Wing wizard

Whether it is out wide on the left, the right or tucked in just behind a lone striker, Joe Cole has more than fulfilled the potential he first showed as he rose through the ranks as a youngster at Upton Park, writes Alfonso Torr.

The pressure of expectancy has been on Joe Cole ever since he emerged from the same West Ham youth system that helped produce the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and the spine of England’s World Cup-winning side of 1966.

More often than not, Cole has delivered and proved himself to be one of the English Premier League’s most effective attacking players.

However, a knee injury has hampered the Chelsea star since the turn of the year and he was forced to watch on from the sidelines back in May as his team-mates won the FA Cup and came close to reaching a second successive UEFA Champions League final.

Cole, 27, who is now in his sixth year at Stamford Bridge, is expected to be fit for the start of the new season and has stark warning for opposition defenders in the EPL. “I’m coming into my peak years,” declared Cole, who has made nearly 400 appearances since making his senior career debut for the Hammers during the 1998/99 campaign. “The next five years will be the best of my career.”

That is some statement of intent from a player who has already won the Premier League two years running, the FA Cup and League Cup twice and been capped over 50 times for England.

Whether it is out wide on the left, the right or tucked in just behind a lone striker, Cole has more than fulfilled the potential he first showed as he rose through the ranks as a youngster at Upton Park. His performances for club and country at youth level earned him plenty of media attention and, if reports are to be believed, Manchester United even offered as much as GBP10 million for Cole, then a teenager.

A first piece of major silverware, the FA Youth Cup, duly arrived in 1999 and Cole overcame a broken leg before becoming a regular at first-team level, eventually being installed as West Ham captain towards the end of the 2002/03 campaign.

However, being handed the armband was a rare positive in an otherwise forgettable season as West Ham were relegated to the second tier of English football. Cole joined Chelsea that summer for GBP6.6 million, a deal that must be considered one of the shrewdest in the club’s history.

Although initially signed by Claudio Ranieri, it was under Jose Mourinho that Cole really came to the fore as the duo combined to help the Blues end their 50-year wait for the English top-flight title in 2005.

That was the start of a trophy-laden few years for Chelsea and Cole, who also continued to make the left-wing spot his own for England after progressing steadily following his international debut in May 2001. He has since featured at World Cup 2002 and 2006 and Euro 2004.

Last season started well enough for Cole, who scored six goals in his first 10 games for club and country, before injury, not for the first time, struck.

All eyes are now on how well he will recover from his latest setback, with history suggesting he should soon be back to his best. Cole is not the first world-class winger to be beset by injury problems and he will not be the last, but the London-born star will nevertheless rue his various spells stranded on the sidelines. He missed four months last season and the same amount of time during the 2006/07 campaign.

Cole married fitness instructor Carly Zucker recently after the pair dated for seven years, with the money generated from the sale of the wedding photos — thought to be in excess of GBP1 million — set to be donated to charity.

Cole has owned various cars down the years, including a black Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, a Range Rover Vogue, an Aston Martin DB9 and a Mercedes S320.

Factfile Name: Joe Cole Position: Midfielder Club: Chelsea D.O.B.: 08/11/1981 England caps: 53 England goals: 10 England debut: May 2001 v Mexico Moment to remember

Cole has scored many spectacular goals but his 35-yard volley for England during the 2-2 draw against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup will take some beating.

Moment to forget

Losing in the 2008 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United in Moscow was a painful experience for Cole and his Chelsea colleagues. He was relatively quiet during that game by his own high standards and made way in extra-time for Nicolas Anelka, who missed during the decisive penalty shoot-out.

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