The Andy Cole Column: The sign says 'This is Anfield'. The heart says 'This is it. This is what it's all about'
Thursday 22 October 2009
Manchester United versus Liverpool is the greatest rivalry in English football, bar none, and you don't need to be a player who was involved at the heart of it for years, like me, to realise that.
Both clubs are massive in every sense; fan bases, histories, honours. By the ultimate measurement – league titles – they're the Goliaths who put everyone else in the shade, with 18 each.
Liverpool won theirs mostly in the 70s and 80s and not at all since 1990. United have won 11 of their 18 in the Premier League. So United v Liverpool, or Liverpool v United (which is what we get this weekend) is THE fixture. It has spice every time, and more now with United having dominated Liverpool for so long where it matters – the league.
In my opinion, Liverpool's best recent chance of winning the title was last season. They failed, and then weakened their side by selling Xabi Alonso, who was a fundamental part of why they were so good.
So many pundits said Liverpool were close last season and just needed to push on a bit this time, but why didn't they see that an Alonso-less team would go backwards, not forwards? I can fully understand how Alonso felt and why he wanted to go; he'd been made to feel unwanted in the summer of 2008 anyway, and Real Madrid are huge.
Strange things happen in our game – that's the beauty of it – but with four league defeats already this season, I don't see Liverpool winning the title. And as the recent absences of Fernando Torres and/or Steven Gerrard have shown, they look half the team without them.
As a player for United I was fortunate to have a good record against Liverpool, at Anfield especially. The boss (Sir Alex Ferguson, that is) always played me there, even if I hadn't been in the team beforehand.
We always won there, or so it seemed. It's a hostile place for an opposition player, but an inspiring one. The famous sign says "This is Anfield". The heart says "This is it, what it's all about". I always knew we'd get verbals, but I'd always say to myself "I fancy this, by the way."
In reverse order, I recall scoring there in the title-winning season in 1999-00 (in a 3-2 win), we drew there in the Treble season (and beat them twice at home, including in the FA Cup), and I scored twice at Anfield in December 1997. And one of the most satisfying wins was in April 1997.
Earlier that season, while I'd been recovering from injury, I suffered breaks in both legs after a challenge by Liverpool's Neil Ruddock in a reserves match. We differed in opinion about how it happened; he said accident, I thought late and reckless. It doesn't matter now. I hardly knew Ruddock, there was no personal issue. Such things happen. I recovered. But I can say that it made me that bit hungrier to go to Liverpool that season and win. Which we did. I scored in a 3-1 victory that helped us wrap up the title.
The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar.
Ageless Giggsy still looks prime time
Wes Brown has just turned 30 and it was good to be invited to the small gathering he had to celebrate. I went with my wife, Shirley, and we had a few light bites and a little drink and it made me think how fast time flies. At the party, Wes said to me: "Coley, it only seems like yesterday we were celebrating your 30th." As regular readers know, I was 38 last week, so I responded by joking: "Yeah, and you know what, Wes? It's all downhill after 30 mate." That took the grin off his face!
On the other hand, you only need to look at another United stalwart, Ryan Giggs, who's 36 next month, to see it is possible to keep rolling back the years. I was at United's win over Bolton and Giggsy stood out for me. He's a natural left winger but can play centre midfield without batting an eyelid. He's got to be among the early contenders for Player of the Year.
Cole power ready to conquer the charts
Cheryl Cole looks set to be No1 with her new single after that performance on The X Factor last weekend. The show is a massive hit in my house. My wife and my daughter, Faith, just can't get enough, and if the producers are reading this, I'd appreciate it if you get me some tickets for them to watch live!
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