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Cole Play by Ian Macleay

Release date: 29th September, 2006
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £11.87
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What, you might ask, could possibly justify the publication of a biography of a young man who will be just 25 in a fortnight's time?

It's a fair question; after all, sports literature is littered with tales of people whose star rises rapidly but subsequently shines all too briefly. Most return to earth with a negligible bump before wandering off to the nearest bar where they contemplate life as a Z-list 'celebrity' and drool over the prospect of winning a place on 'reality' television.

A clue comes in Terry Venables' foreword. Here, the former England manager says that "few talents grow in the hothouse of fame," a reference to both the pressure and level of expectation with which Joe Cole has had to contend since making his Premiership debut in a 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 1999.

Undoubtedly, Cole appreciates what is expected of him on the football pitch; this is what makes him such an outstanding player at club and international level. What Ian Macleay's book constantly reveals, however, is the pressure under which he and others like him live when they are away from sport.

Does colossal financial reward compensate for this? Most of us believe it probably would, but one wonders how we would cope with a barrage of realistic-sounding death threats and the constant worry that some deranged nutcase will accost you in the street.

Earlier this year, Cole became the subject of a string of written death threats, letters that warned he would have his throat cut. Not surprisingly, he was said to be 'badly shaken' by them (who wouldn't?), but Macleay rightly sees the threats as indicative of the times in which we live.

"The player involved was no yob caught in another cycle of despicable behaviour," he writes. "÷he was an individual enveloped by the vortex of fame" It is this analysis of fame's consequences that makes Cole Play such an interesting read.

Joe Cole's footballing talent was such that by the age of 14, he was attending the FA school at Lilleshall, mixing with future stars such as Scott Parker and Francis Jeffers, but it while at West Ham that his talent blossomed. Under the tutelage of Harry Redknapp and coach Peter Brabrook, whose influence cannot be overstated, Cole made the grade.

Surrounded by others who have gone on to make it very big indeed - Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick (what West Ham wouldn't give for that trio plus Cole right now), Cole was not overawed.

He came to prominence during West Ham's successful run in the FA Youth Cup where they hammered Coventry 9-0 on aggregate in the final. Yet as his first team career at West Ham proceeded according to predictions, it was almost inevitable that he would go to a 'bigger' club and in August 2003, Cole moved to Chelsea for £6.6m. Although he started slowly, he has since continued to make spectacular progress.

Early on, Macleay refers to an anecdote told by Brabrook to Redknapp as the pair began to appreciate the extent of Cole's natural talent. It concerned a young prospect at Chelsea in the 1950s called Peter Cliss, "the golden boy of his generation" who eventually drifted out of the game, weighed down by the burden of expectation.

Joe Cole frequently lives up to expectation on the pitch, but as this book warns, outside pressures on him and his contemporaries may result in several of them ending their careers as Peter Cliss did half a century ago.

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