Where To Next for Joe Cole? Manchester United? Arsenal? Tottenham? Liverpool? Real Madrid
As Chelsea romped to their fourth title with an 8-0 win over Wigan, little did Joe Cole know that his final action in a blue shirt would be to provide an assist for the Pensioners last goal.
With the news that Chelsea has decided to dispense themselves with the services of Michael Ballack, Deco, Juliano Belletti, and Cole, it would seem that the English maestro has a whole host of suitors to choose from, but who would be his best choice?
The sticking point with Chelsea came over Cole's wage demands. Having missed the first eight games through injury, the England midfielder, on an estimated £80k per week, wanted the Blues to up that by another £20k if they wanted him to stay.
Needless to say Chelsea decided to let Cole go with early rumours suggesting that the one to replace him will be Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun.
While Cole had a slight resurgence towards the end of the season, it was fairly obvious from early on that Carlo Ancellotti just didn't "fancy" the play-maker as his kind of player.
The ex-West Ham player made his bow this season in a six minute cameo in the 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa on October 17, and from that day on he played in a total of 25 Premier League matches, but only played the full 90 in four.
So the news that Chelsea has decided to cut their ties with Cole comes as no surprise for a few reasons other than the obvious.
For a start, the Blues are looking to reduce their wage bill, while rejuvenating the aging squad they currently have.
Letting Ballack (33), Belletti (33), Carvalho (32) and Cole (28) go, allows Chelsea to get rid of four players who did not fit into Ancellotti's future plans. It moves on four aging players, and it also frees up an estimated £350k per week in wages, roughly £18million a year in wages alone.
Ballack will probably be replaced by Jon Obi-Mikel when Michael Essien returns to action, Belletti and Carvalho are likely to replaced from within with Jeffrey Bruma already promoted from the reserves for next year, leaving Cole...
Chelsea could conceivably sign Benayoun for £10 million and pay him £5 million a year and the accountants would be very happy indeed.
It leaves the question though, where to next for Joe Cole?
Liverpool had been mooted as an early option, but that is unlikely to happen. Royal Bank of Scotland will be pulling the strings at Anfield for the next while and a £5.2 million a year contract on an injury prone player is unlikely to whet their appetite.
The best options for Cole as it stands are Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and possibly Real Madrid.
For all three English teams the move for Cole makes a lot of sense.
Simply put, Manchester United hasn't got much money to spend and as much as Chelsea moved Cole on to freshen up their squad, he would actually bring some much needed youth to the Red Devils' ranks.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are in the twilight of their careers and a fit and fighting Cole would bring their level of performances with less tired legs.
His versatility would also be a huge boon to Sir Alex Ferguson as his inclusion in the starting XI would give the Scot an easy route to changing his formation mid stream.
Cole's ability to play out wide would see him a good option for a 4-4-2, and his ability to play wide as a front man means he would also slot into a 4-3-3, but his most likely position at United would be as the link to Rooney in a 4-5-1.
It is in this very role that Cole would thrive at Old Trafford. When on the pitch Cole has an excellent work rate and if included in a 4-5-1 his ability to track back and defend would give him an immediate advantage over a forward in the same position, think of the lacklustre Dimitar Berbatov.
Cole is also one of the most creative players of his generation and has a keen eye for a pass, something that United have missed in midfield over the past couple of seasons.
It is most probably this technical ability that has interested Arsene Wenger too.
If Cole were to move to Arsenal he would be for almost the exact same reasons as his move to Manchester United. Andrei Arshavin's poor second season syndrome and Arsenal's lack of depth meant that Wenger struggled to leave the Russian out of the team and was forced to play him when he was going through the motions.
By bringing in Cole he would immediately improve his squad, add some much needed experience to his ranks and gain a model professional who would be nothing but a good influence to his team.
His ability to drop deep or wide would also give Arsenal the added tactical advantages they would need to combat their two main focus' of attention, the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.
As it stands, moving to Arsenal might possibly prove to be the better option of these two particular transfers. United's and their owners, the Glazer family's, money problems mean that the Old Trafford team will not be able to compete in spending terms with any of their chief rivals in the Premier League for the foreseeable future, whereas Arsenal is almost on top of the massive stadium debt and Arsene Wenger has more funds available to him that at any other time over the past five years.
Saying all that, Arsenal is about to lose their best, most influential player, and heartbeat of the team, Cesc Fabregas.
Losing a player of that calibre would be a blow to the Gunners and Arsene Wenger will have to tread carefully to find his replacement, if he joins Barcelona as expected. United is unlikely to lose any major part of their team, saving a £100 million bid for Wayne Rooney from Real Madrid, and will have pretty much the same nucleus for the next year or two.
Spurs are probably the most interesting proposition for Cole.
Harry Redknapp has gone on record to say that he is considering moving away from his marauding 4-4-2 to a more western European 4-5-1 formation to combat Tottenham's exploits in the Champions League.
Currently Spurs only have one player who is capable of playing in the "hole" and that is Luka Modric. Should Spurs sign Cole then it would give 'Arry the options to go 4-3-3 with Cole and the Croatian wide of a striker like Pavlyuchenko, or if he chose a 4-5-1 Cole could switch out wide and allow Modric to play in the centre.
Redknapp is a huge admirer of Cole and gave him his debut at West Ham in 1998 where he was utilised as the play-making lynch-pin of the team. He was given carte blanche to drift all over the pitch when the Hammers were in attack but was expected to muck in when they were on the back foot.
There is no doubt that he would improve Tottenham's squad. Spurs already boast one of the best squads in the league and can rival any of the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, or Chelsea for depth. What they do lack is that next step in quality to challenge for the league.
Cole would definitely be a step in the right direction. He would bring one of the best attitudes in English football and a superb level of professionalism that would only be good for Harry Redknapp's inexperienced side.
The size of his wage demands would be a huge sticking point at Spurs. Currently the highest paid players at White Hart Lane earn around £70k per week, half of what the highest earners take home from United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City.
This will be the next hurdle that Spurs will have to travail, wages. Daniel Levy showed great discipline in January when he turned down Simon Kjaer's £100k per week demands, but if Tottenham do have ambitions of winning the league or becoming residents in the top four they will have to break this barrier.
They may break this barrier for one or possibly two players but it is an unlikely situation, and it is more probable that Tottenham will press ahead with their stadium expansion plans so as to make it easier to cater for this level of player in the future.
The most likely outcome is that Spurs will approach Joe Cole, won't be able to afford his wages and they will move for Ipswich's 16-year-old prodigy Conor Wickham.
The dark horse in all of this is Jose Mourinho.
Having taken over at Real Madrid he has set about compiling a shopping list of players he would like to bring to the club.
Florentino Perez has suggested bringing in England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Mourinho has found this move more than acceptable, has given it his stamp of approval and negotiations are in the very early stages. They had progressed to a happy medium until Rafael Benitez was sacked as manager of the Reds and now the talks have ebbed into limbo as the World Cup moves closer and Gerrard keeps an eye on the managerial situation at his club.
Jose has also suggested that he would like to bring fullbacks Ashley Cole and Maicon to the Bernebeu and a move for Joe Cole is not beyond the realms of imagination.
Having signed for Claudio Ranieri for £6.6 million in 2003 it was not until Mourinho took over a year later that Cole established himself as a player of superb ability, for club and country.
During that title winning season Cole played 46 times scoring 10 goals and established himself on the left side of midfield for England. Mourinho brought out the best in him, he was able to access his play-maker's latent skills and Cole undoubtedly moved up a level or two as a player.
More was to follow in 2005/06 when Cole once again played 46 times and scored 11 goals and such was his form that Mourinho offered the midfielder an improved four year contract.
By this stage Cole was a mainstay for his country and was England's most impressive player in the World Cup.
His poor run of injuries reduced his pitch time to 10 games in the 2006/07 season and coincided with the beginnings of the demise of Mourinho's reign at Old Trafford.
So Jose knows exactly what Cole is capable of. He would easily fit into his plans at Madrid, has the versatility to play wherever his manager would want and would be capable of reaching the standard required by club and manager.
Joe Cole has many suitors, and each will provide a different motivation for him.
Arsenal will give him the chance to mentor a young side to the title.
Manchester United will offer the opportunity at continuing a dynasty that has brought professionalism and winning titles to a new level in England.
Spurs would allow him to become the focal point and build a future side around him.
While Real Madrid would offer Cole a chance at moving abroad whilst reuniting him with Jose Mourinho at one of the worlds great teams.
Each move has to be carefully studied and considered. From here, each one seems a great move for the English international.
The best options on paper would appear to be Real Madrid and Arsenal, although the move to the Bernabeu is only a slight rumour while the prospective moves to the English teams are very real.
Arsenal or Spurs would allow Cole to stay in London for the rest of his career. But of those two Spurs cannot compete with the finances on offer at the Emirates and with the Gunners current set-up, Fabregas staying, they seem set to challenge for the league straight away.
The wheeling and dealing done over the World Cup will have a heavy say in who bids for Cole's services, and his own performances could yet garner attention from a number of clubs not yet mentioned.
The next month will have much to say on Joseph John Cole's future.