This is the first part of what will be a series of blog-type posts which I shall be contributing to the forum as a means of provoking further discussion amongst you fine people. I find that forums, as opposed to actual blogs are more effective for starting what should hopefully be some good debates. My plan is to only post once and then leave the floor open, adding another post only in cases of clarification or glaring errors. Or of course to intervene as part of my duties as a moderator.
I don't intend to stick to a particular theme or pattern, or follow a strict schedule when it comes to churning out posts. Instead I will write what I feel like, when I feel like it. As it happens today I have a 2,500 word essay to write by Monday and I needed a new form of procrastination.
Today I would like to put forward the motion that Andy Cole deserves recognition as one of Manchester United's and the Premiership's all-time great strikers, and also that he deserves a higher status in the overall history of the game.
Normally it seems that a player has to wait a few years after their retirement before being placed on that pantheon of 'great' players, as opposed to acknowledgement as a very good one. In some cases the process is faster because of their obvious stature in the game. Recent examples amongst strikers would be Ronaldo and Dennis Bergkamp.
Others currently playing will, I think, not get the recognition they deserve for another five or ten years after hanging up their boots. Thierry Henry's attempt to turn football into a more inclusive sport for the rest of the human body will damage what should have been a glorious legacy. Raul and F. Inzaghi will unfortunately probably only be remembered with much affection in Spain and Italy.
Andy, or sometimes Andrew, Cole retired on the 11th November 2008, ending a 19-year career which included 621 senior appearances in English football and featured 270 goals. This record is outstanding by itself but if we examine his most prolific years it becomes phenomenal. For Newcastle United he scored 55 goals in 70 appearances. For Manchester United he scored 121 goals in 275 appearances.
People might argue about the quality of the opposition or the quality of his team-mates, or his enormous good fortune in the instant, telepathic partnership with Dwight Yorke. I think this would be unfair. We shouldn't forget the significance of some of the goals he scored, especially in the 1998-99 season. Crucial contributions against Barcelona, Juventus and Tottenham come to mind most immediately. Furthermore there were some very good defenders and goalkeepers around in Cole's heyday. And having a good team around you will always help the chances come but Cole was an established senior player before the Beckham-Keane-Scholes-Giggs midfield was the first-choice starting line-up for Manchester United. It takes a good player to keep his place in a team like that. United, remember, did have other very good striking options.
As a player hardly any of his team-mates had a bad word to say about him. Ruud van Nistelrooy, upon arriving at Old Trafford, commented on the speed of his off-the-ball running and his ability to accelerate out of turns. Ironically the arrival and success of Van Nistelrooy proved to be pivotal in Cole's eventual departure from Manchester United.
His goalscoring record, I think, is fairly common knowledge among followers of the English Premier League. After all he is second only to Alan Shearer in the all-time EPL charts, and if you take away Shearer's 50-something penalties converted, Cole actually had a better strike rate from open play. What I think should not be forgotten is the range of goals that he scored. Cole was not a 'typical Number 9'. He didn't just score tap-ins.
He was athletic, scoring a variety of volleys and bicycle kicks. He could shoot from distance. He was a master of the chipped finish. He was strong and could hold the ball up well. He had a fine first touch, was a very capable dribbler and a possessed a good range of passing (accumulating 135 assists in the Premiership alone). He was also a useful header of the ball. His off-the-ball movement and work rate were exceptional considering he was playing back when specialist goal-scorers were the norm in the Premiership. Without Cole I doubt there would be a Drogba, Henry or Tevez; in short, Cole was one of the most rounded strikers the English game has ever seen.
Personally I rate Cole above Shearer, Owen and Fowler as the best of the EPL's English strikers. That he never got more than 15 England caps is a great shame. His status in the history of Manchester United deserves elevation. Yes, there are Best, Law and Charlton. But after those three? Cantona was influential, yes, but his goalscoring record doesn't match up to Cole's. I think on reflection that of the players that have retired from the game altogether, the sub's bench in a Manchester United All-Time XI would feature strong competition among the strikers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would also make a good case.
In terms of a Fantasy Eleven of all-time players, Cole would probably lose out on the striker's spot to Maradona, Pele, Eusebio or Puskas. This is understandable. But many would not even think about including him for selection. The hope of my ramblings here is that someone, somewhere will pause for a moment to consider what was an enormous talent, even if on reflection he doesn't make the cut.
I leave you with this video, which I think is the best of what YouTube has to offer on Andy Cole. If Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo had scored any of these goals they would have been replayed for weeks. As it happens I would be impressed (and pleased) if less than half of them are new to you.
EDIT: Yes I have read the 'On Second Thoughts...' column about Andy Cole in the Guardian but this post is not intended to mirror that one, nor do I think it does.