Joe Cole talks Tampa Bay's MLS plans, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea
He is one of the most successful English players of his generation, winning eight major trophies during a seven-year spell at Chelsea and earning 56 England caps, but Joe Cole is now attempting to add to his list of achievements by helping Tampa Bay Rowdies secure a licence to play in Major League Soccer (MLS).
While his former club prepare to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday, Cole will captain the Rowdies in their United Soccer League (USL) clash against Louisville City FC at Slugger Field on Saturday evening.
To many, Tampa Bay Rowdies evoke memories of Rodney Marsh from the late-1970s in the North American Soccer League (NASL) but, at the age of 35, Cole insists he can help one of the most famous names in American soccer back into the highest echelon of the game in the United States.
ESPN FC spoke to Cole about life in Tampa Bay, Mourinho's challenge at United and Chelsea's surge to the Premier League title under Antonio Conte.
Q. So how did you end up in Tampa Bay?
A. I always had it in mind that I wanted to come out to the States at the back end of my career, but this move really came out of the blue last year. I came out here with the family to check it out and we liked the area. We spoke to the owner, Bill Edwards, Lee Cohen, the CEO, and manager Stuart Campbell and I felt that there was something happening here. They want me to be part of helping the club get into MLS, so it ticked a lot of boxes. It is a great lifestyle for the family and there is ambition at the club. They want to move the whole thing forward, with me as a big part of that, and it has gone well. It is very different to what I am used to, but I am enjoying my football that's for sure.
Q. At 35, many would be surprised that you are not playing with one of the MLS clubs...
A. I had offers over the years, but there were a lot of things to consider. The lifestyle was a big part of it and there were certain places I wouldn't want to move my family to. But Bill and Lee sold it to me because I wanted to be at the start of something meaningful. It is about reinventing a well-known team in a new area and it just felt like a challenge. I am learning so much on and off the pitch -- they do it all so well over here -- and it's just different. And in terms of playing, I have listened and learned from people here and taken things that I will use in the future too.
Q. Did you know much about the team before you moved?
A. Rodney [Marsh] played out here and I knew about that. I had heard of the team, it is a big name in American soccer and a big franchise, and it is something that will add to MLS -- a famous name from the past with a ready-made fanbase. It has a bit of history behind it and there is scope for growth here. Football in America will become one of the big contenders over the next 10-15 years because of the structure that they are putting in place.
But in terms of Florida, you could have two or even three clubs from this state in MLS. You see so many kids at games, much more than you do at games in England, and these kids will grow up as fans and you will keep a large percentage of them. I am firmly behind MLS' bid of getting the Rowdies into the league and it's one I really believe we can achieve. The area would embrace it, I am sure of that.
Q. David Beckham is attempting to get a Miami franchise into MLS, so are you in competition with your former England teammate?
A. We are not in competition with them. I am not up to date on all the politics, but there is more than enough room for both teams. Florida is massive, it's huge. I drove down to Miami with the family the other day and it was four-and-a-half hours away -- then you look at all the other cities in Florida, with a population of millions in the state itself, so there is definitely room for more teams in MLS from here. Our bid is in and we should know by November/December whether we have been accepted into this round by MLS, so we would be looking at [entry in] 2019 or 2020.
Q. Do you keep in touch with the Premier League now that you are in the States?
A. I watch more Premier League games over here than I did back home because of the timings of the games. I love it. From afar, I think Chelsea have been brilliant. [Antonio] Conte has come in and been spot on tactically. Every time something has needed to change, he has changed it and he has made good decisions. The players look like they are a happy camp, so credit to Chelsea for going out and getting him. He has been brilliant, but the lads have to take a lot of credit as well. Look at Victor Moses. He deserves a lot of credit because he has been excellent for the team this year.
Q. How do you expect the United-Chelsea game to go on Sunday?
A. Jose [Mourinho] will be desperate to win the game, of course he will, but it's a funny game for both clubs. Chelsea have such a cushion that a point would be good for them, while United have the Europa League focus, but if they were to beat Chelsea, then you would say they could get into the top four.
It will be cagey, like most of these games, but I personally think Chelsea will go there and win. You go on form and I also listen to comments from players playing against them -- that is always a good indicator of a team - and players are saying they don't know how to beat them. I think a Bournemouth player said it recently, but Chelsea are so well-drilled that it will be tough for United, especially after playing away in Europe on Thursday night.
Q. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been United's talisman with his goals this season, so what do you make of interest in him from MLS?
A. He is a massive player and he looks like he has loads of years left in him. Physically, he is a real specimen. Any top player would be fantastic for the league, but they don't like speculation over here. Bastian Schweinsteiger's move to Chicago Fire came out of the blue and that is how they like to do their business, but obviously, Zlatan is a great player and he would be good for the league, that's for sure.
Q. After winning so many club honours, would getting Tampa Bay into MLS equal your previous achievements?
A. It would be a big thing. You want to be a success in everything you do and I am enjoying being here and leading the team. It has been a long time since I was captain, but it is an experience and I want to win things here. You want to lift trophies and be victorious. Off the field, getting the team into MLS would be massive achievement, not just for me, but all the friends I have made out here. It means so much to them.
One day, I will leave St Pete's and be back living in London, but I would like to think I could come back and people will say I was a big part of this team. I want to leave a mark over here.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_