Cast your mind back to the summer of 2010.
Katy Perry was riding high in the charts with Snoop Dogg. People around the world struggled to get their head around 'Inception' and English football was performing its latest post-mortem after another dismal World Cup campaign.
Much of the ire was directed at Fabio Capello. The qualities of discipline that had been praised in qualification were knocked and mocked by all and sundry. The nation wondered what had caused Rooney's footballing ability to abandon him seemingly overnight (we soon found out). Only Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole returned to these shores with any sort of reputation intact. Many were pilloried.
Two men, in particular, saw their stock rise massively.
Joe Cole, who had been used sparingly in South Africa, was thought to be the creative spark England desperately needed. Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool had all been allegedly seeking his signature. Liverpool fans thought Cole's arrival would spur them back to a title challenge after a poor season. Theo Walcott, who was not selected, also saw his star in the ascendancy. It is often amazing what not playing does for a reputation. (NB: I hoped we would build around Michael Carrick. I still do)
The summer of 2010 was typical of Cole's career. As England looked out across the doldrums, Cole, aged 28 at the time, was viewed as the saviour of English football. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Cole has spent his entire career having to deal with expectation. As a teenager he was England's next big thing. Throughout his career, as he moved to Chelsea and then later Liverpool there was always the suspicion that he would become the force of nature that had long been predicted. Chelsea players nicknamed him Zizou. Liverpool's captain compared him to Lionel Messi. (I've written twice before in 2011 and 2012 about why Cole didn't reach the heights we all hoped he would).
Looking back, after a series of false starts at Liverpool, it is incredible to think that only two years ago many in the game thought Cole was the man to resurrect a fallen Albion. He hasn't played for England once in those two years.
Cole has now returned to Upton Park. Those of us who view football romantically wonder how he would have done if he had never left Upton Park. In an era of one-club men - Scholes, Terry, Gerrard, Giggs and the like - could he have become a club legend, the man to make the good times rock and roll in the East End? Would he have fulfilled his potential?
The return to the Boleyn Ground is underwhelming to most in the game. After years of pinning our hopes on Cole most have decided that we need a new hero. Wilshere, Cleverley, Welbeck, Sterling or some other young Turk. The Hammers fans - of course - are excited to see a club hero back but nobody is expecting too much. His second West Ham debut - with two assists and a standing ovation - has raised eyebrows but few expect him to pull on the white of England again any time soon.
All of this is a is a rarity for Cole. He is used to expectation. He is used to fanfare. He is used to being the saviour. He isn't used to being the prodigal son.
Often that expectation was crushing and all-encompassing. Cole has lived with it ever since he had to sign his first contract at West Ham on the pitch and the announcer told the crowd to remember what they'd witnessed. It may be, under the man who got the best from Okocha and Djorkaeff, that without expectation, when everyone thinks he is a busted flush, that for the first time for a long time he will shine.
Let us hope that Joe Cole shines in the East End for a few years. Maybe, just maybe, the alleged king of ''hoof it'' football might get the best out of England's great white hope. Maybe, with no expectation placed upon him and away from the limelight, he'll be able to finally show us what we've been hoping for all these years.