Andy Cole, one of the most gifted English strikers of his generation and a treble winner with Manchester United, celebrates his 41st birthday today.
Cole, having already played for Arsenal, Fulham and Bristol City, was prolific at Newcastle United under Kevin Keegan's resurgent Magpies in the early 90s.
The Nottingham-born goalscorer struck 41 times in the 1993/94 season as Keegan's team returned to the top flight before his British transfer record move to Manchester United for £7m in January 1995.
Despite scoring 12 goals in 18 games, Cole endured an ambivalent start to his Old Trafford career. He spurned several chances on the final day of the season at West Ham United as United lost the title to Blackburn and was generally criticised by factions for not being Eric Cantona. Cantona was serving his eight-month ban for that kung-fu kick.
But Cole overcame the doubters, eventually. Thirteen goals in the double-winning 1995-96 campaign - including what was the title-clincher at Middlesbrough - improved his popularity amongst United supporters. Two broken legs courtesy of the gleeful Neil Ruddock in 1996 limited him to just 14 starts the following season, but Cole struck crucial goals at home to Wimbledon and at Blackburn as United retained their title.
Cole celebrates United's third at Anfield in 1997
It wasn't until Cantona retired that Cole thrived. His 26 goals in the 1997-98 term included a hat-trick away to Feyenoord in the Champions League and doubles at Liverpool and Chelsea, although United won nothing.
Then Dwight Yorke arrived. Ironically when paired with Cole on his debut United drew 0-0 away at Upton Park. Cole then sat out the next half-a-dozen games as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham excelled with Yorke, to varying degrees. But on 3 October, Yorke and Cole ran amok at Southampton and went onto score 11 of United's 24 goals in their next six Premier and Champions League matches. In the end they scored 53 goals between them as United won the Treble.
Despite his club potency, Cole always struggled at international level. He won 15 caps, making his debut in 1995, and scored just once; in Sven-Göran Eriksson's third game as national team coach in 2001. England could also choose from Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Stan Collymore and, latterly, Michael Owen.
Cole eventually left United in 2001 having won five leagues, two FA Cups, one Champions League and an Intercontinental Cup. An £8m transfer to Blackburn brought success almost instantly, as Cole scored the winner in the 2002 League Cup final against Tottenham.
He returned to Fulham in 2004 before going on to play for six more clubs as a distinguished career ran into journeyman territory. Although his international record is a nagging kink, his technical brilliance was perhaps more admirable than his goalscoring, and that hegemony he enjoyed on the Tyne and in M16 in the 90s are highlights for both clubs in the last 20 years.
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