Cole admits home where heart is after 'dream' return to Hammers
Joe Cole has claimed that it was "like a dream" to rejoin West Ham, his boyhood club, and one could tell from the engorged collection of autograph hunters outside the training ground gates that the feeling was mutual.
"Same faces, same places," Cole said, grinning, after he signed an 18-month contract that restored him to the pitches where he learnt his craft. "It's very inspiring, a bit like a dream. I feel the same way I did when I was a youngster."
This sense of rejuvenation was timely for the 31-year-old midfielder, who endured a nightmarish three-year spell at Liverpool. Cole made more appearances during a nine-month loan period at Lille than during his entire time at Anfield.
But West Ham intend to deploy him more productively, with Sam Allardyce confirming that Cole will start in this evening's FA Cup third-round match against Manchester United at Upton Park.
The manager also secured a six-month loan deal for out-of-favour Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, as a reaction to Andy Carroll's injury absence and the impending loss of Mali's Modibo Maiga to Africa Cup of Nations duty.
Asked if he thought it was a mistake ever to have gone to Liverpool, Cole replied: "Who knows? There were great people at Liverpool, some great lads who looked after me. But it didn't work."
Cole also disclosed that part of his motivation for choosing West Ham had been his recent family difficulties.
His brother-in-law Mitchell Cole, also a footballer, died last month from a heart condition aged 27. "I lost a close friend two weeks ago," he said. "Plus, my dad has not been well, so it makes you pine for home even more."
While Cole maintained that his mind was made up even before the family tragedy, he could not escape an awkward conversation with former West Ham mentor Harry Redknapp, who had wanted to entice him to struggling QPR.
"It was very difficult," he admitted. "I feel as if I owe him something. It was tough saying no to Harry. I love him."
Cole told an anecdote about his West Ham debut 13 years ago – by a neat symmetry, also in the third round of the FA Cup, at Swansea – which underlined the personal significance of his homecoming.
"I can remember cleaning the changing-room floors when 'Big Frank' (Frank Lampard Snr, then assistant manager) came in and asked, 'Have you got a suit, son? You're in the squad tomorrow'.
"I came on, we were 1-0 down, and Julian Dicks scored the goal that took us to a replay. Suddenly I had gone from being a schoolboy to a professional footballer." (© Daily Telegraph, London)