JOE COLE admitted it was "surreal" to have rejoined boyhood club West Ham but is relishing the chance to help them towards a bright future.
The 31-year-old has signed an 18-month contract with the Hammers to end a miserable spell at Liverpool.
Cole's talent had long been talked about even during his days in the West Ham academy, and after signing professional terms in 1998 he became a firm fans' favourite before leaving for Chelsea in 2003 after the east London club were relegated from the Premier League.
The England international went on to win eight major trophies - including three Premier League titles - with the Blues, but is now ready for the next chapter in his career after returning to where it all began.
"It is great to be back where I started and very surreal, walking out on pitches where I played when I was at under-13s," said Cole, who could make his second debut in Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie against Manchester United at Upton Park.
"It is weird, but I am happy, my family is happy and we are looking forward to it.
"For me, this season has been bad because there has not been a lot of playing time at Liverpool.
"The manager ( Sam Allardyce) wants me to come here and play, I need to get games to come back up to fitness and match speed.
"I am buzzing to play and make my debut again."
Cole admits he has always been "haunted" by West Ham's relegation on 42 points, in a side which also included Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson and had in the past featured Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand.
"You want to come back and put things right," he said.
"It is all about the club moving on, to consolidate in the Premier League, that is the main goal.
"The way they have played is brilliant. They have looked solid.
"It is a new club I have come back to. It is so organised and efficient and a lot of work is going on behind the scenes. It has been an eye-opener.
"I just want to be involved in this club going places with the (anticipated move to the) Olympic Stadium and the job the gaffer has done."
Cole could also have moved to QPR, and been reunited with his former West Ham boss Harry Redknapp.
He said: "That was the hardest thing for me, because Harry gave me my first chance and I will be forever indebted to him, but there was too much here at West Ham for me to say no.
"The only hard thing was turning down Harry because I love him and I would not be the player I was if it wasn't for him."
After joining Liverpool as a free agent in 2010, Cole was sent off on his Premier League debut and missed a penalty in his next appearance, a Europa League qualifying match against Trabzonspor.
The poor start set the tone for a Reds career hampered by form and fitness problems and he was allowed to spend last season on loan at French side Lille.
Cole, though, will take things one step at a time.
"I need to get playing first, and probably will need three or four matches to get back to top level," he said.
"I will always harbour those ambitions because I love playing for my country, but it will be down to performance."
Manchester United are expected to make several changes for the late-afternoon kick-off, but Allardyce does not expect that to weaken the Premier League leaders at all.
He said: "We are not under the same pressure as we are in the Premier League that is for sure, but we have a responsibility because there will be a full house at West Ham tomorrow, live on TV so we have to put the best team out we have available.
"They are in top form, so it will be hugely difficult, but it is a fantastic one to be involved in and if we can create a bit of an upset it would be a great bonus to make it into the next round."