Home and Away: Joe Cole
news Mon 19 Feb 2018
Ahead of our Champions League game against Barcelona we hear from Chelsea legend Joe Cole, who picks out some of his highlights from games he played in at Stamford Bridge.
Included in his selection are great goals, title-securing victories and, of course, some wonderful European memories…
You were involved in some epic battles against Barcelona during your time at the club, but the one which stands out is the first of those ties, in 2004/05, when after losing the away leg 2-1 we progressed courtesy of a 4-2 win at the Bridge. What was that game like to play in?
‘That’s one of my favourite games I played in and that Barcelona team was as good as any I’ve ever played against. When we played them in the first leg, you sort of doubt yourself a little bit because they were so good. They had Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and that’s just five of about 20.
‘But what a game and what a start, we were electric for the first 20 minutes and it was just a lovely game. It felt like in that first 25-30 minutes we could have scored 10 and I think it surprised them a little bit.
‘We didn’t give a good account of ourselves in the first leg, we were too passive, but in the home game we got on the front foot, shut them down and got the result in the end with JT scoring, which was amazing.’
After eliminating Barcelona we then faced Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals and once again went through after a tie which ebbed and flowed. You opened the scoring in the first leg...
‘The performances in Europe that year were special. That Bayern team was a great side with players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn and Lucio.
‘It was one of those nights when we peaked as a team. Drogba was unplayable. Frank scored two unbelievable goals. It should have been over at 4-1 but we ended up having to go over to the Olympic Stadium and put in another good performance. I don’t think I’ve ever played in a team so strong and dominant, it was a pleasure to play in it.
‘My goal took a big deflection, I think Duff had given it to me. I just tried to get a shot off early in the game and test Kahn because sometimes you can get lucky. I didn’t hit it brilliantly but it took a deflection and went in so it was a great start. Those big nights were still fairly new to the fans and it felt a bit different, you could feel the excitement in the air and we showed we were more than capable of competing against the biggest clubs.’
Looking much further back, you scored your first goal for the club in a League Cup win over Notts County in 2003. As a boyhood Chelsea fan, how did that feel?
‘Coming to a new club you want to get off the mark as quickly as possible and I’d hit the post a couple of times in the weeks before.
‘It was a League Cup game and the ball just broke to me inside the box. I actually scuffed it a little bit but it went in the bottom corner.
'We won 4-0 and it was the fourth goal but a really nice moment and another one of those times when you think to yourself, “I’ve just scored for Chelsea". All a bit surreal, really.’
In 2004/05 you scored the winner, both home and away, against Liverpool. After the game at the Bridge, Jose Mourinho spoke about where you needed to improve and you went on to establish yourself as a really important player in a title-winning team...
‘At the time you’re a young man and you get frustrated but looking back now, and especially because I’m doing my coaching badges, he was just giving me a message about what is expected, that’s nothing unusual.
‘I’m not sensitive or anything like that, and maybe that’s why he said it, he felt he needed the whip to deal with me so that was no problem, that’s management.
‘It was a lovely ball in from Frank and I’m not usually involved in attacking set-pieces, I probably only scored one or two from a corner in my career, I’m usually there when it drops out. But I just managed to get in front and get a touch on it. Those games against Liverpool were always very tactical, with nothing in them, so it was always going to take a set-piece or a bit of magic to do something.’
Liverpool were also a regular opponent in the Champions League. You scored the winner in the first leg of our semi-final in 2007, and then featured the following year when we beat them to reach the final. What are your memories of those games?
‘I don’t think they were games for the purists, it was always very tactical. I remember Alvaro Arbeloa, who was a very good defender, really sticking to me in that game in 2007 and it was probably the only time I got away from him.
'I ran right across and Drogba did brilliantly to put me in. As I got the contact on it I knew I was going to hit it well and thankfully it went past Pepe Reina. It felt like that was going to be our year, especially because we didn’t concede an away goal, but it wasn’t to be.
'When we beat them in 2008 it was great, another tense night. I remember Fernando Torres scoring for them. That was the best Liverpool team we played against, much better than the side which won the Champions League in 2005, but it was just our night.
‘It was a relief to get there. In terms of how good we were, we should have reached three Champions League finals and won it but luck comes into it.’
It was at the end of the 2005/06 campaign, on a day we secured the title, you scored what was probably your most famous Chelsea goal, against Manchester United. What a day for you...
‘It was a special moment for me because even though we’d won the league the year before, to do it on that particular day, against our biggest rivals, in such convincing fashion, and to score what was probably my favourite goal of my career against such a quality side, was probably one of the best.
‘The sun was shining and you couldn’t have written it any better. It had that sort of pub-garden feel to it. Everybody was happy and the day seemed to glow for me.
‘We were on it from the start of the game, Willy scored from a corner and we thought that was it. United, with Ronaldo and Rooney and Giggs, came back into it and had a spell, but then I scored the goal to put the final nail in the coffin, that was 2-0, they needed to score three so it was done then.
‘The release of winning was amazing. I’d never done this in a game before but I remember for about 10 minutes just letting my mind go, looking around and just taking in the sights. I can still picture it now, the crowd singing, the sun on your back and you’re playing football, it’s what you dream of as a kid. I really took it in that day, and I’m pleased I did, because I was lucky enough to win three titles, but not like that one, at a canter when you’re in a game and you can just take five minutes off to look around and take it all in. This time around we had a good party afterwards with all my family and it ended really well.’
You played your final game for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the final game of the 2009/10 season, when we beat Wigan 8-0 to win the title. Did you know at that point you would be leaving the club? If so, it must have been a day of mixed emotions...
‘I knew there was a chance I would leave, but what a way to finish at the Bridge. I came on and had a hand in a couple of the goals but I didn’t score which was a bit annoying, everybody else did. But it was a really special day.
I don’t think that team in 2010 was as good as the team between 2003 and 2008, it was slightly different and it had evolved a little, but we won the league emphatically. That was a tougher team because we were a bit older and more savvy, but not as energetic and youthful. It was a great day.’
You’re still playing in the US, how are you finding that and what else are you up to at the moment?
‘I’m at Tampa Bay Rowdies for another season, I’m doing a bit of punditry and also doing my coaching badges, so I’m keeping my options open for the next stage of my career.
‘I’m still loving playing and it’s a great lifestyle out there. It was a really good decision and I wish I’d gone when I left Chelsea. Once I’d done my knee I couldn’t really keep myself fit for any length of time, apart from when I played in France for a season, and with hindsight I should have done it then.
‘I’m enjoying the punditry as well, it helps you analyse your game and you’re sitting with good, experienced people and picking their brains all the time.’