Thursday 29 June 2017 06:39, UK
Former England international and Premier League winner Carlton Cole is now playing in Indonesia. Adam Bate caught up with him to discuss that adventure and Cole's commitment to helping young players at home and abroad...
By his own admission, Carlton Cole had not given too much thought to life outside English football. But an invite to regain his fitness in California with Sacramento Republic sparked a transfer that would change all that. The former Chelsea and West Ham striker is now playing for Indonesian side Persib Bandung. And it has been some culture shock.
"It surprised me a lot because when I first went over there I had not even signed yet," he tells Sky Sports. "I came off the plane and was just at the airport. It was almost midnight and there were people there waiting. This was in Jakarta, it was not even the city where I'm playing, which is a two hour drive away, but there were fans there waiting. I was amazed.
"I got into the hotel and it was a bit calmer there. I was just waiting around. Then I negotiated the deal and went to the city where I'm playing. I got out of the vehicle and there were 200 more people there with Cole shirts and so on. I had not even signed properly. It is nice to feel wanted like that. They appreciate that you are there.
"They watch all of the Premier League games so they know everybody and they are just so happy to have people there who can help to take the league to the next level. Now there are other players looking at the league so they know they have caught the eye of some big players. It has been brilliant so far."
Cole is not alone. Among his team-mates at Persib is Michael Essien with whom he won the Premier League title with at Chelsea over a decade ago. "If it is good enough for him, it's good enough for me," he says. And while the enthusiasm of the supporters stands out, the chance to have a positive influence on his young colleagues is a priority too.
"To be honest, the local players are technically good," says Cole, who turns 34 in October. "It is just their decision-making. They don't really get that information over there. They need to be coached a bit better. I don't mean it in a bad way but if they can get better coaches I think the players will improve vastly.
"The reason I say that is because they have good touch and they can run for ages in the heat. Seriously, you would not believe how these boys can run. So there is a lot that can be done. I actually want to help with that and do more for them - encourage the young players regarding what they need to do."
In Sacramento, the club's director of football Graham Smith described Cole as "great to have around our young players" and it is clear that this is a passion for the former England international. Speaking to Cole at Sky Studios, not far from the Green Dragon Estate in Brentford where he grew up, he plans to do much more of it in the future.
"We have got a project going on with local kids around here, getting them opportunities," he explains. "You cannot just focus on coaching because sometimes their home life is a little bit different so football is their only getaway. They need mentoring more than coaching. Somebody to give them that extra boost by reminding them to focus and not mess around.
"I have been trying to do that all of my career basically. When I went to the US, the younger players were asking me all sorts of questions about how to play in the Premier League and what they need to do differently. It was only then that I appreciated what I had achieved in the game and how far I have come. These young players were actually interested!
"Some of the young players here in England who are at Premier League clubs are a bit spoilt. They do not understand what it takes to get to the top. But when I went to the US or even at Persib Bandung, the young players are going up to the senior professionals for advice. You do not get that in England.
"I found it weird. So they are interesting in doing what I have done? They do not do that in England. I don't know whether it is pride or they don't want to bother me. But when I was young I was going up to Gianfranco Zola and Eidur Gudjohnsen. John Terry helped me a lot while I was young. I was not scared to mingle with them.
"A lot of the time it is down to the senior pros being open to putting an arm around them so they are not intimidated. It just seems that the guys who are abroad are really interested in wanting to make it as a player. So they are going all out to achieve it and just looking for that information that will help them on their journey to becoming a pro."
Cole does not want to appear too critical of young English talent. The success of the age-group sides has not passed him by. But he wonders whether the opportunities will be there. After all, it is more than 15 years since Cole made the first of his 25 league appearances for Chelsea. Ryan Bertrand is the only English graduate to better that since. He got to 28.
"It is very hard and it has probably got worse now," adds Cole. "I had all of these superstars around me and I got in but I wanted more. I look at some of these talented lads who are doing so well for the England teams and wonder whether they are going to become regulars at a Premier League side let alone a top Premier League side. I don't know.
"I don't know if they have the mentality for it. Maybe they can do it for a Championship side and come up with them. Tammy Abraham has done brilliantly and I think he has done it the right way. But can he break into the Chelsea side? I don't think so. Not yet anyway.
"I hope to see more Chelsea players come through and do well. I know he is not a youth product but Victor Moses has done brilliantly and he should be an example to young players that you can get moved around and still make it at a club like Chelsea. He is an example of how to do it."
Cole's own playing ambitions remain. In fact, they have been invigorated by his experiences so far in Indonesia. "When I had my injury I was not sure I was going to make it back," he admits. "But I went to Sacramento and started getting into it again. I wanted to give it another crack. So when Persib came in for me I just wanted to go with it.
"It inspired me and I have a new hunger for the game. Ever since I left Celtic last year I have been trying to get my match fitness. Now I am training every day. I played 80 minutes the other day and it showed me that I can still do it. In that heat it is hard and it has taken me two months to acclimatise to jogging in that heat let alone sprinting up and down."
Cole has a contract with Persib but the situation is negotiable. So is he up for one last crack at English football? "I know there are teams over in England that need help as well," he says. "I have been approached already but I am asking myself whether I really want to do it yet or if I want to enjoy myself over there in Indonesia. So I am balancing the pros and the cons.
"Do I want to go into a side that's maybe challenging to go to the Championship? Am I going to play every game? I know I would be an asset because you can stick me on and you know what you are going to get from me. I also bring other things in terms of mentoring the kids as well." Perhaps it is that final quality that could yet prove Cole's lasting legacy.