuously a Liverpool player scoring a goal, yet Joe Cole's case is an odd one due to the esteem he's still held in in certain quarters and that despite the club having better secondary options currently on the books--while those observing rightly insist on a need to strengthen that squad--some would claim he needs to still be part of the future. His was a failed experiment, a costly mistake, and that has been clear for some time now. To drag it out any longer would only be unnecessarily painful for all involved, not least Joe Cole himself, who for all his flaws as a player doesn't deserve to be stuck in a situation where he can likely never be more than an unfortunate afterthought.