Joe Cole, a three-time Premier League champion as a member of Chelsea, is a player Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell has always held in the highest regard.
"He's one of the most technically gifted players around. In England, he's there with (Steven) Garrard, (Frank) Lampard," said Campbell, referring to two stalwarts of recent English football.
Now Cole — 34, four years younger than the aforementioned — is with the Rowdies. The team announced a three-year deal Wednesday with the midfielder. The hope is he will clear through visa issues and be with the club for its next game, at home against Rayo OKC on May 14.
Cole became available when his Coventry City, playing in English third-level League One, wrapped up its season. Cole scored two goals and has six assists in 22 games after going on loan from Premier club Aston Villa.
Campbell's experience with English soccer came into play.
"We were looking to make a big signing, that type of player who was coming to the end of his contract but still had the heart and determination to play. After two minutes on the phone with him, it was full steam ahead for me," Campbell said.
Apart from what he brings to the pitch Campbell says Cole will play a vital role as a team leader.
There was mutual interest as Cole took in a Rowdies training session in February while visiting St. Petersburg with his family (he has a wife, Carly and children Ruby, 6, Harry, 4 and newborn Max). Cole then attended Tampa Bay's March preseason game in England against Stoke City.
"Everyone was lovely, they really made us feel welcomed," Cole told the team website. "My desire to win football matches is still there. I'm not coming for an extended holiday."
Cole played for Chelsea from 2003-10 and notably had 56 national team appearances, playing for England in three World Cups most recently as 2010.