"The club have invested an astronomical amount of money on a talented player and Joe had the opportunity," were Brendan Rodgers' damning words for Joe Cole following Liverpool's demise in the League Cup at the hands of Swansea—a demise that owed at least a little to Cole's uninspired performance on the night. "He has been back fit a couple of weeks and his opportunities have been limited but you have to see."
And in the end, Rodgers never did see what he was hoping to see. In the end, despite making a handful of appearances since—including perhaps his best showing in a Liverpool shirt against West Ham at the start of December—it always appeared a challenge likely to go unanswered. That recent match against West Ham, though, may just have been enough to convince Sam Allardyce that bringing Cole back to his boyhood club—and beating out Harry Redknapp's QPR to do it—was a good idea.
Cole, for what it's worth, never did complain about his situation at Liverpool. And off the pitch at least he was the consummate professional, though it might of course be easy to suggest a player making near enough six figures a week should be capable of achieving that bare minimum. Still, it's hardly rare to find players on such sizeable salary complaining about everything from playing time to the weather to not being able to find their favoured brand of mustard in the local shops. So at the very least we can acknowledge that Cole put his head down and worked, that he didn't complain, that he was good with the fans and the media.
He was just never very much use to Liverpool between kickoff and the final whistle on match day. At times signs of the intelligent movement he was capable of in his younger, fitter days peeked through, but they were always hindered by his lack of stamina and too frequent injury concerns. And at times some of the flair that marked the first half of his career at Chelsea made appearances, too, but a step slower than he was back when he first broke into the national consciousness as the next great English superstar, his tricks now only led him to dead ends and cheap turnovers.
It wasn't Joe Cole's fault, but he was never the right man for Liverpool, an albatross of a big-money signing left over from Christian Purslow's short but disastrous reign, and after two and a half seasons the failure that was his signing has finally been put right with the club agreeing to pay off a portion of his remaining contract to see the deal done. It is for the best for all parties—for Liverpool who even after the payoff will have freed up a portion of the funds previously tied up in his salary as well as for Cole, who can now return to London and the prospect of playing time for the club he started his career at in front of fans who will value his presence.
It may not be the ending to his Liverpool career he imagined when he signed on in 2010, but after the way the past few years have gone at least it is an ending, and that will have to be enough for Cole, for the club, and for the fans. And so we wish Cole all the best as he heads back to London, and though we cannot say we will miss his presence at Liverpool, we do hope he will able to find something of his youthful form when given the chance such that when he retires it will be for his time at Chelsea and West Ham he is remembered rather than for an unfortunate northern detour.