Andy Cole: The Archetypal Journeyman

man utd striker andy cole

Player Profile: Andy Cole

Date of Birth: 15th October 1971

Height: 5 ft 11 in

Position(s): Centre-forward

National Team: England

International Caps: 15

International Goals: 1

Club Career

With 230 goals in 509 league appearances in English football, it is baffling that Andy Cole only accumulated 15 England caps. It is a mark of the wealth of talent in his hay day that his accumulation was so small. Shearer, Sheringham, Fowler, Wright, Ferdinand – all world-class attacking talent. But Cole could compete with the best of them; a poacher at heart but with many strings to his bow, the Nottingham-born centre-forward was strong, quick and had lethal finishing ability.

By the time his career came to an end, Cole would be the third-highest goalscorer in Premier League history. However, he began his career in much more humble conditions. He played in the Arsenal academy for a year before earning a solitary appearance for the Gunners in the 1990-91 season. During his time at Highbury, Cole had successful loan spells with Fulham and Bristol City in the Third and Second Divisions respectively. They would turn out to be two of just six seasons that Cole would spend outside the top-flight in England, throughout his nearly 20-year career.

Scoring eight goals in 12 appearances during his loan spell with the Southern club, Cole was snapped up permanently by Bristol City at the start of the 1992-93 season. Bristol had won promotion to the Frist Division thanks to Cole’s goals at the tail end of the previous campaign. As such, this would be Cole’s first season at this level of English football.

He coped with the step-up admirably, registering 12 goals in 29 games and 17 in 37 in all competitions. This record was made all the more impressive by Cole’s young age and the fact that Bristol City finished in a lowly 15th place that year.

Cole’s performances in the second-tier caught the eye of Newcastle United. Though Newcastle have struggled of late in the Premier League and have been relegated three times in recent years, in the early 90s they were one of the most prominent teams in the country. Kevin Keegan led the Magpies to a storming promotion season in Cole’s first year with the club. During this stunning run, Cole scored 12 in 12 and really began to exhibit his astonishing goalscoring prowess for the first time.

In his first season in the Premier League – which coincided with the competition’s second-ever season – Cole continued his superlative run of form by scoring 34 goals in 40 Premier League games, a record which still stands to this day. With this calibre of marksman upfront, it was always likely that Newcastle United would overachieve. However, no one could have anticipated that they would finish in 3rd place. This situation, in which a promoted team achieves European qualification at the first time of asking, is almost unheard of in today’s day and age.

Cole’s side were less successful in the following season, finishing in 6th place. It was still an excellent end-result, but one which could have been much better had Cole not departed St James’ Park at the halfway point of the season, having scored nine goals in 18 appearances.

Cole added to this tally with 12 in another 18 for his new club, Manchester United. United’s need for a new striker was exacerbated by the infamous Eric Cantona incident in January of that year. The enigmatic Frenchman kung-fu kicked a Crystal Palace fan after being sent off at Selhurst Park and was subsequently banned from football for nine months. Cantona had scored 14 in 25 before this and was playing some of the best football of his career. The burden on Cole’s young shoulders to re-create this kind of strike rate was enormous. But, of course, he duly obliged.

Manchester United were unsuccessful in their quest to defend their Premier League title that season and, despite a late revival that could have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, finished as runners-up to Blackburn Rovers. Had the Red Devils beaten West Ham, rather than drawing against them on the final day, Cole would have got his hands on his first Premier League winner’s medal.

As it happened, he had to wait a year for this honour – it transpired that it would be the first of five in six seasons. United edged out Newcastle United in 95-96 even though the Magpies had been 12 points clear at one stage. While the season overall was a success, Cole’s own form was a cause for some concern. He netted just 11 in times that season; not a bad record but nowhere near the prolificacy that he had displayed up until this point in his career.

He struggled again in the next campaign, scoring just seven. This figure was offset by the fact that he only played 20 games. This was due to the return of a magisterial Eric Cantona and injuries. In 97-98, however, Cole rediscovered his coveted shooting boots, scoring 25 in all competitions. His record the following season was similar – Andy had his mojo back. And just in time too. 

In 98-99, Manchester United completed a famous treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League victories, making them the only team in England to have achieved this much-lauded feat. To a man, United were absolutely superb throughout that season. They won the league over a hugely impressive Arsenal side, edging Wenger’s men out by a single point after going unbeaten in their final 20 games of the season.

Cole formed a brilliant, striking partnership with Dwight Yorke that year with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer serving as back-up for the pair. Rarely had the game seen such an impressive array of forwards in one squad. Cole spent three more seasons with United, winning two titles and scoring 40 more goals. In total, his record for the Red Devils was 275 games played, 122 goals scored. It is not quite enough to get him in the top ten goal scorers in the club’s history, but he is only a few goals shy and will always have a place in the Old Trafford fanbase’s hearts.

The striker would then move on to Blackburn Rovers. His departure was prompted by the arrival of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. Rovers parted with £8-million for his services, a sum which is still the club’s joint-record signing to date.

Andy Cole was an instant success, scoring 13 times in his first 20 games for the Rovers and helping the club to lift the League Cup trophy at the Millennium Stadium after a 2-1 victory over Tottenham; Cole scored the winning goal in the final. The triumph was Rovers first since the Premier League title six years previous and remains the club’s most recent honour having slid down the divisions in the subsequent years.

He was a permanent fixture in the Rovers first team for the next two seasons, playing 34 times in each. His goals were not as free-flowing, however. Cole returned 24 in 80 games in all competitions.

What followed was a five-year spell in which Cole played for seven clubs. He spent a year with Fulham in the Premier League, scoring a respectable 12 goals before a successful stint at Manchester City saw him reach a similar tally. Then, an ill-fated move to Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth saw Cole’s goals dry up once more, scoring just four times in 22 appearances. For Birmingham City, Sunderland, Burnley and finally Nottingham Forrest, Cole scored only seven goals in 37 games, with six of these coming for Blackburn’s arch-rivals Burnley in the Championship. It was an ill-fitting end to the marksman’s otherwise prolific career.

International Career

On the whole, Andy Cole has a right to be disappointed with his international career. He made 11 appearances for England’s youth teams at Under-20 and Under-21 level before making his senior debut in 1995.

It took him six years to score his only goal for his country, a poacher’s effort in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in 2001. His caps in the years between his debut and his first strike were sporadic to say the least.

All of Cole’s 15 appearances came in games outside of major tournaments. He was not selected by an outspoken critic of Cole, Glen Hoddle, for the 1998 World Cup 23-man squad and injury curtailed his chances of playing in England’s Euro 200 campaign, too.

To this day, it seems strange that just two players in Premier League history have scored more goals than Andy Cole and yet he failed to make an impact on the international side.

Where is Andy Cole Now? 

Cole has held four roles in coaching since he retired from the playing side of the game. In 2009, Cole was reunited with Paul Ince, the central midfielder known as the ‘Guvnor’ whom Cole had played alongside at Manchester United. He was hired by Ince to be a finishing coach with MK Dons. A matter of days later, however, Cole took a separate offer to assist another former teammate, Lee Clarke, who was in charge of Huddersfield Town at the time.

He then briefly returned to Manchester United where he worked towards completing his UEFA coaching badges.

However, it would be almost a decade until the ex-striker had his next job in the game. He teamed up with Sol Campbell at Southend United in October 2019 where he served as assistant manager to the relegation-threatened side.