As Roy Hodgson's first signing at Liverpool, there were high expectations of the former Chelsea and Liverpool man when he arrived, with the hope that he could sparkle as Liverpool's number 10 without the defensive restraints imposed upon him at Chelsea. It wasn't to be, however, and by the time Cole was loaned out to Lille in 2011, the England international embodied the failure of the Hodgson era, with few expecting him to ever return to Anfield.
Fast forward a year and Cole's prospects have changed dramatically. The forward looked a player reborn in France, and despite Lille's best attempts to keep him in Ligue 1, Brendan Rodgers made sure Cole was on a flight back to Liverpool. talkSPORT explains why with our report card on Cole's time in France...
During his final days at Anfield, Joe Cole looked like he'd rather be anywhere else than on a football pitch. The weight of expectation combined with poor form seemed too much for him, so after such a torrid time during his Liverpool spell, few would have foresaw the instant impact he would have at Lille. Cole was decisive in his first game in Ligue 1, entering the pitch in the 65th minute as a substitute for the French side against Saint-Etienne. The Englishman picked up the ball in midfield, dribbled past four players then cut it back brilliantly to assist the third goal of the game. Cole instantly endeared himself to the Lille supporters and reminded everybody why he was so highly rated in the first place. If he can bring this mentality back to Liverpool he's certain to have a better time in his second spell at Anfield.
It only took minutes for Cole to show some swagger at Lille. Can he finally do the same at Anfield?
The goal scorer's touch
Cole has never been a prolific scorer, but at his peak he was capable of chipping in with valuable goals where required, including a Champions League semi-final strike against the Reds in 2007. At Liverpool he only managed a meagre three goals in a year, but in France he bettered that three times over, finding the back of the net nine times for Lille. That's only two short of his personal best of 11 for Chelsea in the 2005/06 season, and it shows that his shooting ability hasn't been lost. In fact, after bagging the first hat-trick of his career against Chantilly, he's arguably better than ever when it comes to finishing.
Joe Cole showed at Lille that his eye for goal is sharper than ever...
The perfect fit
The subject of Joe Cole's optimum position has caused debate for years. At West Ham he excelled in the middle, but at Chelsea Jose Mourinho notoriously stifled his creative flair by attempting to convert him into a hard-working left winger. Under Roy Hodgson at Liverpool it was a similar story; with Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles ahead of him in the middle, Cole was rarely given the free-role he desired. Finally, with his move to Lille, the former Chelsea man had the chance to put his money where his mouth is and prove that he really is a better player when given his favoured central free role. He didn't disappoint, and with the freedom to pick up the ball from deep and occupy the space between the midfield and strikers, it's no coincidence that the England international had one of the finest seasons of his career. Now that Steven Gerrard has shown he's comfortable playing in a deeper role for England, Brendan Rodgers could easily accommodate both Cole and Gerrard in an attack-minded formation that allows both players to perform to their maximum.
The Lille experience
Few English players can say they have moved abroad, and fewer still can say they were a success. Even the great Paul Gascoigne struggled during his time at Lazio, so Cole's productive spell at Lille is no mean feat. The Liverpool man has stressed the importance of learning from a new style of football in Ligue 1, and Cole's newly expanded knowledge of the game will be ideal for Brendan Rodgers, a man who constantly looks to the continent for his inspiration. At Lille, Cole played alongside players who like to play the ball on the ground rather than the air, such as highly rated attacker Eden Hazard, and right back Mathieu Debuchy, whose ability on the ball has remained from his time as a deep-lying playmaker. The chance to become familiar with a team that relies on ground-based passing for its success rather than the high tempo, end-to-end style that is typical the Premier League will have given him a valuable learning experience to bring to Brendan Rodger's tiki-taka inspired Liverpool.
The future's bright for Joe Cole, and if new boss Brendan Rodgers can get the best out of him, it could be equally promising for Liverpool. Cole could be like a new signing for the Reds next season, and his public determination to succeed during his second spell at Anfield suggests he's intent on playing a big part in the Anfield revolution. Now that he has right mentality, the right kind of players around him and the right manager, don't be surprised if Joe Cole is a key player at Liverpool next year.
What do you expect from Joe Cole next season? Can he thrive under Brendan Rodgers following his successful time at Lille? Let us know below...