Special Cole delivery heralds the return of the prodigal son to Upton Park
15:00 10 January 2013
PA Wire/Press Association Images
The hair may have a little bald patch growing nicely and the whippet-like pace may have slightly diminished, but Joe Cole is still a super player and his return to Upton Park was almost a perfect one.
Like the prodigal son, the player cultivated on the fields of Chadwell Heath all those years ago, was given a heroes welcome for Saturday’s FA Cup showdown with Manchester United and but for the intervention of one of the best strikers in the world, he would have stolen the show.
The 31-year-old may have been away from the club for nine and a half years, but to the fans it was like he had never been away.
“It was an amazing reception and really choked me up,” admitted the midfielder after playing 78 minutes on his second debut for the club.
“It is great to be here and the fans, even when I have come back here with Chelsea and Liverpool have always given me a good reception, but today was special.”
Signed on Thursday amid huge publicity, Cole is always one to shy away from the public glare and just do what comes natural to him.
“There was a lot of fuss and I am not really one for that, I just wanted to get out there and play football,” admitted Cole, who has signed an 18-month contract.
Play football he certainly did. He showed that he has not lost his vision for a pass as not once, but twice he picked out the head of James Collins with pinpoint crosses to help West Ham into the lead against United.
“Individually I think it was a good performance and collectively I think we defended really well,” he said. “It is nice to play well.
“A lot of eyes were on me today, but I am just happy to be out there getting match fit and getting stronger. I got through 75 minutes having not played a lot of football, so I need to build up my match fitness.
“You can do as much training as you like, but when you are out there, nothing can compare to match minutes.”
Like Andy Carroll, it was a frustrating time for the England international at Anfield, as he freely admitted.
“I had a great year with Lille in France last year and played a lot, but this year has not been kind to me,” he said.
“I have just played scraps – 20 minutes here, half an hour there, but I felt that when I did have the minutes I made a bit of an impact.”
Obviously Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers did not agree as he allowed Cole to rejoin the Hammers in a cut-price deal and the player himself has been impressed by what he has seen so far.
“They are a great bunch of lads here, the team spirit is great and that is the first thing I noticed.
“The manager has got the place so organised, it is a different place and a different vibe to when I was here before, there seems to be structure here from top to bottom.
“With the Olympic Stadium around the corner, the FIFA Fair Play and that, the future is bright for this club.”
He was forgetting something. With Cole playing like that every week, the future is very bright indeed.