England U-21 striker Cole had scored a staggering 37 goals for Chelsea’s youth and reserve teams in season 2001/2002, before forcing his way into the first team. He made his début in April 2002, in a 3-0 victory over Everton at Stamford Bridge. He was just 18 years old. A few weeks later, he made his full début, at the Riverside against Middlesbrough. It was his header that opened the scoring, just before halftime.
Despite being over 6ft tall, he is incredibly agile, very quick, and good on the turn. Carlton is more than a target man, as his pace and finishing ability marks him out from the rest. Comparisons with the legendary Peter Osgood have been made, Ossie had a bigger top half than bottom half, and a low centre of gravity, as is the same with Cole, and Osgood in his day was very good at turning defenders with his back to goal, as Carlton is in the modern day.
Season 2002/2003 started well for the young Englishman, he scored an opening day cracker against neighbours Charlton Athletic, the equaliser in a game that the Blues went on to win 3-2. He spent Christmas 2002 on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers, and continued to earn rave reviews. He scored once in seven appearances. Clearly he was a star on the rise. He returned, and was vital in Chelsea’s push for Champions League qualification. Ranieri then proceeded to drop him for the final few games of the season.
Just as he looked to break through at Stamford Bridge, Roman Abramovich arrived, along with Adrian Mutu and Hernán Crespo, to add to the established partnership of Eiður Guðjohnsen and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. Carlton seeked a move away, and he decided upon Charlton, where he formed a partnership with Paolo di Canio. His first goal for the Addicks was in true Chelsea tradition-a winner against Tottenham. He only managed to score another four that season, finishing with five goals in 22 appearances.
New manager José Mourinho didn’t want to risk losing Carlton, a player with so much potential, on a permanent basis. Another season long loan was decided upon, this time to David O’Leary’s Aston Villa. He scored on his début, the second goal in a 2-0 victory against Southampton, but more importantly, he looked sharp and dangerous. He carried this good form into the international set-up, scoring twice for the England U-21’s against the Ukraine. He had scored four goals in his first nine games.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t sustain his form for Villa, and he ended up with a miserly three goals in 30 appearances.
England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has touted Cole as a potential England centre forward, and his good form for the U-21’s has kept him in the Swede’s reckoning. He has been offered the chance to play for Nigeria, but he has always tried to take the England path. He has also captained the U-21’s on numerous occasions and on average, scores a goal every three games for Peter Taylor’s side.
It was now crunch time for Carlton. José had always maintained that Cole was in his plans, and he decided that he wanted him in his squad for the 2005/2006 season. Given the number 12 jersey, he vowed to repay the manager’s faith. He has found games hard to come by, with Didier Drogba, Hernán Crespo and Eiður Guðjohnsen ahead of him in the pecking order, but with the African Cup of Nations coming up, and with the Blues in three competitions, his time will come.
He has sited John Barnes and Gianfranco Zola as his hero’s, saying that Franco was, “such a professional guy at Chelsea and nice on and off the field. He would give me tips during games and suggest things on the training field.” He is a legend so you can appreciate what it meant to a young player like me for him to take an interest.” And Barnes? “I loved watching John Barnes play. I have tried to take bits of his game into my own.”
Carlton Cole could be very, very good. As good as Franco and Barnes? Only time will tell.