Joe Cole arrives, but at what price?

The signing of Joe Cole has lifted many Liverpool fans around the world out of the gloom. Despite not making the Champions League, despite the ownership situation, Liverpool have managed to sign one of the more admired players in the Premier League. It could certainly be considered a statement of intent by the club to the fans and to the players, but like many good things there always seem to be a catch.

Cole training (Courtesy of Liverpoolfc.tv)

I’m a big fan of Joe Cole like the majority of fans of the Premier League. His ability to create opportunities and consistently unlock defenses is worth its weight in gold, especially as more and more Premier League teams opt to play with deep, narrow back fours and physically imposing defensive midfielders. An answer to the very restricting tactics is something Liverpool have struggled to find during the Rafalution.

Luis Garcia, who is a cult legend at the club, was that special kind of player. His flair for the dramatic earned him the name King Luis while his inconsistency often overshadowed the plaudits from his magical moments. Chelsea’s new signing Yossi Benayoun played a similar role at the club though he never reached the peaks of Garcia, but nor did he reach the lows.  But as big of moments as those players had they were still very much roleplayers in a squad dominated by Gerrard and later Torres. I believe Joe Cole is a player in a higher quality tier than Yossi and Garcia and with his addition the attacking play is not a burden for just Torres and Gerrard anymore. Add what Liverpool fans saw from Maxi when he began to settle and it’s certainly one of the more intimidating attacking sides Liverpool have put out in a while, and that’s not including the dependable and clutch Dirk Kuyt.

But as I alluded to earlier, there is a catch(or possibly several).

The rumor is Cole will be making around 90,000 pounds a week. As many know Liverpool’s financial situation is not just poor, but approaching  closer and closer to the point of implosion. This 90,000 pounds is not a massive wage for a player of Joe Cole’s quality assuming he has a clean slate in the past nor if the club is in a stable financial state, but neither of those are true in this situation.

He did make 38 appearances last year(many as a sub) which is reasonable at a club like Chelsea when he wasn’t considered a key figure. For reference Lampard had 50, Drogba had 44, Terry had 46, and Yossi had 39 at Liverpool. However if you combine Cole’s total number of appearances in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 he had just 40. Anything less than 30 starts this season and that 90,000 pound wage is going to look awfully steep and comparisons to Harry Kewell will surface.

Kewell had severe injuries issues at Liverpool

While I’d like to not harp on the salary (you have to spend money to make money after all and an interesting piece by Kuper suggests it helping with winning, too) it’s an issue that can not be overlooked because of the state of the club and the recent selling of Insua(though, oddly Insua was still training at Melwood as of yesterday). Insua had a tough season last year. He was a part of a porous backline and certainly looked behind the speed of the game, most noticeably being caught out of position when the ball was lost. But Insua is still only 21 years old, he’s already been capped for Argentina, and when comparing him to other players in his age group and position not many stack up to his ability. He was an unpolished young foreign left-back thrown into a flat back-four(home and away) in over 40 matches. The learning curve was always going to be very steep.

Just look at another left-back that had a similar situation. Gareth Bale has looked just as overwhelmed at the left-back position as Insua, but was capable of playing another position and had a fantastic season in a higher-up position where there was less defensive responsibility. To expect an entire campaign of impeccable positioning and awareness(especially in a flat back-four away from home) from a 21-year-old is simply asking too much.

Insua looks bound for Italy

But that’s only half the issue and the other part gets us back to Cole. Assuming the transfer goes through Insua is going to Fiorentina for either 3.8m+ incentives or a fee around 5m based on which sources one believes. Hicks and Purslow have stated on numerous occasions that player sells do not go toward the debt but rather into the transfer and wage kitty. Now there can be two views on this:

1) Hicks and Purslow are not telling the truth and Insua was sold because he was viewed as expendable in comparison to the rest of the squad. Never mind that Insua was probably worth around double the rumored price of the transfer.

2) That the money for Insua does go into that kitty.

Let’s assume #2.

As much of an admirer of Joe Cole as I am with the timing of these two deals it looks as if the Insua money went directly toward signing Cole. If we assume it was 5 million pounds for Insua and it’s roughly 5 million for Cole not including incentives or a signing bonus it’s almost a swap. That sounds nice looking at it(Insua for Cole), though remember Insua has his whole career ahead of him and he could have been sold for much more now and possibly even more later if he continued to improve.

But finances and a lack of left-backs aren’t the only reason I’m not jumping through the roof over the signing.

It’s tough to understand why purchasing Cole was worthy of selling the team’s only current first-team left-back and one of its brightest players for the future in exchange for a player that adds a higher quality to an area of the field that has some semblance of depth.

There’s no mistaking that players like Gerrard and Carragher are excited to see a quality addition like Cole to the squad. I’m sure their trip to South Africa together played a big part in him signing with Liverpool. Torres must like the addition as well. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a smooth transition.

Joe Cole has made it clear in the past that he wants to play in the center behind the striker(s). He feels its his best position and it certainly had to play a role in deciding what club he signed for. Unfortunately,  Steven Gerrard and Aquilani thrive in that same spot. Assuming Gerrard stays(which he has recently stated he would) I think it would be madness to separate him from Torres(again, assuming he stays). That leaves Joe Cole on the left where Liverpool currently have Babel, Jovanovic, and Reira. That’s not to say Cole isn’t a quality above those players, he obviously is. I personally  don’t have too much faith in Babel or Reira, but at least they are warm bodies and already on the book.

Now if Cole were to play in his preferred position Gerrard would then need to be moved. Two spots would be available and that’s on the right and in the central midfield pairing. Benitez got arguably the best season out of Gerrard from the right, but it seemed like every week there was discontent about his role by a number of sources including Gerrard. Plus Kuyt and Maxi both are more than capable in that area of the field.

The other solution would be to move Gerrard into a central midfield pairing. This especially worries me.

Gerrard is a special, special player. There are very few that I put in his elite category, but his casual tactical discipline and ambitious play on the ball are not ideal for a central midfielder.

And that’s not even mentioning Aquilani. A lot of money was spent on Alberto and he will most likely slip even further down the pecking order with the arrival of Cole.

Hodgson has quite the task ahead of him

I do want to make it clear that I think Cole signing is a great statement of intent by the club. I’ve always wanted to see a player with the skill-set of Cole at Liverpool. The issue comes with looking at the current financial situation of the club combined with the other issues plaguing the squad.

Left-backs are an absolute must buy as soon as possible. Remember Liverpool only have a few friendlies left, and the club is already operating on a short schedule because of the World Cup and the Europa League qualifier. Another striker must also be considered, and possibly a midfielder if Mascherano goes.

Assuming a quality left-back is brought in and the rest of the team is held together the squad does look very capable of retaking a spot in the top four. But this Cole signing must only be the first step in the process of squad rebuilding and not one of the final phases. I would have been ecstatic if the news of the signing happened after a left-back was signed. When I look back I hope the timing is the only thing that prevented me from being overjoyed, and that there were sufficient reinforcements waiting in the wings.

I know there is a plan. It would be naive of me to assume there wasn’t one. I’m just wondering if the plan was made by the manager or the man who has no real background in the sport and is trying to attract owners to the club.

But hey, at the very least he won’t be scoring against Liverpool anymore.

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