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Manchester United Idols: Andy Cole – a true bargain of the Premier League era; 275 appearances, 121 goals, 44 assists

On Tuesday 10 January 1995, Manchester United signed Andy Cole from Newcastle United in a deal worth £7 million which included Keith Gillespie, worth £1 million heading in the other direction. For £6 million cash, Cole was going to be an absolute belter for United. He made his debut 12 days after signing for the club in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford over Blackburn Rovers – the eventual winners of the Premier League that season by one point – with Eric Cantona scoring an 80th minute winner. Cole’s first goal for United came in a 1-0 victory over Aston Vila at Old Trafford on the 4 February 1996, scoring the only goal of the match in the 17th minute.

In his first season for United, despite coming half way through the season, Cole made 18 appearances, not playing in any other competition that season as he was cup-tied in the FA Cup, United were already out of the League Cup and the UEFA Champions League – finishing third in their group. In those few appearances, Cole managed to score 12 goals, scoring single goals against Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Southampton, braces against Leicester City and Coventry City, also scoring five against Ipswich Town in a 9-0 hammering of the club that season which also saw a brace from Mark Hughes and goals from Roy Keane and Paul Ince too.

Cole played for United in eight different seasons, coming half way through the first and leaving halfway through the last, completing six seasons at the club. In his second season (1995/96), United were tasked to win the Premier League once again after Blackburn won the title the previous season, stopping United from winning the league three seasons in a row. United achieved that with Cole making 43 appearances and scoring 13 goals, 11 of those were in the Premier League alone which saw United finish four points clear of Newcastle United also finishing the season with the FA Cup after beating Liverpool 1-0 with Cantona scoring the only goal of the match.

In the summer of 1996, Cole saw both Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrive at the Old Trafford club. During the 1996/97 season, Cole made just 28 appearances, scoring seven goals in all competitions, which was not his best season at the club by a long shot but it was a season that United retained the Premier League title, also winning the FA Charity Shield at the start of the season, but falling short in the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Champions League once more. United were seeking to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn that summer, ending up spending 10% of his fee on Solskjaer, which turned out quite well for United – that is another story.

The 1997/98 season was Cole’s best season at the club where he made a total of 45 appearances, scoring 25 goals – the most he had ever scored in one season for the club. It was the first of three good seasons for the player and the club where he would score a total of 71 goals in 140 appearances for the club. United ended the season second in the Premier League, losing to Arsenal by a single point, similar to that season against Blackburn. United won the FA Community Shield, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, the third round of the League Cup also reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League – but little did anyone know what was coming.

The 1998/99 season is the pinnacle season for United as they won the treble, a feat that has never been achieved by another English club, at least not a proper treble. Cole made 50 appearances for his club that season, scoring 24 goals in all competitions. Cole scored some important goals that season, helping United qualify for the Champions League, scoring against LKS Lodz in the qualification round, scoring twice against Brondby in the group stages and once against Barcelona with new strike partner, Dwight Yorke – who arrived that summer for £12.6 million from Aston Villa, bagging a brace. Cole also scored against Juventus in the semi-final second leg.

United won the Premier League on the final day of the 1998/99 season, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 with Les Ferdinand opening the scoring (24′), David Beckham equalising (42′) and Cole scoring a 47th winner for United, seeing his side lift the title at Old Trafford. United then won the FA Cup six days later beating Newcastle United 2-0 at Wembley with Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes scoring the goals. Four days later would be the biggest match of the season and some of these player’s careers just four days later. United versus Bayern Munich in the Champions League final at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.

Cole started that match in Barcelona but a sixth minute after Mario Basler scoring a free-kick, beating Peter Schmeichel. Bayern were unlucky not to score more goals in the match, hitting the woodwork more than once throughout the match. Sheringham replaced Jesper Blomqvist in the 67th minute to support United’s attack with Cole being replaced by Solskjaer in the 81st minute, which would change the match for United. In the first minute of added time, United won a corner, taken by Beckham with Sheringham scoring. Two minutes later, another free-kick – Beckham into Sheringham and Solskjaer has won it.

United reached the promised land that season with one of the best teams that Sir Alex Ferguson had ever put together. Cole made another 45 appearances in the 1999/2000 season, scoring 22 goals for United. United won the Premier League again, the third round in the League Cup, did not participate in the FA Cup because of FIFA Club World Cup, which they finished in the group stages of, also winning the Intercontinental Cup. The 2000/01 season was Cole’s last full season at the club, making 31 appearances and scoring 13 goals for the club. United ended with the Premier League again, winning it three times in a row for the first time.

During the 2001/02 season, Cole made 15 appearances for United, scoring five goals. His last goal came in a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. his last appearance for United came in a 1-0 defeat to West Ham United on the 8 December 2001 in which Jermain Defoe scored the only goal of the game. United signed Ruud van Nistelrooy in the summer of 2001, delayed from the year before because of fitness concerns which turned into a ruptured ACL. His arrival limited Cole’s performances for United that season so he was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £8 million, with United making a profit based on the fee paid for him.

Cole won the League Cup with Blackburn only a few months after being sold to the club, which was his twelfth and final trophy of his career. He made 100 appearances, scoring 37 goals for Blackburn then leaving for Fulham (39 appearances, 13 goals), Manchester City (23 appearances, 10 goals), Portsmouth (22 appearances, four goals), Birmingham City on loan (five appearances, one goals), Sunderland (eight appearances, no goals), Burnley on loan (13 appearances, six goals) and finally ending his career at Nottingham Forest (11 appearances, no goals). Cole made a total of 646 appearances during his career, scoring 289 goals.

For United, Cole made 275 appearances, scoring 121 goals and 44 assists and helped the club win five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, one FA Charity Shield and one UEFA Champions League. Since retiring, Cole has coached with Huddersfield Town, achieved his coaching badges working at United’s Carrington training ground and worked with Sol Campbell at Southend United. He has suffered ill-health with kidney failure in 2014 and had a transplant in 2017. He is also an ambassador for United, the club that he spent much of his glittering career at. He turned 49 on the Thursday 15 October 2020 and it was fitting to remember this Manchester United icon.

Written by John Walker

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