This tribute to Andy Cole first appeared on taleoftwohalves.uk
A Fine Line Between Success And Failure
The 1997-98 season couldn’t have gone much better for Cole personally. He had another partner up front in the form of former Forest striker Teddy Sheringham, and even though they didn’t get on too well together off the pitch, on it they were a very decent pairing. Cole helped himself to 11 Premier League goals by Boxing Day, including a first-half hat-trick in a 7-0 trouncing of Barnsley and a couple of strikes in a 3-1 win at Liverpool.
Despite that, try as they might, United simply couldn’t shake the shadow of North London rivals Arsenal throughout the campaign. When their form hit a rocky patch in the New Year, the Gunners saw an opportunity to snatch the league title. A pivotal 0-1 defeat to Arsene Wenger’s men in March weakened United’s resolve, and Cole’s strikes in wins over Blackburn, Crystal Palace and Barnsley were to no avail in the end, as the title slipped out of United’s grasp by a single point.
For Cole, to end up with 25 goals from 45 appearances and yet win no trophies was a bitter blow, made worse by narrowly losing out on winning the PFA Player of the Year award to Arsenal’s brilliant Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp.
Snubbed By Hoddle
Then, to rub salt in his wounds, England manager Glenn Hoddle left Cole out of the squad to represent the nation at the World Cup in France, claiming the United man “needed six or seven chances to score one goal”. It was absolute nonsense but was an observation that Andy’s detractors used against him throughout his career. Leaving Cole at home seemed like a bad decision at the time. Frankly, it looks like an astonishingly poor decision now, as we look back with 20 years of hindsight.
The Arrival of The Calypso Kid
However, he remained upbeat about his United career, and that received a major boost in an unexpected way when Ferguson swooped for Aston Villa striker Dwight Yorke during the summer of 1998. Instead of becoming yet another rival for his first-team shirt at Old Trafford, Yorke became an instant best mate for Cole, the two of them seemingly inseparable both around the club and around town.
More to the point, they quickly established an almost telepathic understanding up front, with trickery and one-touch passing very much in evidence. Despite a somewhat indifferent beginning to the campaign, United hit their stride during the autumn months, and that was never shown more clearly than on 25 November, when they paid a visit to face FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
In a fiercely competitive Champions League group which also included German giants Bayern Munich, United gave early warning to the rest of Europe of the unstoppable juggernaut they were about to transform into. Yorke and Cole delivered an almost exhibition-like performance of intertwining movement and lethal finishing in front of the stunned Catalonian audience, although the hosts eventually recovered to snatch a 3-3 draw in a thrilling contest.
The Season of a Lifetime
The surprising 2-3 defeat at Middlesbrough six days before Christmas was to be United’s final loss of the season; a truly remarkable statement. Thereafter, Andy Cole was an integral part of a side which dominated nearly every opponent they met. It’s a testament to what a simply brilliant side that Arsenal were back then that United had to beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on the final day of the Premier League season to be sure of clinching the championship. On the day a superb lobbed finish from Cole was essential, the winner in a 2-1 victory that boosted the side’s confidence and paved the way for the cup successes that followed.
Andy Cole didn’t score at Wembley as the Reds clinched the Double against his former club Newcastle United with a 2-0 win in the FA Cup Final – he was withdrawn for pal Dwight Yorke after an hour.
He also didn’t score in the Champions League Final, despite starting alongside Yorke, as United became the only English club ever to win the Treble. The personal glory on that historic Barcelona evening was claimed by substitutes Sheringham and Solskjaer (who had replaced Cole after 81 minutes), heroes of the 2-1 injury-time comeback victory over Bayern Munich.
I doubt he gives a damn now. It had been the season of a lifetime. By the time the full-time whistle was blown in the Camp Nou, Cole had claimed at least one of every single winners’ medal of any consequence available in club football, a couple of them on numerous occasions.
The Fab Four
Of course, such a season was never going to be repeated, but going into 1999-2000 Cole was in red-hot form again. Part of a rotation of four fabulous world-class finishers along with Yorke, Sheringham and Solskjaer, and with the likes of Paul Scholes and David Beckham providing bullets all the time, Cole often couldn’t miss.
His most memorable day of the year arrived at the end of August with the visit of old chums Newcastle to Old Trafford; they must have wished they’d missed their flight down, because Andy destroyed them, claiming four goals in a 5-1 hiding. He followed that up in the next game by grabbing the second goal in a 3-2 win at Liverpool.
There were also double salvos in wins over Watford, Leicester City and Coventry City, leaving the decorated striker with 19 Premier League goals from the 28 games he had featured in as United stormed to another league title, finishing 18 points clear of runners-up Arsenal. During the season he had notched his 100th goal for United against Wimbledon, becoming one of a very small group of players to have achieved that landmark.
Not A Lion, Once Again
The only major disappointment for Cole arrived in the form of a foot injury in the final days before England boss Kevin Keegan named his final 22-man squad for Euro 2000 – yet again, despite sensational form for his club, he was going to miss out on a chance to represent his country.
A series of niggling injuries during the following season restricted Cole’s appearances drastically, but along with Sheringham, Yorke and Solskjaer, he was able to contribute enough goals (nine goals in 19 games) to see United clinch their third Premier League title in a row, finishing 10 points clear of Arsenal.
A Ruud Awakening
However, the arrival of lethal Dutch hitman Ruud van Nistelrooy from PSV Eindhoven during the summer of 2001 spelt the end for the fabulous four, with Sheringham departing on a free transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, despite winning both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards that summer.
Cole might have felt he could become an effective partner for the big Dutchman up top, but despite notching four goals in 11 games, it was clear that Sir Alex didn’t agree. The Englishman found himself increasingly consigned to the bench, with Solskjaer often the favoured foil for the explosive van Nistelrooy, who simply couldn’t stop scoring. The writing was on the wall.
Roving A Way At Ewood & Hoddle Avenged
Andy Cole signed for Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £8 million on 29 December 2001. He’d amassed a staggering total of 121 goals in 275 appearances for Manchester United, easily one of the most prolific strikers in the club’s history.
It was little surprise to anyone, probably not even Sir Alex, when Cole continued to find the back of the opposition net on a very regular basis for Rovers. Within months of arriving at Ewood Park he had managed to do something which he hadn’t achieved with United: win a League Cup winners’ medal. To make it even sweeter, he scored the winning goal in the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium against a Tottenham Hotspur side managed by one Glenn Hoddle, who had cruelly left Andy out of his final World Cup squad four years earlier.
A Partnership Renewed
He finished that first season at Blackburn with 13 goals from only 20 games, helping Rovers to a UEFA Cup spot in the process. When he was reunited with his old sidekick Dwight Yorke, who arrived from Old Trafford during the summer of 2002, it seemed that the good times were far from over for the former United frontmen. Together they propelled Graeme Souness’ Rovers to a sixth-placed league finish in 2002-03, again clinching European football. Cole got a respectable 13 goals in 43 appearances in all competitions, with his mate Yorke sharing an identical record.
Struggling With Souness
However, it was the beginning of the end. The following season Cole again showed his pedigree with a very respectable 11 goals from 37 appearances, but Blackburn Rovers spent most of the season trying to stay out of the relegation squabble just below them, eventually finishing in a dismal 15th position. What was worse, Cole’s personal relationship with Souness floundered, leading him to eventually report the headstrong Scottish manager to the PFA for unfair treatment.
Fulham (Part 2)
A parting of the ways was inevitable. The 32-year-old Cole joined Fulham for an undisclosed fee in July 2004, going on to claim a superb 12 goals in 31 Premier League games as the Cottagers finished in 13th place under boss Chris Coleman, two places better off than Blackburn Rovers.
A Return To Manchester…But The Blue Side
It came as a bit of a shock, then, when Cole decided to leave London and return to the North West, this time to sign for Stuart Pearce at Manchester City during the summer of 2005. Apparently his family hadn’t settled in the capital and wanted a return to the North. Back in the city where he had had so much success in a red shirt, Cole proved a decent signing for the Sky Blues, notching nine goals in 22 Premier League games as a pre-Abu Dhabi-funded City finished in 15th place.
A Wrong Step South
In another twist, Cole retraced his steps south the following summer, to sign for Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp, despite having supposedly signed a new contract at Manchester City only months earlier. It was a mistake. Pompey had a very decent side under the former West Ham legend, but the ageing Cole struggled to secure a place in it, and he ended a disappointing spell (3 goals from 18 appearances) by signing on loan for Championship side Birmingham City in March 2007, for whom he managed a single goal in five games.
Short spells at Sunderland (eight games, no goals), Burnley (13 games, six goals) and hometown club Nottingham Forest (11 games, no goals) followed before Cole announced his retirement, bringing the curtain down on a simply fabulous career on 11 November 2008.
Since that date, he has had a couple of short stints coaching young strikers at both Milton Keyes Dons and back at Manchester United, but unfortunately is better known these days for his long-standing battles with a health condition which led to his kidneys failing in June 2014. Despite dialysis, he needed a complete kidney transplant, which he had performed in April 2017 after his nephew agreed to donate a kidney to Andy.
“Hits The Ball, Scores A Goal”
The man is an absolute legend in the eyes of any Manchester United fan who witnessed his extraordinary goalscoring feats for the side between 1995 and 2001. In reality United robbed Newcastle United for his services, because many of his goals were priceless, helping the team to clinch trophies that could easily have been lost to rivals without Cole’s contribution.
I will close by taking this opportunity to pass my best wishes on to Andy for his future health. Over a lengthy, glittering career he has proven himself time and again to be a courageous battler, with supreme self-belief and a never-say-die attitude very much to the fore. Keep fighting, mate, and thanks for all the wonderful memories you gave us for many years – you are an all-time Manchester United legend.