Flashback Soccer England
I remember it very well - 25 years ago Manchester United surprised the Premier League with the record deal for Andy Cole. Sir Alex Ferguson proved himself a shrewd negotiator. An 8.25 million Euro deal that sent shock waves through England's football.
On 10 January 1995, 25 years ago today, star striker Andy Cole moved from Newcastle to Manchester United, the most expensive transfer ever made in the Premier League. England's record-breaking champions thus landed a surprise coup that contributed decisively to the club's dominance in the years that followed - and to their 1999 Champions League win, which is still painfully fresh in FC Bayern Munich's memory.
Seen from today's perspective, the Cole deal not only tells us something about the money explosion that has befallen football since then - but also about some of the timeless idiosyncrasies of the industry. And about the masterful negotiating skills of Manchester's iconic coach Sir Alex Ferguson.
Andy Cole was the striker of the hour
The fact that Ferguson managed to poach the absolute top performer from a direct rival in the middle of the season astounded the entire footballing nation at the time: Cole, born in Nottingham on 15 October 1971, had excelled with a rumbling goal quota after the rise of the "Magpies" in 1993, became top scorer in his first Premier League season with 34 goals in 40 games and shot his team, celebrated as "The Entertainers", to third place in the league.
In the winter of 1995, Manchester then left Ferguson's interest in the then 24-year-old and, to his own surprise, found open ears with fellow team manager Kevin Keegan. The former HSV (Hamburg / Germany) player had noticed that Cole had previously not played at his limit despite still having a good goal quota - and suspected he was thinking of changing. "Kevin thought that it would be best for the club and for Andy to make the deal," his then assistant Terry McDermott recalled in the Daily Mail.
Sir Alex Ferguson as a clever negotiator
Within days, a deal was negotiated that included a counter deal to move 19-year-old midfielder Keith Gillespie to Newcastle. Gillespie was informed on the eve of the announcement and was told that the deal would fall apart if he did not agree. "I was shocked," the guy from Northern Ireland now says, but a meeting with Keegan at short notice convinced him - and Ferguson returned the favour.
Sir Alex Ferguson also negotiated the salary of the expatriate Keith Gillespie
Thanks to Ferguson's negotiating skills, the young professional was thus able to celebrate an annual salary that was almost five times higher than today's (without inflation) figure of around 73,500 euros.
Manchester United dominated, Newcastle crashed
For Cole and Manchester, the deal paid off: Cole scored 121 goals in 274 compulsory matches for Manchester between 1995 and 2002. He won five championships with the Red Devils between 1996 and 2001 and the Champions League trophy in 1999 alongside David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Co. He formed a sensational team with Dwight Yorke, who signed in 1998. In the triple season they scored 53 goals in all competitions together.
Cole, who retired late in 2008, was involved in the CL triumph with four goals and two assists. In the final, which was traumatic for Bayern, he was the man who had been substituted for a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
For Newcastle the balance was mixed: On the one hand, Keegan made the club a contender for the title even without Cole, reinvesting Cole's millions in Les Ferdinand and David Ginola, followed the year after by legendary striker Alan Shearer, and in 1996 and 1997 Newcastle were runners-up twice in a row.
The criticism that with Cole, however, perhaps even more would have been possible, Keegan pursued, however. Rumors that they contributed to the alienation that culminated in the resignation of "King Kev" in early 1997 still persist today.
The title, which Keegan narrowly missed out on with Newcastle in 1996, was not granted to him until the end of his coaching career in 2008. Newcastle also finally sank back into mediocrity.