Andy Cole: How my son ended up at City's academy

The former United striker, who has never lost in a Manchester derby, speaks to Nick Harris about local rivalries, life as a former Reds hero, and his new move into coaching
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The Independent Football

Andy Cole left Manchester United in 2001 but in casual conversation he still refers to Sir Alex Ferguson as "the boss".

Talking about tomorrow's Manchester derby, he says: "The boss has gone on record as saying that Liverpool are the main historic rivals, and that's right, but there's no doubt things are changing. Manchester City could do well now because of the money they've got.

"I think United will win this weekend, judging by the performances the boss has got this season, like beating Tottenham with 10 men. City are playing well, but United will have the advantage at Old Trafford."

Cole is, of course, one of an illustrious band to have played for both Manchester clubs. Others include Denis Law, Brian Kidd, Peter Schmeichel and, most recently, Carlos Tevez. Cole's record in the fixture beats them all; no defeats and some famous victories.

He scored in his debut derby for United (February 1995 in a 3-0 win) and came close to a sensational winner in his debut derby for City (September 2005, 1-1 at Old Trafford). He scored in an important United triumph in April 1996 (3-2 at Maine Road) en route to the Double, and was part of City's 3-1 underdog success at Eastlands in January 2006.

"I've been fortunate that I never lost a derby," he says. "It's a brilliant occasion, intense, all about the bragging rights."

Eight clubs, including City, have come and gone in Cole's career since he last graced Old Trafford as a Red, yet today, 10 months after hanging up his boots, it's still impossible to separate the man from United.

The same is not true of his 14-year-old son, Devante, a promising striker, attached to City, of all clubs. That must make for some interesting chat around the breakfast table? "There's always banter," laughs Cole Snr. "But I'm happy for him where he is.

"I don't mind him being at City. He's been there since he was seven. He went to United for a day of training when he was younger and for whatever reason, he didn't feel comfortable. It's not for me to tell him where to go. He made his own decision.

"I just love watching my boy play. I get so much enjoyment from that. It's unbelievable. Half the time I'm kicking the ball for him. God willing he'll go and make it as a professional footballer. But I'm not like parents who are living a dream through their kids because I've lived the dream already."

That dream involved 12 clubs in 20 years, from Arsenal to Fulham to Bristol City to Newcastle, where he once scored a record 34 Premier League goals in a season.

That tally, not yet beaten, helped lead to a £7m move (a then British record) to United in January 1995. Cole won five Premier League titles there, and two FA Cups, one as part of the 1996 Double, the other in the 1999 Treble. He has scored more Premier League goals (187) than anyone but Alan Shearer, and also earned 15 England caps.

He called it a day, age 37, after a short, unsatisfactory spell at Nottingham Forest, even though he still felt he could play to Championship standard at least. Does he regret it? "No. I'd made my mind up, bosh. I'd no interest in playing on. It's not that I don't love the game. I love the game immensely. But my mind was made up."

It was a matter of "pride", he says, of having no desire to "bounce down" the divisions to the end of his playing days.

Golf has become the prominent sport in his life. We met this week, for example, on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, where Cole is a guest for the day at the exclusive, scenic golf club that hosts the Scottish Open. Some of Cole's spare time is also being spent arranging the provisionally titled "Andy Cole Classic", a golf event to take place next spring that will involve a variety of well-known figures raising money for charity.

Cole is being helped in that venture by Udo Onwere, one of his oldest friends in football. Onwere, 37, who played for Fulham, Lincoln and Barnet, is now a solicitor at law firm, Thomas Eggar LLP, working in their sport and media team, advising top players on their legal needs. Cole similarly has lofty post-playing ambitions, albeit in coaching, not law.

For now he is working two days a week – "on finishing, and having a laugh" – with the young, prolific strikers at Huddersfield, who are managed by his former Newcastle team-mate, Lee Clark. That job recently gave him his first playing action for some time.

"Since I've retired I'd not even had a kickabout until the other day when one of the boys, Jordan Rhodes, got injured in training. I came on for him for four minutes. I was lucky enough to get the winner. I had a bit of ribbing from the keeper. He saved a couple and I put one wide and he said 'Coley, it took you four chances before you scored past me'.

"I enjoyed that four minutes, I really did. But I know the reality. I miss the banter more than anything, but I'm done playing."

So what is his long-term plan? He talks passionately of his "work ethic" background, and of his father, Lincoln, who arrived in Britain in the 1960s from the Caribbean and worked as a miner in Nottinghamshire to support his family.

"Nothing's changed for me in terms of wanting to get up and go to work," says Cole. "It's not for the money but for a sense of purpose. I want to graft. It doesn't matter how much money you have, or how much you're perceived to have.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to work. People have a false impression of footballers that they've got x, y and z and no longer want to work. I want to fulfil my potential. I'm not old. I'm 37. Life starts now."