Terry Dixon has joined West Ham United and is looking forward to making a
West Ham United are pleased to announce the signing of highly-rated Republic
of Ireland youth international striker Terry Dixon on a three-year contract.
The 19-year-old forward put pen to paper after proving his fitness with the
club in recent months. Dixon had been released by Tottenham Hotspur in March
2008 after concerns over past problems with his right knee. With West Ham
United having made significant improvements to the medical set-up at
Chadwell Heath and after a two-month spell with a knee specialist in
Belgium, Dixon was invited to work with the club's specialists to make use
of their advanced approach to rehabilitation.
The medical team including head of rehabilitation Giorgio Gasparini have
worked tirelessly during his recovery and have also been rewarded by the
Archway-born player's dedication to proving he still has what it takes to
make it at the highest level. Dixon's right knee has now been fully assessed
and he just requires conditioning work to prepare himself for a playing
return in the hope of catching Gianfranco Zola's eye.
Dixon was highly regarded a youth player and represented Ireland at every
level before being called up to the full squad at 16 by the then manager
Steve Staunton in May 2006, who at the time described him as a 'special
talent'. He was then named on the bench for his country's friendly against
Chile that month and was rewarded for his progress by being named Ireland's
Under-17 Player of Year for 2006.
The flame-haired striker, who cites Wayne Rooney as his favourite player, is
delighted to have committed his future to West Ham United and is looking
forward to getting back on the pitch.
"I'm pleased to have signed the contract and I'm glad to have got it
sorted," Dixon said. "I'm back in training next week and hopefully I want to
push on to the first team towards the end of the season. I'm so relieved to
be back to fitness as it's just so annoying to have those niggles because
you have been out for so long.
"My aims for this season are to get matches under my belt for the reserves
and if I do well there, hopefully I can get into the first-team squad. I
want to repay the faith the club have shown in me, if not this season then
Dixon also paid tribute to the medical team at Chadwell Heath that has aided
his comeback. "The fitness team have done a lot of work with me to make my
leg a lot stronger and my knee never swells up now. It's just like my other
one, it feels fine. I'm just glad West Ham took the chance on me and
hopefully it will pay off. I'd like to thank Christian Lattanzio and Giorgio
Gasparini for all the work they have done."
West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury said: "This signing is a testament to our
medical and technical departments for all the work they have put in to get
Terry to this point. He has worked very hard in the past few months and we
have all been impressed with his determination to start playing again. His
talent is undoubted.
"We know that Tottenham felt they had reached the end of the road with Terry
but we are hopeful he can yet prove himself and build a successful career.
He is certainly in the best place to do that and I am sure if anyone can get
the best out of him it will be Gianfranco Zola and his coaching staff."
Neill makes his point
Lucas Neill's Australia secured a battling draw in Japan in their latest
FIFA 2010 World Cup qualifier
Lucas Neill's Australia moved a step closer to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with
a hard-fought goalless draw with Japan in Yokohama.
Despite spending long periods of the match pinned in their own half by the
home side at the Saitama Stadium, captain Neill and his team held on for a
valuable point in their Asia qualifying fourth round Group A match. The
point keeps the Socceroos three points above second-placed Japan halfway
through the eight-match group stage.
West Ham United skipper Neill, who began his 47th international cap at
right-back before switching to the centre of defence midway through the
second half, expertly led the Australian rearguard as his side secured a
fourth consecutive clean-sheet to remain on course for a place in South
Behind Neill, Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer produced a number of fine
saves to keep Australia in the game. Meanwhile, former Hammers forward
Richard Garcia, an FA Youth Cup winner in 1999, earned his third cap as a
64th-minute substitute for NEC Nijmegen's Richard Holman.
Australia return to competitive action on 1 April, when they entertain
Uzbekistan in Sydney. Pim Verbeek's side complete their qualification
campaign with a trip to Qatar and home matches against Bahrain and Japan in
June. Should they finish in the top-two in their five-team group, they will
qualify for their second straight World Cup finals.
Striker Dixon earns West Ham deal
West Ham United have signed Republic of Ireland Under-21 international
striker Terry Dixon on a three-year deal. The 19-year-old's career had
looked in doubt after Spurs released him in March 2008 following a
dislocated kneecap. However, the Hammers' medical team have worked hard to
help the London-born striker's rehabilitation. Dixon would have been the
Republic's youngest senior international, at the age of 16, against Holland
in 2006 but he had to pull out because of injury. He told the Hammers
website: "I'm pleased to have signed the contract and I'm glad to have got
it sorted. "I'm back in training next week and hopefully I want to push on
to the first team towards the end of the season. "I'm so relieved to be back
to fitness as it's just so annoying to have those niggles because you have
been out for so long. "My aims for this season are to get matches under my
belt for the reserves and if I do well there, hopefully I can get into the
first-team squad. "I want to repay the faith the club have shown in me, if
not this season then the season after. "The fitness team have done a lot of
work with me to make my leg a lot stronger and my knee never swells up now."
Hammers chief executive Scott Duxbury said: "This signing is a testament to
our medical and technical departments for all the work they have put in to
get Terry to this point. "We know that Tottenham felt they had reached the
end of the road with Terry but we are hopeful he can yet prove himself and
build a successful career."
Dixon signs for Hammers
19-year-old striker puts knee problems behind him
Last updated: 11th February 2009
West Ham United have signed 19-year-old Irish striker Terry Dixon. The
Republic of Ireland youth international was released by Tottenham Hotspur in
March of last year because of recurring knee problems. But he has proved his
fitness to The Hammers' medical team after a two-month visit to a knee
specialist in Belgium.
Dixon is looking to impress in the reserves and hopes a first-team call-up
from manager Gianfranco Zola will eventually come. "I'm pleased to have
signed the contract and I'm glad to have it sorted," he told the club's
official website. "I'm back in training next week and hopefully I want to
push on to the first team towards the end of the season. I'm so relieved to
be back to fitness as it's just so annoying to have those niggles because
you have been out for so long. "My aims for this season are to get matches
under my belt for the reserves and if I do well there, hopefully I can get
into the first team squad. "I want to repay the faith the club have shown
in me, if not this season then the season after."
You're the one for me, fatty! Real Madrid fans turn on West Ham's Faubert
He's barely had time to sample the paella and chorizo and already Julien
Faubert has had to defend his physical condition at Real Madrid. Murmurings
of discontent at being somewhat 'gordo' have arisen after his apparently
shocking debut. Naturally, the Frenchman has come out and defended himself.
Here's what he said:
"It seems I weigh a lot, or more than I ought to, but it's not that way,
this is just the way I am, I am strong...but I do not weigh more than I
should. I haven't missed a training session with West Ham nor a game even
though I haven't been playing. I'm in good shape despite what people say
about my weight."
Having scanned through a few comments accompanying the article, a lot of
Real fans are dubbing him Eric Cartman i.e I'm not fat, I'm just big boned!
Is he actually fat or are the Spanish press just in need of a new fatty to
pick on now Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are long gone from La Liga? It was an
extremely strange signing in the first place but Juande Ramos must have been
desperate for a right sided player. Maybe all those rumours about Jermaine
Pennant being eyed up were true after all. Further rumours that Stuart
Ripley was being lined up should the Faubert deal fall through have so far
been unconfirmed. It's not good news for the lad though. Surely it's only a
matter of time before the racist fans that tarnish the Spanish game get the
monkey noises going...and that'll probably be from his own fans. It seems
almost impossible for someone to rescue themselves once on the slippery
slope at the Madrid giants. English players like Michael Owen, Jonathan
Woodgate, and Steve McManaman all spring to mind.
The club nobody wants to join: Sportsmail looks at England's sorry one-cap
By Mark Lawford
Last updated at 2:56 PM on 11th February 2009
As David Beckham prepares to join a very select band of England players by
equalling Bobby Moore's outfield record of 108 caps, two of Fabio Capello's
squad will be hoping tonight is not their one and only. James Milner has
long been touted as a full international, the Aston Villa midfielder having
played a record 40 times at under-21 level. But West Ham striker Carlton
Cole is very much a surprise choice, despite scoring six goals in 19
Under-21 appearances. The enforced absences of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen,
Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott have opened the door for the ex-eternally
on-loan striker. He's played his part in making life better for Hammers boss
Gianfranco Zola and is finally winning over the Upton Park faithful. But
although Capello said: 'Cole gets better and better in every game. His
movement and his strength impress me. He is young - he is interesting', it
is hard to see how anything other than a hatful of goals or the sudden
retirement of Rooney, Owen, Crouch, Heskey, Agbonlahor, Defoe et al will
guarantee Cole a place in the next squad. So the 25-year-old could debut and
disappear on the same night and join the most unwanted club of all - the
one-cap wonder brigade - a clan that contains many a household name that
should have been a great but turned out to be just another contender with no
chance of getting a title fight.
Sportsmail looks back on some of the highest-profile one-cap wonders - and
history shows that even if Cole does find the target, that might not be
Step forward the unlucky trio Francis Jeffers, David Nugent and Paul
Goddard. They all average a goal a game for England but the solitary cap and
shirt will never be added to. Goddard netted against Iceland in 1983, while
fox in the box Jeffers was on target in the horrific 3-1 home defeat against
Australia in 2003. So much was expected of Jeffers especially when Arsenal
shelled out £8m to take him from Everton to London. Sadly, Franny never
settled or shone in the Smoke and now ekes out a living at Sheffield
Wednesday where he averages a goal every nine games. And in 11 years, he has
only managed 32 league goals after netting 13 in 16 games for England
Under-21s. Preston striker Nugent managed his goal - against Andorra -
despite playing in the second tier of English football. Since he moved to
Premier League Portsmouth, the nearest he's got to an England cap since is
in the Wembley Stadium clubshop.
Other one-cap strikers worth a mention: Michael Ricketts (v Holland 2002),
Peter Ward (v Australia 1980), Brian Stein (v France 1984), Peter Davenport
(v Eire 1985).
The engine room and not always a place for nice guys. So it's no surprise to
see the likes of Lee Bowyer and Joey Barton carving their names with pride
on the one-cap board. After delays because of a much-publicised court case,
left-sided Bowyer got the reward he deserved against Portugal in 2002. He
even set up Alan Smith's goal but then disappeared without trace, pausing
only to thump a team-mate on the way. Last seen at Birmingham City where he
has scored a goal.
Bowyer, however, is very much a League Two bad-boy compared to the snarling
Barton. The highly-rated Manchester City central midfielder got his chance
against Spain in 2007. But court cases and even a spell in prison have
pushed the mixed-up 26-year-old to the back of the queue, behind the likes
of Phil Mitchell, Simon Cowell, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twiggy from The
Some caps are just plain bizarre: Seth Johnson helped save Crewe from
relegation in 1999 and by the following year Peter Taylor played the now
Derby man against Italy, David Beckham's first match as skipper.
There are also plenty of right-siders in the group. David White, then a
Manchester City hero, got his chance and was injured in the 2-0 1992 loss in
Spain, while Mark Walters - he of 1982/3 Goal of the Season fame when
playing for Aston Villa - darted around against New Zealand (yes, that's
right) in 1991.
Other one-cap midfielders worth a mention: Lee Hendrie (v Czech Republic
1998), Gavin McCann (v Spain 2001), David Dunn (v Portugal 2002), Colin
Harvey (v Malta 1971), Steve Guppy (v Belgium 2000), Danny Wallace (v Egypt
1986), Alan Thompson (v Sweden 2004).
Touted as the solution to England's troublesome left-back slot after the
retirement of Stuart Pearce, Michael Ball had it all. Sadly, although Sven
Goran Eriksson picked him for his first-ever match in charge -the 3-0
defeat of Spain in 2001 - Ball rolled off the pitch to be replaced by Chris
Powell, then Ashley Cole, then Wayne Bridge. Terry Venables gave hard-man
Liverpool central defender Neil Ruddock a cap against Nigeria in 1994 and
drafted in Everton's David Unsworth against Japan a year later, Eriksson
capped then axed Tottenham's Anthony Gardner against Sweden in 2003. And
Bobby Robson made the popular decision to award Mel 'Zico' Sterland a
right-back slot against Saudi Arabia in 1988.
When England went to the US for the Bi-Centennial SoccerBall Pennant Bowl
Celebration Festival in 1976, they played Brazil, Italy and Team America,
the latter including Bobby Moore in their line-up. But against Italy,
manager Don Revie gave Arsenal keeper Jimmy Rimmer the gloves. At half-time,
Revie took them back with England trailing 2-0 and brought on Joe Corrigan.
England won 3-2 and Rimmer was never seen with a Three Lions shirt on again.
It's a big step up: Alex Stepney (second left) gets his orders from Sir Alf
Ramsey while Gordon Banks, Peter Thompson, Colin Bell and Bobby Charlton
also take it in Manchester United legend Alex Stepney took his chance well
when helping England beat Sweden 3-1 in 1968 - the last time England have
beaten the Scandinavians - while Aston Villa's Nigel Spink kept against
against Australia in 1983. All three keepers are linked in another way.
Rimmer was a Manchester United substitute for the 1968 European Cup Final
victory against Benfica at Wembley, Stepney being the regular No.1. And the
luckless Rimmer lasted just nine minutes of Aston Villa's 1982 European Cup
Final against Bayern Munich - to be replaced by rookie reserve Spink,
meaning Rimmer has won two European Cup medals with a combined total playing
time of nine minutes.
Weight not an issue for Faubert
Author: Andrew Allen
Posted on: 11 February 2009 - 9:27 AM
West Ham flop Julien Faubert insists he is in perfect shape to earn a
permanent deal with Real Madrid. The France winger made a shock loan move to
the Spanish capital last month after boss Juande Ramos missed out on Aston
Villa's Ashley Young and Wigan's Antonio Valencia.Faubert's arrival was
slammed by the majority of Real fans, while television pundits accused the
midfielder of being overweight and out of shape. But the former Bordeaux man
has moved to set the record straight and says he will prove his fitness by
firing Real to success. "I have seen some people on television saying I'm
fat but that is not true. The manager has told me that I don't need to lose
anything," he said. "I have the physique and internal strength, I hope I
will continue here once my loan contract is over and I'm going to fight for
this. "I'm aware that I didn't arrive at this club with Zinedine Zidane or
David Beckham's status, but I'm going to work like a bull to show that I
deserve to wear the Real Madrid shirt. "Football is my life. I don't mind
being third choice in the club's or the coach's right winger wish list -
it's normal that such a big club study various options before they make a
Cole call shows how desperate England boss Capello is for firepower up front
Last updated at 10:03 AM on 11th February 2009
Carlton Cole is in a good run of form and it has caught the eye of Fabio
Capello, but the West Ham striker should enjoy his England moment because it
surely won't last. The country must be desperately short of firepower if
Cole suddenly looks like a viable option. For all his goals this season and
the potential he once showed at Chelsea, Cole still needs a handful of
chances before he scores and his brain is just not naturally attuned to the
game at top level. Sure, he has made improvements. His movement is better
and he is exploiting his strength to occupy defenders but the mature,
finished article he is not. Form is temporary, but international class
should be longer lasting - and Cole doesn't have it.
Great expectations for the Hammers, insists Green
12:54pm Wednesday 11th February 2009
HAMMERS goalkeeper Robert Green insists the team's expectations have gone
through the roof after a run of games that has seen them enjoy a dramatic
ascent up the Premier League table. The Irons' custodian has been more of an
interested onlooker than hero between the sticks in recent weeks as the ten
players in front of him have kept him largely out of the line of fire with a
string of superb defensive performances. With the front line of attack also
beginning to find their mark, Green believes the team have matured into a
unit capable of standing toe to toe with the likes of world champions
Manchester United, which they achieved with real conviction on Sunday.
"Considering the run of form we're in, we'd have liked to have continued
that (against United). But it's a step in the right direction. A few months
ago people would have been dreading this game, outside the dressing room,
and now you get the general feeling people are disappointed," said Green.
"Expectations have risen and none more so than ourselves."
Ryan Giggs' second half strike was only the fourth goal Green has conceded
in the last seven games, emphasising why both he and defensive colossus
Matthew Upson were included in Fabio Capello's England squad for last
night's big friendly against European champions Spain. Another Hammer to
have been given the nod for his first international call-up was on-form
striker Carlton Cole. Cole has discovered a golden touch in front of goal of
late, with six goals coming in his last eight games, while Capello has
heaped praise on the 25-year-old's ability to hold up the ball and bring
others into play. "He is young and interesting," the Three Lions' coach said
of West Ham's top scorer. "I have been following him and he has just got
better and better every game. His movement and his strength impress me. He
is in good form."
Collison backs Irons to soar to Wembley
12:51pm Wednesday 11th February 2009
WEST Ham midfielder Jack Collison believes the team have 'a great chance' of
winning their first FA Cup in 29 years this season. The Hammers reached the
final in 2006, only to be beaten 3-1 on penalties after playing out a
thrilling 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium. But the team
head into this week's fifth round tie with Middlesbrough in high spirits,
despite their 1-0 reverse against Manchester United at Upton Park on Sunday.
Prior to that result, Gianfranco Zola's men had racked up an unbeaten run
stretching eight games in all competitions. And Collison, having played a
key role in the team's transformation from relegation candidates to bona
fide UEFA Cup challengers, insists the confidence bred from that run can see
them march all the way to Wembley on May 30. "It would be a dream start to
my first full season in the team. It's what all kids dream of, winning the
FA Cup," said the 20-year-old. "We've got Middlesbrough first and if we can
get through that then we've got a great chance of winning it. "It's
definitely our best chance of winning something this season and we're going
to go into the game (against Middlesbrough) full of confidence. The results
haven't been going well for them at the moment so we're going to try and
beat them and then we're only a couple of games from the final."
It speaks volumes for how far the Hammers have come under Zola that the
players came away from the Boleyn Ground disappointed not to have beaten the
world champions, having more than matched United for much of the game. "We
knew it was going to be a tough game, but looking back now we're
disappointed to be coming away with nothing," added Collison. "I think that
shows how far we've come as a team as well. We were disappointed last week
not to win the game at Arsenal and disappointed this week to come out with
nothing against Man Utd. "That's a credit to ourselves. We're really looking
to push on."
Collison, too, has been doing plenty of pushing on himself this campaign,
having cemented his place on the left side of a midfield diamond. The young
Wales international will hope to have seen a glimpse of what the future may
hold for him on Sunday, as he saw his compatriot Ryan Giggs prove that while
the mileage clock suggests it may be time to call it a day, age has no
bearing on class, as he made the difference with a wonderful solo goal.
"He's not bad is he?" Collison said of Giggs after learning the Welsh legend
had now scored in every Premier League season. "He's had such a great
career. Everyone grew up watching him, you've just got to admire a player
like that. I think it took something special to unlock us today."
The Perfect Footballing Tool
Just Like My Dreams
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
cause none of them can stop the time.
The chronic shortage of established forward options for Fabio Capello means
there could be a striking role for the Premier League's most in-form hitman
in this evening's hotly anticipated friendly with Spain, reports the Times.
Carlton Cole arrived in Seville with the hope of coming off the bench on a
night when Capello will use his maximum six substitutes, but the sight of
Emile Heskey sitting out last night's training session in the Ramón Sánchez
Pizjuán stadium to protect his sore Achilles tendon has raised the prospect
of the United striker starting alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor.
It would be a partnership with just one cap between them — from the Aston
Villa forward's bright debut against Germany in November — and England's
striking options, or lack of them, may seem stark when set against those of
Spain, the European champions, who have Fernando Torres and David Villa. In
the absence of Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch is another alternative if Heskey
is forced to sit on the sidelines, but it was Cole and Agbonlahor who were
paired in training yesterday, both bounding around with wide-eyed
enthusiasm. And if Cole does not get his chance now, states Matt Dickinson,
on the back of good form for West Ham United, he probably never will.
At 25, it is quite late for Cole to be making his senior debut, but then he
did choose a roundabout route, with loan moves to Charlton Athletic,
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa, after he failed to make the grade
at Chelsea through lack of application. Cole's career has been nomadic; a
striker with undoubted talent trying to settle. Chelsea saw promise but the
Croydon-born forward made only 25 league appearances in five years, scoring
four goals. Cole was loaned out to try to provoke a reaction, but all those
spells combined failed to trigger his career, with a modest return of eight
league goals in 55 games.
That poor return continued for two seasons before Gianfranco Zola and Steve
Clarke came along, familiar faces and men prepared to give Cole a cuddle.
Prior to their arrival as manager and assistant in September, Cole had
managed one more goal in the league, but all that has changed now. An
impressive return of six goals in seven games, from December into January,
signalled Cole's arrival, although his performance against Manchester United
on Sunday, in front of Capello, showed both his physical attributes as he
brushed off Rio Ferdinand but also the lack of killer instinct as he
attempted to score with an over-elaborate chip.
That said, the West Ham striker has come a long way since his days at
Chelsea, when he was headstrong and behind Gianfranco Zola, Eidur Gudjohnsen
and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for a place in the team. Five years previous, at
Stamford Bridge, Claudio Ranieri would call Cole 'My Tyson' and little
wonder. His young striker had just laid out a senior professional on the
training ground and there were no regrets. Jesper Gronkjaer had been getting
on Cole's nerves during a practice session, nipping the young cub's ankles
so often that he snapped and punched the Chelsea winger in the face. "It
might have looked vicious and some of the lads said it looked like I was
going to 'do' him but, hand on heart, it wasn't like that," Cole, just 20,
said at the time. "Everyone was gearing up for the West Bromwich game and
things got pretty heated among the players."
As a first-year professional, he struggled to get out of bed in Brentford to
make the five-mile drive to Chelsea's old training ground in Harlington. He
was frequently late, fined for snoozing by a manager who still regarded him
as the best young striker he had worked with. "I've never coached a young
player as good as Carlton," claimed Ranieri at the time. "He's fantastic and
he has a very big future at Chelsea."
That was in 2002. Not long after, Cole would play on a Wednesday for Chelsea
reserves at Aldershot and then turn out for his uncle Duncan's Sunday League
side in Greenford. He was jeopardising his career, but Cole is anything but
a conformist. "The penny has finally dropped but it has taken a long time,"
said Alan Curbishley, who managed the striker at both Charlton (where he was
on loan) and West Ham. "He has everything you want in a modern striker. He
is strong, he has pace and he is difficult to mark but the one area of his
game he needs to improve is his goalscoring."
Cole was the recipient of the Golden Boot when he was in Chelsea's youth
team, an in-house award given to the club's leading scorer, and his career
was expected to blossom. After he made his debut as a substitute against
Everton in April 2002, Ranieri put him in the same bracket as reserves
team-mate and future England captain John Terry. But Cole took it too easy,
buying a Mercedes 4x4 with his first pay packet and back-chatting opposition
defenders with some west London bravado during his frequent run-outs with
By then he had a taste of first-team action and believed he was good enough
for a place in a side challenging for Champions League qualification without
putting in the hard graft with the second string. Eventually, he was loaned
to Charlton, then Wolves and Aston Villa, before eventually signing for West
Ham. Trouble with a long-standing knee complaint allowed the then Upton Park
manager Alan Pardew to negotiate an attractive performance-related
arrangement with Chelsea, highlighting why clubs prefer the details of such
deals to stay 'undisclosed'.
Off the field, Cole sometimes struggles with the complexities of day-to-day
life, shrugging off a visit from the bailiffs to West Ham's training ground
in 2007 when they were chasing him over unpaid congestion charges. He
claimed his friends were driving his car through central London, failing to
pay the £8 toll, but he eventually forked out for the heavy fine. His
lifestyle remains an area of concern. He was arrested for drink-driving in
September last year, but believes he is on the straight and narrow under the
pastoral care of Zola.
It helps that he held the former Italy forward in such high esteem when they
were together at Chelsea, listening to Zola's guidance and becoming a more
rounded. "He doesn't have to be nasty to be a very good player," insisted
Zola last week. Cole's performances on the field have improved this season.
He scored a notable goal at Newcastle when he controlled the ball with the
outside of his boot before lashing it beyond Shay Given. His form has
elevated him into the England squad, a reward for the hard work that he has
put in this season.
Now 25, Cole is a coruscating mountain of muscle, something Manchester
United's Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand will readily testify to after he
roughed up the best central defensive pairing in the Barclays Premier League
at Upton Park on Sunday. "He has grown in stature, but that's because he is
working for a manager who understands him," said Ferdinand. "He is
appreciated and working in an environment that suits him. He is a young
player, he wants to learn and he is better for it."
Of course, some footballers are born unthinking competitors – like Michael
Essien who apparently sleeps all day until you wake him and stick a football
before him: instant intensity. Some are less fortunate, condemned to
struggle with doubt and insecurity. While most are rarely troubled by
physical uncertainty- their bodies are tools, trained through unvarying
repetition into automatic muscle response- the training of the mind is much
trickier. Just ask Cole. He is 6ft 4in, searingly swift at full lope and
blessed with the co-ordination to instantly tame the blur of a passing ball;
in short, the corporeal embodiment of the perfect footballing tool. However,
he has never managed to master those physical gifts and he confesses to have
become plagued by the idea of his own unfulfilled potential. Yet in the past
months and weeks something has happened to Cole: he has begun to shed the
skin of his old timidity and the result has been revelatory.
He is now the in-form striker in the division, his five goals in seven
Premier League games attracting the curiosity of Fabio Capello. Through the
faithful cajoling of Gianfranco Zola and his coaching team, combined with
the advent of a greater maturity, Cole has flourished into the footballer he
has always threatened to be. When he arrived at West Ham, Zola knew there
was real ability trapped inside Cole. He had played alongside him as a rangy
teenager at Chelsea, seen his capabilities but also how he inhibited them.
"The manager knew what I was about, knew I had to build on what I had done
last season," Cole said. "He said in front of the whole team that he has 100
per cent faith in me and that if you get the ball up to Carlton, he'll cause
the opposition problems. I had to change my mentality. I had to become more
selfish. It is hard to change your mentality after playing three or four
years in the same way but it's happening now."
Kevin Keen and Steve Clarke have stalked Cole on the training ground with
the mantra: "goals, goals, goals". With training becoming more intense, with
lots of fast ball-work, Cole has been part of a general elevation of
expectations and ambitions. But it has been establishing a personal
commitment to improvement that has allowed him to thrive in Zola and
Clarke's team. He takes home and studies DVDs of his own performances and
works closely with a sports psychologist. He says he "has read whole a host
of books" to help with motivation and focus.
Books? Most players prefer the bookies. "I've read about the greatest people
in sport. I read about the lives of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, people like
that. I'm not saying I'm going to get up there but I'm going to try and get
up there. That's the only way you progress in life is if you aim for the
highest point. If you keep striving and are never satisfied then you'll do
well in your career. I know how important it is for me to take my life
seriously. Things happened off the field that were out of my control. It set
me back a bit. I don't want to go back into it. A few things have happened
away from the field made me realise how important football is and how many
people would love to be in my position. There are a lot of people who would
rather not think about football, go home and relax. At this stage of my
life, I think I have pissed away a large percentage of my career. Well,
maybe not pissed away but not been focused enough. I'm making up for lost
time, trying to get to a level where I can say I have achieved a lot."
Those troubles off the field – the most recent being that arrest in
September – are, he insists, behind him. Cole seems a man finally at peace
with himself these days, unlike those early years at Stamford Bridge. "I am
unrecognisable as a person from then," he insists. "When I was at Chelsea I
was really immature. I made my first team debut at 18 but soon got involved
in stupid stuff off the field."
Cole makes special mention of one example of 'stupid stuff' when he and
Wigan defender Titus Bramble were among those questioned over an alleged
rape case in a London hotel back in 2003. In the event the case was dropped
and neither man faced charges. "I've had loads of really low times," he
says. "I would get back on track for a while and then go off the rails
again. It was partly my fault and partly those around me. I've ditched loads
of so-called friends since those bad times.It's unbelievable how many
friends I thought I had but turned out to be hangers-on. My life is back on
track now and I'm never going back. There was a lot expected of me at a
young age at Chelsea. Some people cope with that pressure but I didn't
handle it well, I realise that now. In the end I was shipped out so many
times to various clubs that I never really found my feet.
"It's only now that I'm getting my life back on an even keel and I'm so
happy here at West Ham. I've never played so many games in a season before
and that has meant I've grown up on the pitch as well. It's a great feeling,
knowing you are one of the team's main strikers. It does my confidence so
much good. It's only now I realise I can have a good future in the game and
I want to carry on as long as possible. I feel really solid in myself,
content." He has a young son with wife Sophia, which puts a new perspective
on things, and what he calls the "support system" of his mother and uncle to
help maintain his new-found "drive". His mother, who still buys her boy his
Marks and Sparks underpants, is from Sierra Leone and he visits relatives
there every year. He has also begun to visit Nigeria, his father's home
"I go back to Sierra Leone every year. It's funny, I saw Craig Bellamy there
last time. He's contributed a lot to a football academy there. I didn't know
he was doing it until I saw him there! I said to him, 'You come to my
country and don't even tell me!' I've got a lot of family there. I've been
going to Nigeria for a couple of years now, straight after Sierra Leone. I
was there in the summer and played in Jay-Jay Okocha's testimonial match.
The fans are unbelievable. I didn't realise people knew me there. It's
crazy. That spurred me on – they worship you. It opened my eyes to another
side of football. They approached me to play for the Nigerian national team.
At the time I was nowhere near the England set up so I agreed to it. However
there were some complications with Fifa. I had represented England under 21s
and been captain so it was a bit unfair."
The flirtation with playing for Nigeria shows how far Cole thought himself
to be from the England reckoning. How things change. Capello has been
impressed with Cole's pace and power and the quality of his approach play,
while expressing reservations about his composure in front of goal. He
should keep watching. Cole is coming into his own. Not only that, he is
finally letting his feet do the talking.
Posted by Trilby at 10:19
West Ham v Middlesbrough preview
12:57pm Wednesday 11th February 2009
West Ham v Middlesbrough
FA Cup fifth round, Saturday February 14, 3pm
LAST MEETING: Middlesbrough 1–1 West Ham (01/11/2008) A late Mido strike
earned Boro a share of the spoils after Hayden Mullins had given the Hammers
LAST MEETING AT UPTON PARK: West Ham 3-0 Middlesbrough (15/09/2007) Three
goals in 15 minutes quashed Boro's hopes at the Boleyn Ground. Lee Bowyer, a
Luke Young own goal and a Dean Ashton strike saw the Irons come away with
all three points.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: West Ham 24 wins, Boro 23 wins, 12 draws
FORM: Gareth Southgate's men are going through a turbulent period, having
won only once in their last 14 league games. They have scored the fewest
goals in the top flight and they currently lie second from bottom in the
league table, with just five wins to their name all season.
DANGER MAN: Stewart Downing is Boro's shining light in a side otherwise
emitting a dim glow. The left winger and England international is a threat
from dead ball situations, while the Hammers' defence will need to be wary
of his wicked delivery into the box from the wing.
FUN FACT: Sky Sports pundit Chris Kamara is understood to be a keen
Middlesbrough fan. 'Kammy' is famed for his excitable game updates on Sky's
Soccer Saturday show, none more so than his hilarious take on David Healy's
'goal' when Fulham took on Boro last season. Search 'Chris Kamara Legend' on
PREDICTION: West Ham 2 Middlesbrough 0
Thank You so much to those who have already contributed