At 33 and a quarter years old, Carlton Cole is a man who still has plenty left to give.
Just as strong, tall and good-looking as he ever was (possibly more good-looking in fact), he can still kick a football further than most guys you’ll meet. But in recent months, the former England striker (yes – seven caps no goals, thank you very much) has found himself at a loose end on the football-playing front.
Since being released by West Ham in 2015 (having previously been released, and then re-signed, by the Hammers in 2014), Cole has scored just one professional goal and that was against Stranraer. Here it is, look.
Although it’s a typically lethal finish from the big man, and he celebrated as if he had always wanted to score a goal against Stranraer, this strike alone is clearly not enough to sustain Cole’s voracious thirst for success.
After being released by Celtic in the summer, Carlton had a similarly frustrating spell at Sacramento Republic, a US-based men’s fashion store with a soccer team attached. Cole didn’t score any goals for the team and – after four games – he left.
Since then, there has been a football-shaped void in Carlton’s life.
The Daily Mail reported on 12 January that Cole had “received offers from clubs in the Premier League, the Championship and the Chinese Super League”, but so far these moves have not materialised.
He was also linked with League One Coventry City, but when asked about the potential transfer on Twitter, he replied, “There is no truth”. (Whether this was a reference to the Sky Blues rumours or just a sign of his general disillusionment with the world is unclear.)
So just like other fading pros who find themselves on the free agent list, Cole has had to fill his time with other things.
This is a notoriously perilous scenario for a footballer to find themselves in. Countless are the tales of one-time stars turning to drink, drugs, gambling or eating chips as a means of recreating the “buzz” they once enjoyed as elite sportsmen.
Therefore, alarm bells rang across the Football Family when Cole posted a Valentine’s Day tweet of himself dressed in a rumpled Superman costume and what is believed to be (although this has not been confirmed) a wig.
Of all the vices footballers turn to in their hour of existential funk, fancy dress is one of those we know least about. However, it appears that Cole – lost in the vastness of infinite free time – has become heavily embroiled in the scene.
But is this a cause for concern, or for comfort?
Despite the manic look on Carlton’s face as he holds aloft a bunch of white roses on a paved suburban driveway in an undisclosed location, those who know him best will see determination in those eyes rather than madness.
It’s clear from the attention to detail in Carlton’s costume that he would have spent literally hours meticulously planning his Valentine’s surprise.
Instead of frittering away his freedom on champagne and hookers like so many others, it appears he has chosen to channel his renowned creativity into something constructive. And what more worthy a muse than love itself?
By treating his unemployment as an opportunity, rather than a failure, Carlton points the way for other out-of-work footballers vulnerable to the dual dangers of solitude and boredom.
Carlton shows us there is a beautiful world beyond the football pitch, and that for some players it may be only in retirement that they find their true calling in life.
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