When Joe Cole was playing for England, he was part of an exclusive group of Three Lions stars who had the experience of playing in a Champions League final.
How times have changed. The number of England players who have played in the final of Europe’s premier club competition is now well into double digits, with those players propping up one of the most exciting editions of the England national team we’ve ever seen.
It is for this reason why Cole believes that English teams are more likely to win the Champions League, which kicks off this week, than teams from any other nation.
Joe Cole has told Sportsmail English clubs could make up the Champions League semi-finalists
Cole’s former club Chelsea beat Premier League rivals Manchester City in the final back in May
He tells Sportsmail: ‘I would be stunned if we don’t get at least two teams in the semi-finals, possibly three and maybe even four. I just think we are so much stronger than the other leagues.
‘The best thing for English football now is that we had a 10-year lull when none of our top players were competing at Champions League level, from 2000 to 2010, now you look at Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, their teams are full of English players. That’s why we’re so unbelievable.’
Cole knows what it takes to feature in the back end of the Champions League, as he was part of the Chelsea side that reached the last four of the competition for three consecutive years between 2007 and 2009, and even started the 2008 final loss to Manchester United.
Manchester United and Liverpool will be two teams eyeing up European glory this season
Cole (left) featured for Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final loss to Manchester United
Now Manchester City and Liverpool have joined the 2008 finalists as favourites to win the European title, alongside the likes of Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – who have signed the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma this summer.
But there’s no surprise as to who Cole is backing to be the best performing English team this season.
‘It’s so hard,’ he says. ‘If you want me to make a prediction, then Chelsea (to win it). But that’s more out of loyalty. Any of the four teams can beat anyone else and we’ve got the four best teams in Europe.
‘But I have to see what PSG looks like with those players. That could go one way or the other still because it’s still unbalanced as a squad. Had the Messi deal been done earlier, I think certain other types of players would have come in, more runners. We’ll wait and see but that’s an exciting project to watch.
Cole is backing former club Chelsea to lift the Champions League title once again this season
‘Yet the Champions League is not something you can aim for because it’s a knockout competition at the end of the day, it’s one-off games. Sometimes you can be the best you can be and not win it, and if the stars are aligned then you can.
‘For Chelsea, the Premier League is the one that will judge their season. Can they get closer to the top, can they go and win it? I think they can.’
There’s a reason why Cole backs Chelsea so highly to win the Champions League this season. The Champions League holders, who already had a first-team squad bursting with talent and depth, have strengthened again.
Prolific £98m striker Romelu Lukaku has been added to the mix, Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez is now at Stamford Bridge on loan to compete with the likes of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, while Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi have been kept on board for the season ahead.
The Blues have added Romelu Lukaku (far right) and Saul Niguez (left) to this season’s squad
Those last two names may have been fearing for their Stamford Bridge future at the start of the summer. Hudson-Odoi, 20, did not play a single minute of Chelsea’s Champions League campaign beyond the quarter-final, while Werner is now behind the likes of Lukaku, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz in the forwards pecking order.
Can both players forge a future at Stamford Bridge despite the immense quality ahead of them? Cole is in no doubt that they can.
‘The pecking order will change from week to week, from month to month,’ he says.
‘In modern football, every player will come in and play games. Everyone in that squad will play a significant amount of games. Whether it’s enough for them, I don’t know.
‘Callum’s in a great place where he has a great coach and a great team around him. All these great players can grow and learn around from the manager.
Cole is backing Timo Werner (left) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (middle) to improve at Chelsea
‘I expect improvement (from him). But I like to talk about the collective at the club. I think they’ve been so well-schooled by the academy, so well-drilled as footballers. I think looking at the development of all of them, they will all improve at different rates. And the ones that have gone out on loan, they can become world class players.
‘I’d even put Havertz and Werner together in that group of players. You go back to the fact it’s a squad game and everyone will have their time. They have to be calm and their moments will come and it will take it. They will play a part, because Chelsea will compete on four fronts.
‘I think Timo Werner is a fantastic player, he made such an impact in terms of the Champions League win and I think he’ll make a big impact this year. At the moment, the manager is going with other players but that will rotate and change throughout the season.’
If there is a coach that can bring the best out of his fringe players, then Thomas Tuchel is that man. The German manager has showed he is modern football’s ‘Tinkerman’ ever since he first arrived at Stamford Bridge in January.
BT Sport pundit Cole claims all of Chelsea’s young players can go on to become class talents
In his first 10 Chelsea top-flight matches, he made 39 changes to his starting line-up, more than any other boss in that time. All the while, the Blues remained unbeaten and shipped just two goals.
His man management skills were showed when he substituted Hudson-Odoi just 31 minutes after he brought the English youngster on at half-time back in February. Tuchel played out the episode harshly and publicly but it seems to have done the trick.
Reports claim that Hudson-Odoi is working hard on trying to win Tuchel’s trust back after rejecting the chance to represent England Under-21s earlier this month for extra training work, with a loan move to gain more game time at Borussia Dortmund never an option for him.
Cole believes this harsh man-management will not only make Chelsea better but will improve all of the young Blues contingent in the first-team squad.
The former Blues star claims Thomas Tuchel is the right man for the modern football vision
He said: ‘When young players go into big clubs now, I think they understand that the clubs are looking to sustain success and sustain winnings. I think what they do is they are a big more understanding and patient. Thomas Tuchel will manage his squad brilliantly by all accounts – he’s open and honest.
‘Look at the way he handled the dressing room and the situation with Callum where he brought him on and took him off again. He addressed it, he spoke to the player and the player can grow from that.’
Cole, of course, knows what it’s like to be the outside-looking-in player at Stamford Bridge.
The former England star started the 2009-10 season at Chelsea late due to a cruciate ligament injury in his knee. At that point, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda were the favourite wide options alongside Didier Drogba up front, and Cole had to work his way back in from the cold.
Cole (left) was frozen out by boss Carlo Ancelotti (middle) at Chelsea in the 2009-10 season
It was a challenge he embraced and completed. By the end of the season, Cole was one of Chelsea’s key men in Carlo Ancelotti’s double-winning side. The winger started – and scored – in a crucial 2-1 win away at Manchester United in April 2010 which effectively completed the Premier League leg of the double.
‘The conversations I had with Ancelotti were the same that managers and players have now,’ Cole recalls. ‘You go in there and you ask what they need, you open up a dialogue. And managers, if they are good managers, what needs to be done, how you need to train, how you conduct yourself.
‘Then, when you get your opportunity, whether it’s five, 10 minutes you make it count and make an impact. Then you keep your shirt, then the rotation continues after that.
Cole (right) regained Ancelotti’s trust and played a big role in Chelsea’s double-winning season
‘I had conversations like that with all my managers. I had no big fall-outs, just conversations. Some more heated than others but I think it’s important to open dialogue.
‘It’s like any business, you need to communicate, the managers need to know what’s expected of you and people need to know where they stand. Football is no different.’
Speaking of business, it is starting right now for Chelsea.
Never before has an English side retained the Champions League title since it was reformed in 1992, another challenge begins now.
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