I was compared to Lionel Messi when I joined Liverpool but FSG soon wanted rid of me - Now soccer
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I was compared to Lionel Messi when I joined Liverpool but FSG soon wanted rid of me



Joe Cole looks back on playing with Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Luis Suarez, and reveals FSG’s role in his Liverpool exit in an exclusive interview with the ECHO, speaking on behalf of TNT Sports.

“Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better.”

It might be 13 and a half years since Joe Cole joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Chelsea ahead of an ill-fated stint at Anfield, but the infamous aforementioned quote has never been forgotten by Kopites. “He used to shock us in training by doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can’t even do with a football,” talismanic club captain Steven Gerrard continued when delivering a ringing endorsement of his new team-mate all those years ago. “I really fancy Joe for the [player of the year] award this season.”

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Alas, such a claim inevitably fell flat. While supporters were excited when Liverpool announced the signing of Cole, believing their club had snapped up something of a transfer coup, it soon became clear that an ACL injury suffered while still at Chelsea had left him struggling to recapture his previous heights that would have prompted such praise from Gerrard in the first place.

Admittedly even without being plagued by injury at Anfield, Cole would have struggled to live up to comparisons with the greatest player the game has ever seen. But perhaps such a claim inadvertently contributed to the underwhelming feeling that supporters now associate with his Liverpool career.

After all, the Reds had just seen Roy Hodgson replace Rafa Benitez as manager while hated owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were steering the club towards oblivion. At that time, supporters needed all the hope they could get and were clinging to the prospect that Cole could, somehow, be their saviour. Ultimately, his time at the club did not work out.

Gerrard actually played a big part in Cole deciding to join Liverpool in the first place. And the former England international wore a wry smile when reminded of his former team-mate’s infamous praise.

“I think what Stevie was trying to say was probably… no-one can do what Messi can do, but it’s more like I was that type of player,” Cole exclusively told the ECHO, speaking on behalf of TNT Sports who will show the midweek fixtures in the Premier League this week, including Liverpool’s home clash with Chelsea on Wednesday 31 January. “Someone who can dribble, handle the ball in tight areas and all that.

“Stevie was a big part of me wanting to come to Liverpool. I loved playing with Stevie for England. I had a nice combination with him, I liked playing with him, so the chance to link up at a club-level was a big draw to play with him. But it just didn’t work for me.”

While Cole was arguably the signing that excited Liverpool fans the most in the summer of 2010, the subsequent 2011 January transfer window was a different animal entirely.

With club legend Kenny Dalglish now at the helm after new owners, FSG, had dismissed Hodgson, the club brought in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll for a combined fee of £57.7m in one of the Premier League’s most iconic transfer deadline days. However, they also sanctioned Fernando Torres’ club-record £50m move to Chelsea in a switch that devastated supporters at the time.

Torres would not speak to Cole about moving to Chelsea, but the midfielder sees the similarities in his own struggles at Anfield along with the Spaniard’s at Stamford Bridge. And reflecting on the big impact such dealings had on the club at the time, he shared how working alongside Suarez left him with one big regret.

“It was a massive change. Do you know what, I don’t remember Fernando talking to me,” he said. “I think we probably had a few brief conversations, but it wasn’t like… players don’t really, that stuff, you don’t really talk about it.

“He had a difficult time at Chelsea. Very similar to me. His body was not fully agreeing with him. But he turned it around in terms of scoring some big goals for Chelsea.

“Torres is one of the best strikers of his generation. I don’t remember anything in particular where he spoke about it. But I do remember the first time I saw Luis Suarez play, and I knew straight away he was a top player. Without doubt.

“He had this way where he had this street footballer about him. He was so strong, so powerful. And I remember thinking, ‘wow!’

“I regret not playing more with Luis Suarez, I would have loved to have played more with him. And the games I did play with him, I wish I could have been closer to my best when I played with him. He was such a great player. I knew from day one that he was top drawer.”

While Cole might have been the final ‘marquee signing’ of the Hicks and Gillett era, new owners FSG were not as taken with the midfielder. Not helped by injuries, he ultimately fell out of favour after Dalglish was appointed manager and started just once in the Premier League during the second half of the 2010/11 season.

Spending the following campaign on loan at Lille, new manager Brendan Rodgers was willing to hand the England international opportunities following his return to Anfield only for injuries to strike again. Consequently, as Liverpool looked to sign Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in January 2013, he was allowed to join former club West Ham United on a free transfer.

And Cole admits that he was under the impression that FSG wanted to get him off the wage-bill following their takeover of the club.

“Kenny coming in at the time he did, what I understood was it wasn’t long-term,” he recalled. “The new owners that came in, I very much got the vibe from them and my agent got the vibe that as soon as they came in, they wanted to get rid of me.

“It was because of the wages, which was very hard to take. You feel a bit… I felt good enough still to play in that particular Liverpool team but I just needed a run of games.

“I think Kenny either just didn’t fancy me at the time or the club were looking to go in a different direction. You have to remember the likes of Stewart Downing came in the next summer. He was the club signing then, they’d spent money on him.

“So there were lots of little things that just weren’t really going for me that all add up. There was nothing in particular with Kenny. I was always a good professional. I always trained hard, and if I got a chance, I gave it my all.

“But when your club sort of feels like it’s going in one direction and you’re left there, it’s very hard to turn it around. Very hard.”

“Yeah, there were,” he continued when asked if there had been conversations with Brendan Rodgers about giving him a fresh chance at Anfield. “But again, I just broke down.

“I made the team for the first competitive game of the season after I’d had a good year at Lille, but hamstring gone, again. Then I tried to come back, I played but gone again. It was always that, I was always playing catch-up.”

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