By Trevor Haylett
Joe Cole is a pretty powerful symbol of the team spirit that has carried Chelsea to the brink of the UEFA Champions League final in only their second season in the competition. When it would be easy to bemoan his failure to hold down a regular place, the young England midfield player puts personal ambition aside for the good of the club.
Cole accepts that he is likely to be on the sidelines when tonight's semi-final first leg starts against AS Monaco FC, a trump card that coach Claudio Ranieri will keep up his sleeve in the event that he needs to change things later on when Chelsea might need to increase their goalscoring capability.
Bide his time
It is a frustrating position for a 22-year-old who, according to the size of the headlines announcing his arrival as a precocious 17-year-old with West Ham United FC, should by now have been a leading light on the European stage. Yet he accepts he has to bide his time and concentrate on doing his best whenever his manager waves him on.
"I am a professional footballer and I understand the position I am in at Chelsea," said Cole, who has started only once in the Champions League so far. "Of course it can be frustrating not to play regularly but all I can do is make sure I am ready when called upon.
"All the players at Chelsea feel the same way, we are all fighting together for the good of the club. The manager points us in the right direction and if we are to win the biggest trophy of them all then he will have been proved absolutely right in the decisions he has made."
Some people were quick to make Chelsea favourites for the Champions League after their defeat of London rivals Arsenal FC in the quarter-finals coupled with the demise of both Real Madrid CF and AC Milan in the same week.
Take nothing for granted
Cole insisted that Chelsea were taking nothing for granted, however. "
Any team that can put out Real Madrid demands respect," he said. "Monaco are top of the French league and they will make it very difficult for us.
"They are a team with good attacking flair who work hard for each other and defend well. Fernando Morientes can score goals and Ludovic Giuly has a lot of pace down the right - he was devastating against Madrid. Then there's Dado Pršo - we've got to make sure we keep them quiet."
It was the lure of the Champions League that helped persuade Cole to join Chelsea from West Ham last summer. "It's what football is all about and our win at Highbury two weeks ago was one of the best nights of my career. We genuinely felt we could go there and win. The margins at this level are so narrow but hopefully if the gods are smiling on us this will prove to be Chelsea's year."
Part of him regrets that it is Monaco and not Madrid lining up in opposition tonight. Zinedine Zidane is the player who has impressed him most this season and he would have relished trading artistry with the Frenchman on the same stage.
'Mastery over the ball'
"It's Zidane's control of the game, the mastery he has over the ball," Cole explained. "He is the best player I have ever seen and I was disappointed that Real didn't get through, in fact we all wanted to face Madrid but hopefully my chance against Zidane will come in the summer when England play France in the [UEFA] European Championship."
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