There's no doubt that, as a free agent, Cole was an inspired signing waiting to happen for any ambitious Premier League club, and Liverpool rightly deserve credit for securing his signature. The natural flair which he exhibited as a youngster at West Ham always marked him out as a special talent, and under Jose Mourinho's guidance at Chelsea this ability was complemented by an indefatigable work ethic and willingness to track back - rare qualities in a creative midfielder, and one which would make him a significant asset to any side.
But the impact of Cole's signing is not limited to the talent he possesses on the pitch. It has the potential to be a statement of intent - to show that Liverpool are not yet out of the business of signing top players, despite their lack of Champions League football and financial troubles. It can also serve to convince the top players already at the club that their future successes lie at Anfield. In one area, this potential has already been realised, with talismanic captain Steven Gerrard effectively committing his future to the club in the wake of the signing. Fernando Torres included, Gerrard is the most important player at Liverpool - not only for his invaluable contribution on the field, but also because he is an integral part of the club's identity. As a consequence, his departure would have dealt a catastrophic blow to Roy Hodgson's attempts to rebuild Liverpool as a major force.
However, whilst the impressive capture of Joe Cole must be given its due credit, it must also be placed into context. Liverpool finished 23 points off champions Chelsea last year, and comfortably missed out on the fourth Champions League spot. They were exposed as a woefully limited side, far too reliant on the drive of Gerrard and goals of Torres, and therefore unable to cope with the loss of form and fitness of these two key individuals. The sale of Xabi Alonso also proved a mistake, as it took his replacement Alberto Aquilani the whole first half of the season to overcome his own injury problems, and much longer to adapt to the rigorous style of the Premier League. This term, he will surely be better, but Liverpool's task to regain their position in the 'big four' has become much harder. Manchester City continue to operate in accordance with the mantra that 'money is no object' in their pursuit of their lofty aims, and Tottenham's budget and playing squad will be strengthened by the financial rewards of achieving Champions League football last time out. With Aston Villa and Everton also likely to be competitive once more, Roy Hodgson will know that overseeing an Anfield revival will be far from easy.
It will take more than Joe Cole to remedy the problems which Liverpool faced last season, and to adequately prepare them for the challenges posed by the current campaign. Whilst he will certainly lessen the creative burden previously thrust entirely upon Gerrard's shoulders, another quality striker is desperately needed, either to deputise for Fernando Torres in his absence, or to partner him on the field. The Spaniard is undoubtedly a world-class forward, but based upon the evidence of the last 18 months, it would be optimistic to the point of foolish to rely on him to have an injury free season. Moreover, it remains uncertain whether Torres will even be a Liverpool player for much longer, with several rumours linking him to both Chelsea and Barcelona. He may require more assurances than Gerrard that Liverpool will soon once again be challenging for major honours, and Hodgson will surely consider this one of his biggest priorities.
A new midfield enforcer may also be required, with Javier Mascherano's Anfield future growing more doubtful with every message which Roy Hodgson is forced to leave on his voicemail. Pepe Reina remains one of the best keepers in the country, an assertion borne out by the fact that Liverpool boasted the third best defensive record in the league last season, despite their poor overall performance. Nevertheless, a recognised left-back is urgently needed after the sale of the disappointing Emiliano Insua and the inconsistent Fabio Aurelio, and the addition of a pacey young centre-back to the squad would complement the more physical qualities of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger.
There is, of course, well over a month to go in the summer transfer window, making it perfectly possible that Joe Cole could be the first of several big names to arrive at Anfield. Certain indications, however, suggest that this may not be the case. The huge debt that Reds owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have saddled the club with has been well documented, and worryingly for Liverpool fans, these financial restraints appear to have manifested themselves in a 'less is more' approach to transfer dealings, with the emphasis thus far being placed on securing free agents and promising youngsters for minimal fees. Whilst it must be said that Liverpool have fared particularly well in their pursuit of the former, with talented internationals Maxi Rodriguez and Milan Jovanovic joining alongside Cole for nothing, the fact is that quality free agents are extremely few and far between, and therefore it seems inevitable that significant outlay will be required if Hodgson wishes to make further top additions to his squad.
The capture of Joe Cole is undoubtedly a significant statement of intent from the Liverpool hierarchy that they intend to regain what they consider to be their rightful place in the 'big four' of English football. Only time will tell whether they have the pockets to match their ambition.