It is fair to say that Andy Cole's 7 million transfer from Newcastle United to Manchester United in January 1995 was the transfer shock of the season. The move came out of the blue on January 12th and left the Newcastle faithful reeling in shock and the Manchester faithful questioning whether it was a good deal, as Keith Gillespie was lost in part exchange.

In hindsight Cole has turned out value for money but he has had to travel a rocky road at Old Trafford to receive the widespread recognition he deserves.

Born in Nottingham, Cole began his footballing career with the Arsenal youth team, but his first team chances were limited and he moved down a division to Bristol City in March 1993. Less than a year later Kevin Keegan spotted his potential and brought him to Newcastle for 1.75 million. It was a move that reaped unexpectedly high reward for the Geordies as Cole became the most prolific striker in England.

His 34 league goals in 1994-95 won him the European Golden Boot as well as PFA Young Player of the Year Award. So it was little wonder he caught Alex Ferguson's eye. However the massive price tag and equally huge expectations of the United fans seemed to weigh heavily on Cole in his debut season and he never hit the same heights he had with Newcastle. Nevertheless he did notch up 17 goals in half a season, as well as claiming a record five goals against Ipswich Town in a 9:0 demolition at Old Trafford. But the season was to end in bitter disappointment for United and Cole as they let the Premiership and FA Cup slip through their fingers. On the last day of the league season at West Ham, Cole had a personal nightmare, missing a number of chances to win the match and the Championship.

In 1995-96, the return from a 9 month suspension of United idol Eric Cantona was expected to form the most lethal partnership in England but the two stikers never quite hit it off in the two seasons they played together. Nevertheless Cole was an important member of United's second double winning team, and vanquished the ghosts of Upton Park when he scored in United's 3:0 win at Middlesbrough that clinched the title.

An injury nightmare was to plague Cole early in 1996-97 when he first contracted pneumonia in pre-season and later suffered two broken legs from a challenge by Neil Ruddock in a reserve game at Anfield. Facing another agonising test of character, he showed what he is made of by returning to full fitness better than ever and enjoyed his most successful season with United at that time. The highlights included two hat-tricks against Barnsley and Feyenoord. Goals which helped him finish as United's top goalscorer with 25 goals, the highest scorer among all Premiership strikers.

Incredibly Glenn Hoddle saw fit not to include Cole in England's 1998 World Cup squad, claiming he needed three or four chances before taking a goalscoring opportunity. It was a remark Cole wasn't to forget and it seemed to give him added impetus throughout last season as he carried his 1997-98 form in 1998-99.

The arrival of Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa also played a huge part in Cole's excellent form. Great friends off the field they developed an immediate understanding on it, forming the most lethal strike partnership in European football.

The pace and directness of Cole's play combined seamlessly with the flair and guile of Yorke's and at times their combination play seemed almost telepathic. Leicester City, Barcelona, Brondby, Inter Milan and Juventus were just a few to feel the full force of the Cole and Yorke partnership, as together they scored over 50 goals between them in 1998-99.

After four seasons of mixed fortunes at Old Trafford Cole is now in his prime and playing the best football of his career. And more importantly he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.

Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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