ST. PETERSBURG — Rowdies owner Bill Edwards did not mince words when talking about the signing of former English Premier League midfielder Joe Cole.
"I think this is the most significant player to be signed in the NASL in its history,'' Edwards said.
Cole, 34, was officially introduced to media and fans in a news conference Wednesday morning at the Mahaffey Theater. His contract with Tampa Bay runs through the 2017 season, with a club option for 2018.
He arrived in St. Petersburg on Tuesday night after completing the season with Coventry City in the English First Division. He's scheduled to practice with the team today and Friday and, according to coach Stuart Campbell, will play Saturday at home against Rayo Oklahoma City.
"I could've had two weeks off to freshen up, but I wanted to hit the ground running,'' Cole said.
Cole has had a distinguished career in England's highest division. He started in the EPL with West Ham United in 1998 before joining Chelsea in 2003. He stayed with Chelsea through the 2010 season. He also played for Liverpool and Lille in France's Ligue 1 before joining Coventry City.
He has 56 caps as a member of England's national team and appeared in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. He has 10 career goals as a national team member. In his club career he has 53 goals, including 28 with Chelsea.
Cole, who was born in the Paddington area of London, has been on teams that won three FA Cups and two League Cups. With Chelsea, he helped win three EPL titles.
"I still believe Joe can perform at the very highest level,'' said Campbell, who played against Cole in England. "I look at the players who are in the Premier League right now, and Joe can still do the job at that level.''
Edwards said the club started courting Cole about six months ago, when the Rowdies made a trip to England to play exhibition matches. Cole made a trip with his family to St. Petersburg in February to watch exhibition matches between the Rowdies and Major League Soccer teams.
While he had never been to the bay area, Cole said he was already familiar with the club.
"I heard of the Tampa Bay Rowdies because of Rodney Marsh,'' Cole said, referring to the former Rowdies star of the 1970s who, like Cole, came to the bay area after starring in England. "He was my grandparents' favorite player. The Rowdies are actually a big name in England. And when I came over here for a visit, I fell in love with the place and thought it would be a lovely place to play and live.''
The Rowdies are hoping Cole performs better than last year's big acquisition, former U.S. national team member Freddy Adu. Adu has not played in a match this season despite being eligible.
Cole scored one goal in 15 appearances with Coventry City. The Rowdies (2-1-2) have scored only four goals in five matches and are hoping Cole will provide an offensive spark.
"We're thrilled to have him here,'' Edwards said. "I think he'll have a huge impact on the rest of the team. We have a great team, this is just adding to it. We intend to add more. We are not done.''