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WHEN Joe Cole arrived at Anfield back in July he was hailed as Liverpool’s showpiece summer signing.
It was a major coup for manager Roy Hodgson to convince the England international to swap the bright lights of the capital for Merseyside.
A free agent after parting company with Chelsea, he spurned the advances of Tottenham before opting for what he described as “a dream move to the biggest club in the country”.
Cole said he chose Liverpool because he wanted a challenge and five months on he’s certainly got his wish.
At times his dream must have seemed like a nightmare. Sent off on his Premier League debut for a reckless lunge against Arsenal, Cole then missed a penalty in front of the Kop against Trabzonspor.
After the derby defeat at Goodison in October he held up his hands and admitted he was in the worst form of his career.
A torn hamstring at Bolton a fortnight later compounded his misery and kept him sidelined for a month. Then a twisted ankle in training shelved hopes of a return at Tottenham last weekend.
Finally, Cole was back in a Liverpool shirt in the Europa League on Thursday night as a shadow Reds side secured top spot in Group K with a hard earned 1-1 draw with Steaua Bucharest.
Unsurprisingly, he looked rusty in Romania but the 29-year-old is determined to build on that outing.
“It was nice to be back,” he said.
“I had only trained twice as we could not train at the stadium the night before the game.
“But I managed to get fit which I am happy about and got 75 minutes – now I can kick on because there is a lot of football to be played in December. I just need to keep getting out on the pitch.
“I am professional and it is down to me to perform on the pitch.
“I just need to get myself playing regularly. Performances will come. There have been some good performances – there have been some poor ones.
“Consistency is the key and the only way I will do that is by getting on the pitch and staying on the pitch.”
At the start of the season Cole was an automatic selection but that is no longer the case ahead of Monday’s Premier League clash with Gerard Houllier’s Aston Villa at Anfield.
In his absence the Reds climbed away from the drop zone with some morale-boosting results, including an impressive victory over his former club Chelsea.
On the left flank Maxi Rodriguez has hit a rich vein of form, while up front David Ngog has impressed alongside Fernando Torres.
With Steven Gerrard also to come back into the side, Cole admits he has a fight on his hands but it’s one he relishes.
“It would have been nice to be playing as the team have had a good month,” he said.
“The majority of the performances in the last month were solid even if we were a bit naive against Tottenham not to win that game having played so well.
“All we can do is keep going. We are just starting to get to grips with the manager.
“It is going to be more of a challenge to get back in the team with everybody getting fit.
“We have just got to keep going and stick together and it has been an upward curve.
“There are still things we can improve on, as there was six weeks or two months ago.
“Personally, I’ve just got to get myself fit and get playing regularly. Then the performances will come.”
Hodgson suggested this week that Cole’s confidence had been dented by his troubles since joining the Reds.
But the midfielder insists he is philosophical about the difficult start to his Anfield career.
Cole said: “This is football. This is the Premier League. Some days you are on top of the world, other days you are not.
“All I do is just take it day by day. I try and train to my best and perform to my best. Now the team is playing well and I’m happy with how things are going for Liverpool.
“We have finished top of the group in the Europa League and we want to push on.
“I need to play football because I’ve had five weeks off. I just need to buckle down. I’ve got to try and perform in every game.”
With the Reds in mid-table and facing a tough trip to Manchester United in the FA Cup next month, Cole knows the Europa League has taken on added importance.
But he joined Liverpool to help guide them back into the Champions League and he hasn’t given up hope of achieving that this season with fourth-placed Manchester City only seven points better off.
“I think the top four is still realistic,” he said.
“I think it would be outstanding for the club, considering where we are.
“We have got a new manager, new owners, new staff behind the scenes. There has been a big turnover. It would be a great achievement to do that.
“The Europa League is very important to us. It’s becoming even more important.
“We have got two realistic chances of winning silverware and that is one of them.
“I’d love to add a European trophy to what I have achieved. It is important to win something.
“You see the teams who do that. They then go and win something the next year. They get used to it.”