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Any Reds wishing Alex Ferguson had plumped for Nottingham Forest’s Stan Collymore when he went shopping for a new striker in the January 1995 sales were forced to eat their hats over Andy Cole.
An inauspicious start to his Old Trafford career was followed by the most purple of purple patches, in which the Nottingham-born striker banged in a goal every couple of games, a ratio not seen in M16 since the golden age of Denis Law. It was only a matter of time, of course. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Cole had blazed a trail at St James’ Park, scoring an astonishing 68 goals in just 74 matches, including 41 in the 1993/94 league season. Once he was off and running, benefiting from the prompting of Cantona, Giggs and Sharpe, he played like a dream, justifying every penny of his then-record £6.25 million transfer. That first season saw Cole score an astonishing five times in the 9-0 rout of Ipswich Town at Old Trafford – a scoreline that remains an individual and team best in Premiership history. Cole netted 11 league goals on the way to the 1995/96 title, snatched so memorably from the grasp of his old team-mates at Newcastle. Further title success followed in 1996/97, a season disrupted by pneumonia and two broken legs. Though his days appeared numbered with the arrival of Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa for the 1998/99, the truth couldn’t have been more different. Cole and Yorke were dynamite together, scoring 35 goals in the league between them as United stormed unstoppably to the Treble. Yorke’s craft and strength, Cole’s pace and predatory instincts unforgettably combining at Nottingham Forest in February 1999 in an 8-1 win, memorable also for a four-goal substitute cameo from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Though Cole found his United form hard to replicate in an England shirt, there is little doubt he is one of the club’s – and the modern game’s – great strikers. He was still scoring top-flight goals for Manchester City in 2005/06 after spells with Blackburn and Fulham.
"People wondered how we got on so well because we are total opposites – Yorkie was the life and soul, while I wanted to keep things quiet – but opposites attract. I loved his personality and he loved mine."
"Yorkie was a breath of fresh air. He came in to enjoy his football and liven up the dressing room. This guy’s attitude towards football was totally different. It was sunshine football."
"The secret to it all was the mechanics of that team were just right. The camaraderie was right, the personnel was right, everything was right for everything else, and we completed something that will possibly never be done again."
"I would be very surprised if another team could ever repeat the camaraderie among our Treble-winning squad. Every man was out there fighting for their team-mates."
"Did it matter to me and Yorkie that Ole and Teddy scored the goals against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final? Hell no. We couldn’t have cared less. We were all in it together."
"It didn’t matter who scored as long as the team won. If it was me, Yorkie, Ole or Teddy, it didn’t matter. We were all part of it; we won the Treble together, not as individuals."
"Forget the issue with me and Teddy not talking; the fact that we didn’t get on would never reflect on the football pitch. At the end of the season, we were trying to get the same things. We all were."
"Ole was absolutely ridiculous from the bench. He was a connoisseur of the game and he used to watch from the bench to see how he could hurt people. He picked out weaknesses to exploit."
"I wish I was playing in games like these. There were over 109,000 fans at the Big House for the Real Madrid game the other year, which tells you how big the games are."
"It’s about rivalry between two big clubs and cities. It’s always one of the first fixtures that I used to look for and fans will be excited by this game in July. I scored four times in these derbies, so I have a lot of great memories."