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Andy Cole at 50: A goalscoring great underrated on the world stage

Andy Cole at 50: A goalscoring great underrated on the world stage
© Reuters
As Premier League goalscoring legend Andy Cole celebrates his 50th birthday, Sports Mole looks back at his legacy and asks whether he is given the respect he deserves.

If one had never heard of Andy Cole and quickly glanced at his career highlights, they may justifiably feel as though football had overlooked one of its true greats.

A five-time Premier League title winner, two-time FA Cup winner and integral part of the Manchester United side which won the treble in 1999, Cole's resume stacks up against most other players from his era.

Add to that a League Cup with Blackburn Rovers and Cole is one of a select group to have won every honour available at the top level of the English game, in addition to individual honours such as the Premier League Golden Boot and PFA Young Players' Player of the Year.

During his 19-year professional career, Cole also became the most expensive British footballer of all time courtesy of his controversial switch from Newcastle United to title rivals Manchester United and racked up 187 Premier League goals - a tally which surpasses the likes of Thierry Henry, Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Robbie Fowler.

Indeed, only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney can boast more Premier League goals than the nomadic striker, who featured for no fewer than eight clubs in the top flight.

Perhaps the most appropriate statistic with which to celebrate Cole on his 50th birthday is the fact that he reached 50 Premier League goals faster than anyone, in just 65 games - one game quicker than Shearer, three quicker than Ruud van Nistelrooy and seven quicker than both Mohamed Salah and Fernando Torres.

That is made even more impressive by the fact that he had been playing in the Third Division just two seasons before making his Premier League debut.

Andy Cole pictured for Newcastle United in 1992-93© Reuters

Having helped to fire Newcastle's entertainers to promotion with 12 goals in as many games in 1992-93, Cole then netted 34 times in just 40 games during his first season in the Premier League - a goal record which still remains for a 42-match campaign.

That 1993-94 season saw him become the first player to top both the Premier League scoring and assists charts, proving he was more than 'just' a goalscorer, while he also ended the campaign with 41 strikes in all competitions for the Magpies, breaking a club record which has stood for 70 years.

However, Cole played just 27 more games for Newcastle before his shock switch to Old Trafford, ending his career in the North-East with a stunning record of 68 goals in 84 matches.

Yet, despite such an impressive roll call of honours, Cole's reputation on the world stage is far below those of every player mentioned before.

There is no doubt that his best days came during that prolific Newcastle spell - he never again passed 20 league goals in a season - yet the way he is remembered amongst Magpies supporters is undoubtedly sullied by the manner of his departure.

That said, Cole's trophy haul at Man United suggests that he does not regret the move, while his contributions during what was arguably the club's greatest ever period should not be underestimated.

Andy Cole for Manchester United in 1999© Reuters

The striker had to bide his time at Old Trafford having joined a club where Eric Cantona enjoyed the royal status he himself held at St James' Park, and was even dropped to the reserves at one stage, where he suffered two broken legs at the hands of Neil Ruddock.

Cole fought back, though, and soon became first choice under Sir Alex Ferguson before forming one of the most telepathic strike partnerships in English football history alongside Dwight Yorke - a pair who remain the standard for most Premier League front duos having contributed 53 goals between them in the treble-winning season.

Cole is very fondly remembered by Manchester United fans as a result, but despite his goalscoring exploits he would likely be some way down the pecking order in a Premier League greatest XI - both for Man United alone and the whole of the competition's history.

For a man who boasts a better Premier League scoring ratio than the likes of Rooney, Fowler and Les Ferdinand, that suggests that he is even underrated in his own country.

A large part of that may be down to his international record, which for a player with all the aforementioned records and statistics is remarkably bare - just one goal in 15 England appearances.

Cole incredibly did not earn a single cap during his record-breaking 1993-94 season, finally making his debut under Terry Venables in 1995. Indeed, his first four England appearances came under four different managers over a four-year spell.

It was not until Kevin Keegan - Cole's manager at Newcastle - took over the England reins in 1999 that the treble-winner made his first start for his country, and in total he spent just 919 minutes on the pitch in an England shirt.

Andy Cole pictured for England in 2000© Reuters

Seven of his 15 appearances came in friendlies, with the remaining eight split between World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, leaving one of the Premier League's greatest goalscorers without a single appearance at a major international tournament.

Granted, England were blessed with an embarrassment of riches up front at that time - Shearer, Michael Owen, Fowler, Ian Wright and Teddy Sheringham to name just five - yet Cole's tally of 15 appearances still seems impossibly meagre.

To put that into context, Tyrone Mings now has as many England caps as Andy Cole, while Darius Vassell won 22, Wes Brown won 23, Stewart Downing won 35, Phil Jagielka won 40 and Danny Welbeck won 42.

No disrespect to those cherry-picked few, but it would be a stretch to say any of them were a match for Cole for the vast majority of his career.

Of course, one goal from 15 games for a striker is nothing to shout about, but given that he never played more than three games in a row for his country that is perhaps to be expected.

Indeed, his solitary goal for England came during one of those three-game runs - in a World Cup qualifier against Albania which also saw him register an assist - yet he was left out of the next squad.

That international record - and perhaps a perception that he failed to fulfil the potential he showed in his early years at the top level - go some way to explaining why Cole is underrated on the international stage.

There is no doubt that his legendary status in Premier League terms is safe, but he arguably deserves to be held in even greater esteem as he celebrates his 50th birthday.

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