You can tell talking does him good, though. His strong support network of friends and family encourage him to do that all the time, and scold him on those occasions when his phone is switched off for a couple of days and the brooding and introspection takes over. We discuss the US elections, among other things, but Cole is never happier than when the conversation turns to football.
He has fun piecing together his perfect centre-forward from a list of the formidable strikers with whom he competed for an England spot in the 1990s and, as we debate the different merits of Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Michael Owen and others, Cole briefly mourns the decline of the No. 9 who plays off the shoulder and runs in behind.
“I love watching Jamie Vardy,” Cole says. “People may say he’s basic. Yeah he is basic – he basically runs in behind and there’s nothing wrong with that. With the majority of centre-forwards now, everything is in front, in front, in front. A lot of teams try to defend from or near the half way line now and that means there’s about 30 yards of space in behind but no one is prepared to make that run in behind. I don’t understand it. I don’t think people look at it being sexy to run in behind any more but of course it’s sexy. I enjoy watching those centre forwards who run in behind because they’re classed as bringing something different to our game now.”
Cole accepts the game has changed and that, with many teams playing a front three, it is often the duty of the wide forwards to make those runs in behind but he believes everything is cyclical. “Like anything in life, things come in and out of fashion,” he ponders. “I think any change will be dictated by whatever comes through so there may end up being a massive influx of kids who want to be old fashioned No. 9s and then you’ll start to see the game change again.
“Defenders hate a striker with pace who plays off the shoulder and runs in behind. I remember they’d always say to me, ‘Oi Coley, stop running in behind will ya’. They don’t want to defend against it.”
Cole is third on the Premier League’s all-time top scorer list with 187 goals, only one of which he points out was a penalty, and was an instrumental figure in United’s historic treble season in 1998/99, when his partnership with Dwight Yorke yielded 53 goals. Although the majority of his goals came in Newcastle and Manchester United colours, he still scored 51 in the top flight for Blackburn, Fulham, Manchester City and Portsmouth. All told, Cole won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League, in addition to being named the PFA Young Player of the Year after a 41-goal season with Newcastle in 1993/94. And, yet, he seldom gets much mention in those debates about the Premier League’s best strikers.
“I think people have always been disrespectful towards my goal return in the Premier League,” Cole says. “When people talk about the top ten, when they get to me it’s like they want to jump over third and get to fourth.”
Cole thinks Glenn Hoddle’s remarks remain a factor behind that. Defending Cole’s omission from his England squad for the 1998 World Cup finals, Hoddle suggested the United man needed too many chances to score. Has he seen Hoddle in recent years? “I have, Glenn’s totally different now to what he was as a manager,” Cole explains. Have his comments ever cropped up in conversation between the two of you? “Never.” But it’s there, in the room? “Yeah,” Cole says. “But I’ve grown, I’m older, I’ve gone through a hell of a lot of experiences in my life and I tell myself, ‘Andrew, don’t hold no grudges no more’.”
Cole enjoys his work as an ambassador for United and longs for the club to get back on top. He understands the criticism from past players such as Roy Keane and Gary Neville because “my mentality is exactly the same” but he is eager to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer given time. Not that he could have imagined Solskjaer as manager when they shared an Old Trafford dressing room together. “Ole would have been next to me – all the way down the list,” Cole says. “I never thought Ole would go into management. To become a manager you do have to turn into a bad guy to a certain extent and I’m looking at myself thinking, ‘Has Ole got that bad guy in him?’. But he’s done very well and I love to see what he’s trying to achieve.”
As for Cole, it remains one day at a time. He has drawn inspiration from the bravery shown by his daughter Faith in her battle with Lupus, an incurable condition that attacks the immune system, and set up the Andrew Cole Fund with Kidney Research UK to help raise vital funds. As he writes in the final sentence of his book: “I look back with pride and I look forward with hope. Tomorrow really is another day.”
- Fast Forward: The Autobiography: The Hard Road to Football Success by Andrew Cole is published on 12 November (Hodder & Stoughton, £20)