Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke combine again: We used to laugh at Arsenal, now the joke is on Man Utd

Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole at the premiere

Twenty five years after scoring all those goals to help Manchester United to become the first English club to win the Treble, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole are still bouncing off each other.

They are back together in Manchester for the premiere of 99, an intimate new documentary series that will air on Amazon Prime Video next week and reveals the personal struggles, doubts, dressing room conflicts and miraculous moments behind a legendary season that culminated in that unforgettable night in Barcelona.

It is a captivating watch and, even now, all this time on, you can see a mixture of emotions – pride, relief, joy, gratitude – bubbling up in Yorke and Cole as they reflect on one of football’s most extraordinary roller-coaster rides.

What is clear is the “Calypso Boys”, as they were fondly dubbed, have lost none of their chemistry. They finish each other’s sentences like they once did attacking moves, the conversation moving at the sort of pace and energy with which they danced around defenders until all that misty-eyed reminiscing leads us to a stark appraisal of the current team and neither can conceal their sadness – a tinge of anger but mostly sadness – at what the club has become.

“Of course it’s hard,” Cole says, solemnly. “It’s hard because I never saw Manchester United in this position, I’ve got to be brutally honest. Ultimately, the team that I was involved in, we left a legacy for players who want to come to the club and try to emulate us and do the same thing.

“Sometimes I look at the team now and the teams previously and you scratch your head because you’ve got to understand what Manchester United is all about. It’s about winning, it’s about competing, it’s about being involved in and pushing for major honours, especially in the domestic game. We’re so far away. We keep saying, ‘Oh, another couple of years’, but it’s been longer than a couple of years. When are Man Utd going to be involved in the title race? Who knows? It is like that now.”

Mention of Arsenal is interesting and draws a cutting response. The Premier League leaders visit Old Trafford on Sunday hoping to take another step towards ending the club’s 20-year wait for the Premier League title. Yorke and Cole light up at the memory of all those titanic tussles with Arsène Wenger’s side, whom they pipped to the post in the league weeks after Ryan Giggs’ wonder goal settled that iconic FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park en route to the Treble. But they also remember Wenger’s final years at Arsenal and the amusement they would get from watching the North London club celebrate Champions League qualification while United would still be hoovering up the big trophies.

“Arsenal used to finish fourth and celebrate like they’d won the league and we used to laugh at them,” Cole says, unashamedly. “That’s where we are.”

Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson celebrate finishing fourth
Arsenal celebrate qualifying for the Champions League in 2013, a pitiable fate Yorke and Cole now feel is United's domain - Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Well, not even that. For the fifth time in 11 seasons, United have failed to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition and, the way they are going, Erik ten Hag’s dysfunctional team might miss out on Europe entirely this term.

Yorke picks up the theme, and the persistent drumming down of expectations. “That’s where we are and it’s hard to understand that bit,” he adds. “At the start, it never really registered we were playing for fourth place. That is a conversation that regularly happens [now]: ‘Oh, we finish in the top four. But what’s that?’ It’s crazy how the mindset has changed now and to hear me even get into that sort of conversation… we aren’t even qualifying for that, we’re out of that.”

Yorke shakes his head. “It’s so far apart, it’s not even close to say the least,” he says on how indistinguishable the United of the past decade are with the Class of 99.

Back then, Cole and Yorke were two of four top-level strikers at the club. The other two, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both came on to score as substitutes at Camp Nou and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the dying embers of that epic Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Between them, the quartet scored 76 goals across all competitions that season.

Now United have a negative goal difference with three league games remaining and have been relying almost solely on a vastly inexperienced 21-year-old striker, who is new to the Premier League, to lead the charge up front after failing to sign Harry Kane and placing far too much trust in that perennial misfit, Anthony Martial. Rasmus Hojlund, to Cole’s mind, was effectively set up to fail.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham
By contrast with the thinness of today's striking resources, Manchester United had the quality of matchwinners Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the bench in the Champions League final - John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

“I have said many times, for such a young man to come to a club like Man Utd and be expected to score goals… it’s difficult,” Cole said. “To come to Man Utd and know that you have no one to learn off, it’s difficult. When I came I had Sparky [Mark Hughes], Eric [Cantona]. They moved on and Yorkey comes in, Ole, Teddy and I genuinely like to believe that we took something from each other’s game. We learned off each other.

“You have a young man coming in and everyone is saying he is Man Utd’s No 9 and you are like: ‘He doesn’t have the experience to be Manchester United’s No 9.’”

Yorke is quick to respond when asked if he has ever wondered what it would be like to play as a centre-forward in the United of 2024. “I wouldn’t want to play,” the former Aston Villa striker chimes back. “Whether you want to face that sort of aggro coming in, it’s just knowing that there’s a lack of creativity, lack of passion, the negative talk about the team. It’s just a real bad place to be if you are a United player, not just a centre-forward.”

Cole is withering of Martial’s contribution after another season in which the France striker has been absent for long periods through injury, and gone missing when he has played.

“I think everyone knows that,” Cole says when asked if Martial has been a letdown. “Yeah, I think for someone who has been here nine years and he has not got 100 goals… People will say, ‘Oh, he’s had injuries or whatever’… I don’t care. For someone to be at Manchester United for nine years and not got himself 100 goals in total, that tells me that something’s not right.”

Anthony Martial
Cole and Yorke are particularly scathing about Anthony Martial - PETER POWELL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Yorke believes there is little chance of playing attacking, winning football when the team lacks a cohesive structure under Ten Hag, even if there is some sympathy for the injuries the team have suffered, particularly in defence.

“What you are seeing there is a rotation that is out of sync,” he explains. “When you play rotation in football and when you are winning games and it’s fluid, it looks great. But if you are not structurally organised…

“You have players who are running forward when they don’t need to run forward because they do not have a proper structure and discipline implemented.

“We played attacking football but we knew we could defend one v one, we had Jaap [Stam] and later the likes of Rio [Ferdinand] and [Nemanja] Vidic and those guys. When you are playing attacking football you must be able to defend one v one and we are not doing that at the moment so it’s hard. But you need structure and players are not playing their position, they can’t play in one position one minute and then out the next. We look really disconnected and you can’t do that at any level, let alone this level.”

The long and short of it is Cole and Yorke are not convinced United are quite the same draw they once were for players. When Sir Alex Ferguson came knocking on Newcastle and later Villa’s door asking for Cole and Yorke, the players did not have to think twice.

“I think that people are second guessing about whether they want to join United,” Yorke says. “It never used to be a club that you contemplated coming to. United is in for you? You don’t think about it. Now players are thinking :‘I am not so sure.’ And that’s not a good sign. Is it losing the X-factor? Maybe a little bit so. And that’s what it is.”

‘99’ will premiere on Amazon Prime Video globally on Friday, May 17.

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