When Carlton Cole arrived at West Ham in August 2006, given that he was a former Chelsea player, few would have believed that he would be so popular. Perhaps one of the reasons for this popularity is the fact that he scored on his debut with his first touch in a 3-1 win at home to Charlton Athletic.
Either way he has remained a fan favourite ever since. Adaptations of the Spandau Ballet track “Gold” can be heard at Upton Park on match days if the striker is involved.
Since Alan Pardew brought him to the club, he has played under a number of different managers, but when Andy Carroll joined on loan from Liverpool in August 2013, Cole found himself playing the role of the second choice striker.
However, matters got worse for Cole, as Liverpool were desperate to get Carroll off their wage bill and Hammers’ manager Sam Allardyce was alerted to Carroll’s availability and persuaded co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan that a permanent deal for the striker was the way forward.
In the last game of the 2012/13 season, Carroll picked up a knee injury during the Hammers’ 4-2 home win over Reading. Despite the setback, his switch from Anfield was still able to be confirmed but he would remain sidelined when the next season began and wasn’t able to start training until October. Carroll then suffered a major setback, leaving Big Sam to reconsider his options.
Sullivan and Gold had backed their manager’s judgement and spent a large chunk of their transfer budget on Carroll, thus limiting the options, so Allardyce’s last purchase of the summer transfer window was that of Liverpool winger Stuart Downing for £5m hoping that he would provide the crosses for the striker to score the goals.
The season did not start well for the East Londoners, as they only managed to acquire five points before the end of September. The next game against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane saw the birth of Big Sam’s master plan, the “4-6-0 formation” with Ricardo Vaz Te playing where the striker would normally be. To everyone’s amazement the plan paid off as the Irons beat their fierce rivals 3-0.
The result in North London was a definite high in what had been a disappointing season up to that point and, although Allardyce played the same system in the next home game against Manchester City, it was clear it was only papering over the cracks and another striker was what was needed. Being out of contract and therefore available, the club confirmed a deal to re-sign Cole on a three-month contract.
As Cole had not played regular football since ending his first spell in the capital he was rather short of match fitness but it was clear that the Master Plan wasn’t working and in fact, despite the manager’s persistence, it was not and would not work on a sustained basis.
After he had regained his fitness, Cole made eight starts with a further eight substitute appearances and scored his first goal of his second spell in another 3-0 win against a different London club, this time Fulham being the victims. He then went on to score four more goals against Manchester United and Arsenal.
After that game, the original deal the club had offered the striker had come to an end and with no further news on how bad Carroll’s injury was, the striker, who has stated previously that he would like to remain at the club for the rest of his career if he had the option, was given an 18-month extension and celebrated by scoring the first goal in the vital 2-0 win at Cardiff City. That game also saw Carroll make his first appearance since signing permanently for the club.
Although Cole scored the only West Ham goal in the 3-1 home defeat to Newcastle United, that proved to be his last start for some time, as Allardyce threw Carroll straight in to the starting line-up for the trip to Chelsea on 29 January.
On deadline day in January when it was thought that all the transfer business had been done at Upton Park, Big Sam moved to acquire some late loan signings including striker Marco Borriello from AS Roma.
Allardyce decided to stick with Carroll and he finally made his home debut as a permanent member of the West Ham squad. Unfortunately it wasn’t a day to remember, as he was given a straight red card for an elbow on Swansea’s Chico Flores late in the first half. The three-match ban which followed left just Cole and Borriello to fill the void yet again.
Carroll’s suspension meant that Cole got an unexpected run back in the side but, as he was still trying to regain his fitness, Allardyce decided to give the two strikers a half each for the trip to Aston Villa and the home encounter with Norwich city. Cole was drafted in for the entirety of the following home match with Southampton because the Italian picked up a calf injury in training. Borriello has not featured since.
As for the other strike options, although Vaz Te was named on the bench for the match against Hull City he did not play any part but did feature as a second-half substitute in the 3-1 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Cole and Vaz Te were both named on the bench for the weekend’s 1-0 defeat against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns but it was Cole who got the nod to join Carroll on the pitch in the 79th minute.
With only two matches of the campaign to go it seems that Carroll will remain the first choice striker if Allardyce continues in the job. So if that’s the case, does Cole have a future at West Ham?
Well, with a year left on his current deal he does have resale value so perhaps the club may look to move him on, but if the hierarchy decide to sack Allardyce, it is possible that players such as skipper Kevin Nolan and Carroll will follow, so he could still yet become the main man again.