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Time for England to trust Joe Cole

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Phil McNulty | 13:44 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008

BARCELONA

Joe Cole was once described by Jose Mourinho as "a player with two faces - one beautiful and one I don't like."

Mourinho saw the unacceptable face of Cole in October 2004, when he accused him of neglecting defensive duties and effectively reducing his own team to ten men after scoring Chelsea's winner against Liverpool.

So Cole was back on familiar territory in Barcelona on Saturday when England coach Fabio Capello showed his grasp of English can cross the training ground to the shop floor, with poor Joe in the firing line again.

We got the Beauty and The Beast of Cole according to Capello - but he still showed enough to suggest England will need him in the World Cup qualifier in Croatia on Wednesday.

Cole had lifted England out of a trough of mediocrity with two goals that ended Andorra's stubborn, not to mention very physical, resistance and yet he was still on the rough end of his coach's tongue.

So what is there not to like about Joe Cole? Not a lot as far I can see - either as a footballer or a personality.

He is refreshingly positive, an avid student of the game, and still possesses the boundless boyish enthusiasm and ability that had him marked down for great things from as long ago as many of us can remember.

And there certainly is no air of the big time about him.

I recall him asking a journalist to introduce him to Terry Butcher at the 2006 World Cup. He wanted to thank Butcher personally for words of support on this website, but preferred to get someone else to make the introductions rather than disturb the former England captain himself.

And yet he has been subjected to what psychiatrists strangely term "tough love" from Mourinho to Capello - and even new Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari does not seem entirely convinced by one of England's most naturally gifted individuals.Cole should be certain of his place in Zagreb after he was the match-winner in Andorra, and yet he (like everyone else to be scrupulously fair to Capello) must wait until nearly match time to hear his fate.

Yes, Capello's trained eye spotted flaws after Cole scored twice in Barcelona, with his crime being guilty, along with Wayne Rooney, of leaving Emile Heskey too isolated as England tried to add a little lustre to their goal difference.

Capello is absolutely right to call out anyone he is unhappy with, publicly if he wishes. Indeed it is a welcome antidote to predecessor Steve McClaren's star-struck approach to his top players.

But, with England knowing the ramifications of defeat in Zagreb could be long-term, it is the perfect time to put total trust in Cole. Take him for what he is.

He gives England a thrust, guile and technique they lacked until he arrived against Andorra, and his unpredictability will give Croatia a problem that might just put them on the back foot.

Joe Cole

No-one is suggesting Capello must guarantee Cole an endless run of games.

This is a luxury no-one should, or will, enjoy under this regime, but Cole looks like he would benefit from an arm around the shoulder approach and the security of feeling that his coach has complete trust in him.

The smart money is on him getting a left-flank role - and as the scorer of England's last three goals it is only right that he should get it .

A bigger decision for Wednesday awaits Capello on the opposite flank, where Theo Walcott's lightning pace will vie with David Beckham's vast experience.

Walcott also paid a visit to the media on Monday. He is a 19-year-old, who possesses a frightening confidence, calm and self-assurance.

And he played as teenagers do against Andorra. He was pacy, brilliant. inconsistent, but was full of life and threat.

Some good and some not so good - all done while being the subject of a right old buffeting from Andorra's would-be "Chopper Harris", a chap by the name of Tony Lima.

If fortune favours the brave, Capello will try his luck on Walcott rather than fading Beckham, but conservatism may rule the day and give the former captain another outing on the big stage.

England's good news came in the shape of confirmation that Rio Ferdinand is fit to fly to Zagreb after training and suffering no reaction to a problem with his neck and back.

Capello must hope he is fit, especially after declining the opportunity to pick Jonathan Woodgate.

And this is because Everton's Joleon Lescott, an outstanding club performer, has yet to show any signs of transferring that form to his England appearances.

Alan Hansen has a phrase about one of the most elusive, and yet most vital, commodities in the modern footballer's make-up.

"Confidence - where does it come from and where does it go to?"

In Lescott's case, we know where it goes - he leaves it behind the moment he joins the England squad, as does Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing.

These are two very good players, Everton and Middlesbrough supporters will rightly extol their virtues and both clubs would be knocked down in the rush if they went on sale, but put them in an England shirt and self-belief drains from them.

It has to be confidence - and if Capello has that confidence in Joe Cole he might just make the difference in Zagreb.

In other news, there is some dismay among those of us making a 6am departure for Croatia on Tuesday. It would require something approaching an all-nighter to watch Andy Murray play Roger Federer in the US Open tennis final.

Still, duty calls and we will just have to dream of a straight sets victory for Murray.

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