Kop Flop. Lost Soul. Poor Little Rich Boy. The throwaway lines are no less hurtful for their familiarity. But does the shorthand of decline scour the soul when you are earning £90,000 a week, under largely false pretences?
Ask Joe Cole. At 29, these should be the good years. He has 56 England caps. Medals from three Premier League titles and three FA Cup wins, are the legacy of seven largely successful seasons at Chelsea.
So much for living the dream.
He’s as surplus to Liverpool’s requirements as last season’s away kit. The money is guaranteed, even if it will not buy the love of fans whose loyalty must be earned. The former boy wonder faces a character-defining choice: pride or pound notes?
This time last year, he held court in the mixed zone in Bloemfontein, after England’s elimination from the World Cup. He’s an obliging interviewee, though you wouldn’t want to stake your life on him passing an applied mathematics A Level on your behalf.
The air was full of grand statements about a new start. Like all footballers, he put a positive personal spin on collective failure. Subsequent events made Carlo Ancelotti’s hard call, to let him leave Stamford Bridge on a free, look easy.
Cole’s Liverpool career has been an unremitting disaster. He has become emblematic of Roy Hodgson’s misfortune to be the wrong manager at the wrong club at the wrong time. Should he decide to stay at Anfield, he will shiver on the margins under Kenny Dalglish.
The signs of stagnation are ominous. Injuries have slowed him down, robbed him of his poise on the ball. His confidence is shot. He needs someone like Harry Redknapp to throw a comforting paw around his shoulders and remind him of his natural talent.
There is an alternative solution: Cole can take the financial hit, and find a club like Fulham prepared to build a team around him. That means accepting a wage cut, in a recession. Good enough for the rest of us, but not good enough for you, Joe?
Say it ain’t so.