The enigma of Cole and Yorke

The strike partnership between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke should go down as one of the all-time greats in Barclays Premier League history - even though they underachieved.

Football News: Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

Underachieved? It's a funny thing to say about the two men whose goals guided Manchester United to that famous treble winning season in 1999. Yet, the reality is: Cole and Yorke should have done more together at Old Trafford.

First let's look at their Manchester United career stats. Cole banged in 121 goals over 275 games while Yorke managed 66 from 152 games.

Cole's record at a glance:

Season
Goals
1994/95
12
1995/96
13
1996/97
7
1997/98
25
1998/99
24
1999/00
22
2000/01
13
2001/02
5
Total
121

I've put in bold the figures in seasons where Cole had Yorke playing with him up front so we can see how the Englishman's partnership with the Trinidad & Tobago legend played out.

Yorke's numbers

Season
Goals
1998/99
30
1999/00
23
2000/01
12
2001/02
1
Total
66

The stats tell an interesting story on their own. It's pretty clear the partnership peaked in their first season together (1998/99) when they plundered 55 goals between them. In that season, United won the Barclays Premier League title, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League crown - it was in Europe where their partnership really made a name for itself.

"The Inter Milan game in the Champions League quarter-final in 1999. They'd always been really difficult to play against, so to score twice was really special. Italians had been dominating European football for a while... that game showed Premier League teams could compete. The Barcelona match when we drew 3-3 was also fantastic" Yorke on his favourite matches played at Old Trafford.

 

For years, the Red Devils had struggled to make a significant impression in the European Cup even with the great Eric Cantona leading the line for Sir Alex Ferguson's men. United, under Ferguson, had consistently reached the latter stages of the competition before 1999 but their lack of ruthlessness had failed to put the fear of God into Europe's elite - until the Cole-Yorke combo was unleashed in the group stages of the competition that season (in total they combined for 12 goals in Europe in the 1998/99 campaign).

United managed to get another 45 goals (6 goals came in Europe) from Cole-Yorke the following season but it's fair to say the partnership was already on the downturn and would never be as effective again. I am not the only one who feels this way but I'll get to that later. For now, let's look at why Cole-Yorke was such a deadly combination.

Instinct and Movement

The best strikers all have 'instincts' built into their make-up. Your traditional center-forward is an instinctive goal scorer who counts on making the right runs and being in the right position at the right time. He has a knack for anticipating where the ball is going to be delivered and then the composure to then be able to put the ball into the back of the net.

Of course, if you add pace into this mix then you're talking about a really deadly combination but pace can only get you so far. In his prime, current Manchester United striker Michael Owen had pace to burn but today he admits the attribute would not have been good enough on its own.

"You can't get anywhere with just one God-given talent," Owen said in a recent interview with InsideUnited.

"You can have one attribute that will give you an edge over others in a certain department - you might be very tall, very strong or very fast - but that's not enough these days. You have to be able to transfer those natural talents into football situations. You have to work very hard," he said.

Cole-Yorke were never really known for blistering speed but what they had was an intuitiveness and instinct in and around the penalty box. They both knew how to drop deep, hold up the ball and bring others into the play. They weren't born with it. It was a skill they developed and incorporated into their games over years of hard work.

The pair also had fantastic movement. It's something a lot of modern day strikers are lacking - or maybe they're not interested in that, as dribbling past your opponent looks far more spectacular.

That ability to work off your team-mates and time runs in behind the defence to score. Both Cole and Yorke did this so well and if there's one game which really sticks out in memory and showcases just how effective they were as a combo then it is that six goal Champions League thriller with Barcelona in 1998-99.

"We were behind after one minute," Cole recalled in an article he penned not long after Yorke's retirement in 2009.

"Yorkey equalised after 25 minutes after I combined with him. I then put us ahead, and ran to the corner to celebrate with a group of United fans sitting in the home end. Rivaldo levelled for Barca, before Yorkey struck again: 3-3.

"After that, the biggest clubs in Europe were saying: stop Cole and Yorke and we stop Man United.

"But they couldn't. Our confidence soared and we thought we'd score every week. If one of us didn't score, the other would. We could alter our play depending on the opposition: I'd go long, he'd go short. Nobody knew how to mark us. At times, we had so much space that we took liberties."

Chemistry

Chance is a funny thing in football. For a football manager it can either blow up in your face or come up trumps when you least expect it. Luck was certainly on Ferguson's side at the start of the 1998/99 season.

The Scot, who was growing weary of his side's failed attempts to emulate great rival Liverpool in terms of success on the European stage, was prepared to spend on a marquee striker signing. Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert, who had fired Ajax to the European Cup four seasons prior, was top of Ferguson's wanted list.

The move failed to materialise and Yorke was brought in from Aston Villa in August 1998 for £12.6million. It's fair to say that Cole, initially, wasn't thrilled by the Trinidadian's arrival as the club already had strikers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham - Cole had a real fear he was on his way out of Old Trafford.

"I was the striker United could have sold for the most and my fears were realised as I was on the bench a lot," Cole said.

After about a month's worth of bench duty, Cole was called up to the starting eleven for a league fixture at Southampton in October 1998. The rest is well documented history.

"I did start at Southampton and we won 3-0, with Dwight and I scoring in only our second game as a strike pairing. The manager saw something," Cole said.

United scored 14 goals in the next three games and the Cole-Yorke partnership was born. The chemistry and understanding between the pair was there for all to see which in many ways must have struck those who knew the men closely as slightly odd. Cole is an introvert while Yorke is one of England's most notorious footballers in the fast cars-fast women stakes.

"I liked Yorkey straight away and admired how he was completely unfazed by his huge transfer fee. Not many strikers settle as quickly at Old Trafford like Dwight," Cole insisted.

"We were totally different people. Dwight was, 'Look at me, I play for United, I've got a nice bird and car'. I'm the opposite. I bought a Porsche one year but was so self-conscious that I couldn't drive it. It took me two months to drive it to training. Yorkey had no such worries."

Cole added: "When we started playing together, it was like meeting a special woman and falling in love. Everything felt right. Whatever he did, I did the opposite."

"We never had a cross word. If I was upset with him or he with me, we'd look at each other and say 'Okay'. Dwight's arrival changed my whole United career and our partnership got stronger," he said.

However, Cole admits that Yorke never lived up to his massive potential - their partnership which sparked into life in Southampton one day in October 1998, had evaporated by 2001. In fact, United as a team declined slightly after that treble-winning season in 1999 as noted by their skipper at the time Roy Keane in his own autobiography.

In this sense, football fans were denied the chance to see just how much better Cole-Yorke could have been or how the partnership would have evolved with different team-mates playing around them. Instead, the pair eventually left for Blackburn Rovers but that too ended up becoming a short-lived spell together.

"Dwight is from a small Caribbean island and I'm of Caribbean descent. I know the mentality- when you reach the top, you relax and ease off. What more could Dwight do? He'd won the treble," Cole explained.

Andy Cole will always be remembered as a Manchester United legend while Dwight Yorke's place is up for debate. Together though, there has never been a strike partnership at Old Trafford quite like Cole-Yorke.



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