Cole: Leaving United was my biggest mistake

The Manchester United icon voices his regrets as he sits down with FourFourTwo's Kenneth Tan to discuss his playing career with the Red Devils, the club's fortunes this season, as well as the strikers of the current England squad.

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Just a month ago, Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal made claims that his team lacks a 20-goal striker. A valid complaint today, it is also an unfamiliar one to be associated with the Old Trafford side.

Such sentiments had been absent particularly during the club’s conquering days of the 1990s and 2000s, when one lethal forward donned the famous red shirt and scored the truckload of goals needed to push the Red Devils to every major trophy.

He was none other than Andy Cole, the England striker who famously forged a fearsome strike partnership with Dwight Yorke in his six years at the Manchester United, and who currently holds the record for being the second-highest goal scorer in English Premier League history.

Cole became the club’s global ambassador after retiring in 2008 and his latest stop took him to Singapore, where he was invited by Courts, local electronic and furniture retailer, as part of their celebrations for the nation’s 50th birthday.

Having completed a relay of one-on-one interviews prior, the 43-year-old looked visibly jaded by the time it was FourFourTwo’s turn to speak to him. As the consummate professional, however, he simply took a sip of water before getting ready to tackle the questions we had in store for him…

How good is it to be back here in Singapore? I presume this is not your first time here?

Yeah, it’s nice to be back here. I’ve been here loads of times and I’ve really enjoyed my visits here. It’s a very nice place.

Everyone knows about your success at Manchester United, but you actually started your career as a youth player at Arsenal and even played a league game for them! Were there any regrets not making it at Highbury?

None whatsoever. The manager then, George Graham, did me a great favour by being honest and letting me go [to Bristol City], thus I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

Is it true that, before signing for Newcastle United in 1993, you delayed a meeting with Kevin Keegan because you had to do your laundry?

That’s right! I’ve been very domesticated since I was six, and I appreciate the process of doing laundry. I explained it to him [Keegan] and he was fine with it; he simply told me, “Okay, we’ll book the flight tomorrow morning to come up and see you then.”  That was it.

Sir Alex Ferguson actually didn’t want to sell me; he told me I could stay as long as I liked and that I would eventually get games.

You spent six years at Old Trafford and scored 93 goals before leaving for Blackburn Rovers in 2001. Do you think you should have perhaps stayed longer at the club? Of course Ruud van Nistelrooy’s arrival didn’t help your cause?

Yeah, I could have stayed there for a hell of a lot longer. I just think the decisions which I made then were not the wisest. I don’t want to say whether the presence of Ruud helped or didn’t help, but I had always been very headstrong and I wanted to play.

I didn’t understand what was really expected of me when I got to a certain age. When I got to 30, I still believed I could play week in and week out. The manager [Sir Alex Ferguson] actually didn’t want to sell me; he told me I could stay as long as I liked and that I would eventually get games. But with me being headstrong, I just wanted to get out there with a side that guaranteed me games.

Then when I left. I realised that was the biggest mistake I could have made in my footballing career. It’s been a learning curve though, and fortunately I’m back at the club in a different role, which I’m really enjoying.