Football: Keegan puts a smile on the Cole face

Manchester United striker is in happy frame of mind as he approaches his big challenge.
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The Independent Online
ONE OF the things about Kevin Keegan, according to Andy Cole, is that "he tries to make everyone smile". Not the easiest of tasks, you might think, in the case of goal king Cole, who tends to come across as something less than a merry old soul, and not just in comparison with his new Manchester United partner, The Laughing Cavalier Dwight Yorke.

A burgeoning friendship with Yorke - begun when the new man got lost en route to United's training ground and rang him for directions - is clearly having a beneficial effect and so is Keegan's presence as England prepare for tomorrow's game against Poland.

A feeling that the world was against him, encouraged by his omission from the World Cup and every England squad earlier in the season, had led to what seemed an ill-advised outburst against Keegan's predecessor Glenn Hoddle, whom Cole accused of being "a coward". Yet before Hoddle's even more controversial comments about the disabled, the name of Cole had been pencilled in for last month's friendly against France.

A brief appearance as substitute - his third under three different managers - will now be followed by a first start, under a fourth, and an opportunity to see if he can cut the mustard at international level. Yesterday, the man who has often looked as if he has a particularly sharp dab of Coleman's on his tongue did the round of television, radio and press interviews alongside the gaffer, his silver ear stud and gold watch glinting, but his eyes twinkling too. Yes, Keegan made him smile, made him chuckle and on at least one occasion even made him laugh outright. Is there nothing this manager cannot achieve?

"I've got to think of myself on another level and make something of my first start, although I hope people won't just judge me on that," Cole said. "But you've always got something to prove to yourself - and I'm hungry."

Keegan has already proved he can get the best out of Cole, who in between joining him at Newcastle for pounds 1m from Bristol City and moving to Old Trafford for pounds 7m - at a time when pounds 7m was a lot of money for a footballer - scored 55 goals in 70 games and often looked unstoppable.

Keegan and Cole revisited their time together at Newcastle, revealing what went on when the player left the club. "He said we're selling you to Manchester United and you are going to become a better player," Cole said. "It was disappointing at the time but I see what he means now."

Keegan said it had been hard on the fans too because Cole had a cult following in Newcastle and was known as "King Cole".

But if the parting of the ways at Newcastle, with Keegan memorably standing on the steps of St James's Park asking supporters to back his judgement, led to any tension between the two men, it has long since slackened, and with good reason. "I know he was disappointed," Keegan said. "I said to him that he was going to the only club where he'd become a better player. Now he's gone up a notch and playing for England is another notch again. When he went to United he realised he had to play differently."

Cole, a revelation with strike partner Yorke at United this season, said he is far better now than when he left Newcastle as a "half-decent player".

Of his new partnership with Shearer, he said: "It could be a hit or it could be a miss... I'll try my utmost to make sure it works.

"You haven't really got time to forge a partnership before the game. On the day you just pray to God that it's going to click. When Dwight first came in we'd never played together either and it just happened straight away."

In contrast, Keegan is sure that the two strikers will work well together and cited his own experiences with John Toshack in their club days at Liverpool, which taught him that similarity of character was not an essential ingredient. "Tosh and myself, we were chalk and cheese," he said. "I knew what he was about on a football pitch and he knew what I was about. And I knew what his strengths were."

Cole said he had a high respect for Keegan. "He gave me my chance in the big time, told me to express myself and I did that. When I heard he'd got the [England] job, I was pleased but surprised as well because of Fulham, but really and truly you shouldn't have been surprised because he's capable of doing a lot of things."

When the inquisition was over, the man with the silver stud left the stage. "Coley, well done mate," Keegan said. He was rewarded with a smile.