Ahead of this weekend’s momentous derby, Manchester United and England legend Andy Cole has insisted that Wayne Rooney is the main man at Old Trafford who has earned the right to play where he wants.
“He is going to play a massive role because it’s Wayne Rooney. People have questioned his position for England but that’s England, man. He has earned the reputation where, if no one is better in a certain position, he can play in that position. Of course he’s going to play a big part but there is competition for places now, which is always a key thing for Manchester United”
Some of that competition comes in the form of a formidable midfield presence who cost United twelve times the £7m fee that made Cole the most expensive player in Britain when he signed from Newcastle back in 1995. The weight of the world and 89 million pound coins rests on Paul Pogba’s shoulders, yet a series of assured performances is already lessening the impact of the astronomical sum needed to wrestle him back from Juventus. Cole is evidently a fan.
“I can’t see why he can’t be the complete midfielder. For such a young man to go to Italy and do what he did then of course he can. He can be a special player at Old Trafford and that’s why they paid all that money to bring him back.”
“To cope with the price as he has done, it’s just water off a duck’s back. So fair play to him to come back to Old Trafford for unfinished business.”
It is business expected to include plenty of silverware but having played ahead of arguably the greatest midfield duo the club has ever boasted, Cole knows all-too-well the exceptional standards that are required and demanded to drive the global giants to glory. Any comparison therefore between Pogba and either Keane or Scholes is – at this stage at least – chuckled away.
“Roy and Scholesy, well I’m very biased because I played with the pair of them. Pogba has the ability to become a fantastic player. But will he surpass them two? I’ll tell you what; if he does then he’ll turn out to be some player. Those two were absolutely phenomenal”
“I’m very biased. The ’99 team was a very good team and what we achieved means a lot of people love that team and want to see Manchester United play like that team.”
And there is the rub. For as great as that era was – for club and supporters alike – it set an almost impossible benchmark for all subsequent teams to follow. It is fair to state that under the brief tenure of David Moyes and drawn-out gloom of Louis Van Gaal, the thirteen times Premier League champions fell far below that level. With the self-appointed Special One now scowling on the touchline, might an overdue resurgence be on the cards?
“I’m hoping the good times are returning and you can certainly see a swagger. All the players are talking about what he (Mourinho) wants to win. The few games we’ve had so far you can see the fear factor returning and that’s what Manchester United is all about. These past few years teams have gone to Old Trafford believing they can win. When you played under Sir Alex Ferguson teams would just hope they wouldn’t get beat by five. Mourinho is bringing that back now and they’re starting to look like the old United.”
Pogba may still have much to prove it seems but here a lofty comparison is more deserving.
“Jose has the same great aura about him as Sir Alex. Look at what he’s done in the game – going to Italy and Spain and doing it out there - and now he’s trying to emulate his phenomenal record in England.”
Whether he does only time will tell, but an immediate challenge for Jose – in addition to a forthcoming Manchester derby for the ages – is to revive a player in Anthony Martial who has clearly lost his mojo in recent weeks. Does he have the man-management chops to put the va-va-voom back into the French forward?
“I see it as an extension of the Euros. He played a game then got left out and didn’t feature after that and of course that’s going to dent your confidence. He’s a young man and had a fantastic season last season with Manchester United but confidence is everything. He is too good a player not to turn that around and Mourinho will help Anthony get his confidence back. He has worked with players his age before.”
“I’ll think he will be okay because all it takes is a goal and I’m not sitting here worried about him because he is far too good not to get out of the slump he’s in.”
Illustrating just how difficult a task modern coaching is at the other end of the scale, Mourinho must also accommodate a raw striker who has no such crisis of self-belief: indeed he scores for fun, including a sensational hat-trick this week on his England Under 21s debut. Just how good is Marcus Rashford and, perhaps more pertinently, will he be granted sufficient opportunity to fulfil his immense promise for the Reds?
“He’s had a great start to his career: he’s been brilliant and I’m hoping he has enough games this season to show everyone how good he is. He has all the qualities for the big time and, like myself, he nicks a goal. Will he become a Manchester United great? We’re all hoping that he can be.”
With the grandmaster Guardiola at City and Mourinho controlling the reins at old Trafford the seasons to come will be box office in Manchester starting with this weekend’s tumultuous encounter. Cole – who played for both sides in his goal-laden career – believes picking an ultimate winner is too close to call
“If I knew who would do best in the next three years, then I’d head straight to the bookmakers!”
Andy Cole quickfire questions
Who will win the Manchester derby?
Who will win the Golden Boot?
If he stays fit then Sergio Aguero
Who will win the Premier League?
It’s a toss-up between United or City
Who will win the Champions League?
Barcelona, but I say that every year