No ordinary Joe: Why Coventry loan star Joe Cole won’t end up like Millwall flops Sergei Yuran and Vassili Kulkov

Despite being 33, signing the former Chelsea ace, who has graced World Cups and a Champions League final, on a short term deal is a coup for the League One club. However, decorated footballers who drop to levels below their ability don’t always have it their own way . . . just ask the Lions, says Tom Simmonds!

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On January 6 1996, Millwall fans were thinking that all they had to look forward to that day was an FA Cup third-round tie with Oxford United. Until the morning papers confirmed that the club had signed two Russian internationals, Sergei Yuran and Vassili Kulkov, on loan from Spartak Moscow. The Lions who were, at the time, top of the old second division (now Championship) and looking to regain top-flight status they relinquished in 1990, had made a statement of intent.

Excited chatter about Yuran tormenting and Kulkov scoring against Arsenal in the 1992 European Cup abounded; and not even the duo being paraded before that game against Oxford, looking like a pair of fat heavy metal fans could dampen enthusiasm. Even out of condition, these two players were world class at the time, so they’d surely make the difference, right?

Wrong. Yuran and Kulkov, who spoke no English, joined a squad who knew that manager Mick McCarthy would replace Jack Charlton as Ireland manager as soon as Patrick Kluivert’s two goals at Anfield the previous month had sent Holland to Euro 96 at the Irish’s expense. A limp 2-1 home defeat to Port Vale in Yuran and Kulkov’s debut was a harbinger of things to come; and the fact that McCarthy didn’t leave until early February allowed this king-is-dead malaise to proliferate further.

Yuran’s stint at the Den was summed up by a home game against Wolves in March, when he decided to play like the best kid in the playground. Had Wolves ‘keeper Mike Stowell not had what must have been the best game of his career, it would have worked out for Yuran. The frustration caused by his team-mates (who included such talents as Kasey Keller, Alex Rae and Ben Thatcher) not being on his wavelength and Stowell’s one-man mission got the better of Yuran, who proceeded to get himself sent off to a standing ovation.

A Steve Bull goal gave Wolves a 1-0 win that formed another trough in an alarming slide which McCarthy’s successor, Jimmy Nicholl, could do nothing to arrest. This saw the Lions win just five in 23 games after Christmas and relegated on goal difference after being top of the league in December.

This cautionary tale and those since – such as the surreal 2009 episode when Sol Campbell made a single appearance for Sven Goran Eriksson’s Notts County, who were spending phantom money – can be counterbalanced with successes. Ian Wright’s short spell at Burnley in 2000, for example, was a key factor in helping them over the promotion line in what is now League One.

As both sides of the coin show, attitude is everything when it comes to making these arrangements a success. There is every reason to expect that Cole’s short stay will be good for Coventry.

If we look at Cole’s career, he has always come across as one of those players who love the game and would play it for its own sake. He is also coming into a midfield at Coventry that has won much admiration with its slick passing and movement this season. If he has been brought in to cover for injured wonderkid James Maddison in that midfield, then he’ll have a predetermined job to do; rather than, in the manner of the best kid in the playground, feeling like he has to run the entire length of the pitch to score each time he gets the ball.

Coventry fans: How excited are you by Cole’s arrival? Who were the storied players who sprinkled stardust on your club, or disappointed massively?

Read more from Tom here!

Follow Tom at @TallulahonEarth

 

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