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Tampa Bay thinks it made a great signing in England’s Joe Cole

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Bigger than Pele?

Bigger than Franz Beckenbauer?

Bigger than everyone?

The Tampa Bay Rowdies have made a significicant addition to their soccer team in signing English player Joe Cole. It may well have been historic.

“I think this is the most significant player to be signed by the NASL in its history,” said Rowdies owner Bill Edwards at Tuesday’s introductory press conference. “You have a lot of guys who come in, who are stars, but in their late 30s or turning 40. This guy is 34, still in his prime, who is ready to go, who can make a difference in games. This is biggest signing in the NASL, and certainly by the Rowdies, in many years.”

The signing took some six months to complete. Cole flew to Tampa Monday night. He expects to play on Saturday.

“I am so close to my vision that I can almost taste it,” Edwards said. “This isn’t the end. We’ll sign more. We’re going to have a dream team.”

Cole was a mainstay in the English Premier League for years, mostly for Chelsea and West Ham. He was a member of teams that won three Premier League titles, two FA cups and two league cups. He also played 56 games for the National Team.

“He can still play at the highest level,” said Rowdies’ coach Stu Campbell. “I look at the players in the Premier League. He can still do a job for one of them.”

Cole said he always wanted to play for an American team. He said St. Petersburg is “a little bit of paradise.”

“I always wanted to come and play in America at some point in my career,” Cole said. “It had to be in the right tow, the right place for my family. For the right team that wanted to go forward and play the right way. It helps to play for an English guy. I’d like to carry on playing as long as I can. I’m not looking at this as retirement. My competitive nature will only allow me to give 100 percent.”

Campbell joked that Cole had “24 hours” to get over his jet lag. Seriously, he wants Cole ready as soon as possible. “He’s desperate to play, and I’m desperate to play him,” Campbell said.

The Rowdies play against Rayo Oklahoma City on Saturday. The Rowdies are currently in a tie for fifth place.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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