Say the name Andy Cole to any Manchester United fan and happy memories of the treble are likely to come flooding back.
After scoring 68 goals in 84 appearances for Newcastle United, Cole moved to Old Trafford in January 1995 for a deal worth £7million, setting a new record for the most expensive British transfer.
He proved to be worth every penny, winning five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League during his seven years at the club.
Since hanging up his boots in 2008, Cole has returned to United as a club ambassador and recently teamed up with club partner Laybuy to surprise United super-fan Shaun Leahy by transforming his Coventry home into the grounds of Old Trafford during the 3-2 win over Sheffield United.
With 2020 the first year in the club’s 142-year history that United fans will be unable to attend festive matches, Cole shared a virtual Christmas dinner with Leahy, who has had to self-isolate for much of the year due to an underlying health condition.
Leahy then had Old Trafford beamed onto his walls and his own personal dugout to watch the win over Sheffield United alongside Cole, who we caught up with afterwards to reflect on his illustrious career and a strange year.
Planet Football: Why did you decide to join United and did you feel the pressure of being a British transfer record signing?
Andy Cole: I always wanted to play for United, I supported them as a team and it was my dream to play for them. I won’t lie, the fee did play on my mind, and it shouldn’t have, but it did a little.
You have to bear in mind I was only in the Premier League a year and half by then, I was still new. It was something I had to overcome.
PF: During the 1998-99 season, was the potential treble being discussed in the dressing room and how did it feel to achieve it?
AC: Not at all, it was never discussed, and if someone did they would get a verbal blast! The focus was just on each game, even as it came closer and closer the aim was to win each game. To win it was amazing. It was just an amazing feeling and achievement.
PF: You had an almost telepathic relationship with Dwight Yorke on the pitch, how did that develop and what was it like to play with him?
AC: Dwight and I are polar opposites, that’s why we get on. What he likes, I don’t – and vice versa. We are Ying and Yang.
We are still good friends and I love him like a brother but that’s why get on so well. He was by far the best player I ever played with. We just have this unique bond.
PF: You had a great relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, what made him different to other managers you worked under?
AC: He was very very special. He really got to know you as a person – and wanted to. He wanted to know what made you tick.
I think that is his skill, his ability to read a person and relate and understand how to be with them. It is an uncanny talent and what makes him so special.
PF: Why did you decide to leave United in 2001 and do you think you left too early?
AC: Looking back I probably did. I was the type of player who didn’t like to sit on his hands and Sir Alex knew that. He knew if I wasn’t giving 100% all the time I wouldn’t be satisfied.
At the time I was headstrong. In hindsight, I probably should have thought about it a bit more. But that is hindsight, you can’t dwell on these things.
PF: Do you miss playing? How does it feel when you need to come to terms with the end of your football career?
AC: No, I don’t miss playing. I have said many, many times, I miss the dressing room. I miss being with the lads, the banter and being part of that group.
You know, you spend a lot of time together, and that is what I miss. There are the odd games that you think, it would be great to be a part of – the big games, Champions League matches.
PF: If there is one moment you could live through again on the field, what would it be?
AC: It would have to be that night in Barcelona. Definitely.
PF: Give us the dream team from all the players you played with?
AC: The 99 team. We completed everything possible. And no one has done it since.
PF: What was it like to share the day with Manchester United super-fan Shaun Leahy?
AC: It was a pleasure to be able to surprise Shaun and hopefully he had an unforgettable experience.
It has been a strange year and like many football fans, I have really missed watching live football. As a player, the support of the fans and the noise of the crowds in the stands is what motivates you.
There is nothing like it, so I wanted to help bring back a bit of that magic for Shaun after a tough year. Fans are starting to slowly return and as we wait for our turn at Old Trafford, I think what Laybuy have created for Shaun today is the next best thing.
PF: What are your hopes for United’s season and are you looking forward to getting back to matches?
AC: I am really looking forward to getting back to matches. It has been a while! Of course, it has to be when it is safe to do so, but I think fans have been missed.
There is nothing like it, whether a player or a fan, there is nothing like Old Trafford. I was very lucky to have played there. That’s why it was nice to be able to surprise Shaun and recreate a little bit of that atmosphere for him and his family.
Hopes for the season, well we have had a good run recently and will be looking to improve on this and I think progress is being made. Ole has shown his faith in some of the younger players and it is starting to pay off.
It has been difficult, there have been ups and downs, but we are moving in the right direction. Manchester United’s aim is always the top spot, to win. Ole is a United man and that will always be his aim.
PF: During your playing career what impact did the fans inside Old Trafford have on you?
AC: They had a huge impact, and I was very lucky to have amazing support from the fans, I still do. I think as a player you don’t always appreciate the support there and then as you are so focused on the game.
I am grateful as a Manchester United ambassador that I now have the time to really spend time with the fans. Like last night with the club partner Laybuy, I got to chat to Shaun.
PF: Have you been able to reflect on your career more during lockdown? Do you appreciate things more now and were there any regrets?
AC: I don’t have any regrets but I looking back definitely appreciate it more. I learned to appreciate it before lockdown, when I had my life laid in front of me.
Lockdown did give me that time to reflect on my career and my life. When you are playing it is all about the game and you are sort of blinkered and focused on the job in hand. It is nice now to be able to reflect and have opportunities to meet fans, like Shaun and hear their side of events too.
Laybuy was announced as Manchester United’s first official Buy Now, Pay Later provider in October. Laybuy will be available in the megastore from next year, meaning fans will be able to get their hands-on new season shirts, merch and more – and spread the cost with six, weekly payments interest-free.
For more information, please visit Laybuy.com/UK. Laybuy will also be accessible through the Manchester United Online shop during the course of the 2020/21 season.