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Jan 14, 2010

Joe Cole desperate to prove he is the real deal

As Joe Cole lay reclining on his sofa for much of last year, the fantasist in him would have been dreaming of a date in Johannesburg's Soccer City that would turn him into an immortal sporting hero.

Dreams are a staple part of the diet of an injured footballer who has the spotlight he loves snatched away for an extended period, so you can be certain that Cole spent many a long hour picturing the moment when he scored the winning goal for England in the 2010 World Cup final.

However, reality is in danger of getting in the way of such heady ambition for the Chelsea star, who currently finds himself battling to recapture his best form as he continues his recovery from the serious knee injury that left him on the sidelines for all too long.

Having not pulled on an England shirt since the famous 4-1 victory in Croatia in September 2008, the danger must be that the magician who had established himself as an international regular could become yesterday's man unless he impresses national team boss Fabio Capello in the next few weeks.

At this moment, the danger must be that the 28-year-old, who has long been craving the top billing status afforded to England icons like Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham, ends up missing out on the World Cup squad altogether, never mind Capello's team.

David Beckham, James Milner, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon may have all leapt ahead of Cole in the queue to fill wide berths in the England squad, while Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is favourite to fill the left-sided role that Cole had made his own before his injury.

It is quite a tale of misfortune and the last thing Cole needs at this pivotal moment in his career is a negative story surrounding his future at club level, yet this week's headlines have focused on what appears to be the onset of a contract dispute with Chelsea.

With his current deal running out in the summer and his employers seemingly unwilling to meet the demands of his advisers, Cole's fall from grace would be complete should the Blues opt to try and offload him during the January transfer window, though he seems adamant that such a scenario will not come to pass.

"I will be staying at Chelsea and I'm sure they will sort out the contract," Cole said. "I'm very happy at this club and want to win things here. Chelsea feels like home to me and I will not talk about joining other clubs. I want to spend the peak years of my career at Chelsea.

"The time I had away from the game last year made me realise how much I want to win things with this club and I'm determined to stay fit and make the most of every game I play from now on.

"I was trying to impress a new manager in Luiz Felipe Scolari last season and Guus Hiddink came and went before I could play for him, but now we are all enjoying working with Carlo Ancelotti and I don't want to think about injuries any more. I want to feel like a footballer again and it is a great feeling.

"I will worry about England and the World Cup later in the season. The main aim now is to stay healthy and make sure I earn a place in the Chelsea side. I spent a lot of time getting myself fit and strong to make sure my body would stand up to the pressures of the Premier League and hopefully that stands me in good stead for the rest of this season and beyond."

When you listen to the views of Chelsea boss Ancelotti, there can be little doubt that he is keen to secure the future of a player he has described as 'a genius'. "It was like we signed a great new player when Joe came back into the team and you can see he is such a positive influence for everyone at Chelsea," he said.

"I knew all about Joe before I came to this club and he has not disappointed me. He has a great personality, so much enthusiasm for the game and the ability to play in several positions. He is effective just behind the striker or in a wide position and that makes him a very important player for us.

"Joe will improve all the time because, when you have been out for a long period, it's never easy to come back to your top level quickly. We are at the start of a big few months for Joe because he has to try and win trophies with Chelsea and then hope to be a part of the World Cup with England. He should have plenty to motivate him."

With Chelsea looking to trim their costs rather than hand out increased wage packets in these troubled financial times, Cole may be hit by the credit crunch as the contract offer on the table is believed to be considerably less than the pay rise he is believed to be asking for.

Okay, so his reported £80,000-a-week salary means he is hardly struggling to survive right now, but Cole's bargaining hand has been weakened by the lengthy absence last year that has denied him the chance to become an integral part of the Ancelotti era from the off.

Had the player's advisers successfully renegotiated a fresh Chelsea contract when it was initially discussed in the summer of 2008, the cloud of uncertainty hanging over him would never have gathered, yet this hugely likeable footballer is not the type to allow a more modest pay rise deflect his attention from what really matters in his career.

You don't get the impression this popular sportsman is motivated by cash like those stars whose playboy antics earn them more scorn than acclaim. To confirm as much, Cole generally receives a half-decent welcome from the always grudging West Ham fans when he returns to his old haunt of Upton Park, which is almost unheard of amid critics who rarely forgive players who leave their nest for more profitable pastures

However, being popular is a modest prize compared to a World Cup winners' medal and, after his hellish 2009, this 12-month cycle has the potential to deliver the trophy money simply cannot buy. If there is any justice in this game, Joe Cole deserves to receive some in 2010.

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