When you think about Manchester United in 1998/99, you think about an all-conquering, treble-winning side who swept all before them. It’s jarring to think, then, that after a 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal at the end of September, United slumped to 10th.
That forced a change. It was in October – away at Southampton – that Alex Ferguson brought Andrew Cole into the team to partner Dwight Yorke up front. Yorke was bought from Aston Villa in the summer of 1998, but Cole had already played for United for several seasons.
The success of Cole’s arrival back into the team alongside the new signing was instant: United scored 14 goals in their next three games, hitting three against Southampton, five against Wimbledon, and six against Brondby in the Champions League – half of them scored by the Cole and Yorke partnership.
It was a sign of things to come. Manchester United club legends Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to make do with substitute berths thanks to the front two’s lethality: 53 goals between them in all competitions that season saw the club lift three trophies. It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
It was fitting, though, that both comeback goals in that mythical final of the Champions League were scored by Solskjaer and Sheringham, though. United’s treble was a team effort, not just a case of two strikers running riot. In any case, United were 2-0 down to Juventus in the semi-final before, and it was Yorke and Cole who scored two of the goals to bring Ferguson’s side to the final in the first place.
The fact that the partnership was so prolific just illustrates the fact that this was a collective triumph, the likes of which English football hasn’t seen since and may never see again.
The next season was less fruitful for United, who didn’t compete in the FA Cup and were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals. It would have been impossible to replicate their 1999 success the next year, and there was an expected drop-off, though they did manage to retain their Premier League title, and the front two added another 46 goals to their partnership.
The arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2001 spelled the end of the Yorke and Cole years at Old Trafford, but throughout their time together at the club, they managed 129 goals between them in all competitions.
But, like all good partnerships, this was one of equality. As if to underline the fact that this was all a team effort, both players left the club in 2001/02 season. And between 1998/99 and 2002, Yorke scored 65 goals, and Cole 64.
The partnership is legendary, then, but at Icons of Football at the Belfry from 23-25 June 2017, they’ll be on opposite sides. Cole will join up with English football legends such as former teammates Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes, to take on a Rest of the World team including Yorke, Andriy Shevchenko and Pep Guardiola.