Andy Cole has spoken with regret about choosing to leave Manchester United 2001 in the hope of getting in to the England squad for the World Cup 2002.
Speaking to The Independent, Cole claims that he thought more regular football and more goals would help sure up his place with England, but he faced the double disappointment of missing out on the squad and no longer being a United player.
He said: The first time I was close but missed out was in 1998, when I wasn’t picked by Glenn Hoddle, a manager who, in my view, let personal animosity between us influence a footballing decision. But Glenn has never been one to hold back on his personal views, as his loopy remarks about disabled people later showed.
The second time I missed out was in 2002, causing the biggest single regret of my professional life. I had left Manchester United for Blackburn in late 2001 with the specific and sole aim of earning a place in England’s 2002 World Cup squad, and then it didn’t happen; I’m still not certain why.
I don’t feel lingering hurt. Life’s too short and you can’t change the past, and others got to go to a tournament that I didn’t, and that’s good for them, and that’s part of football. But representing England, for me, was the ultimate honour. I’ve written before about how much it meant to my family and wider community. Playing for England at a World Cup would have been just wonderful.
The omission from Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad in 2002 was something of a surprise because Sven had called me in early February of that year. ‘Hello Andrew, it’s Sven,’ he said in his usual friendly way (and I mean that, he’s a nice guy). ’Hello Mr Eriksson,’ I replied.
’I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be picking you in the squad for the friendly coming up,’ he said. England were playing the Netherlands in Amsterdam. ‘But don’t worry,’ Sven added. ‘It’s just because I want to have a look at a few other players. You’ll be in the next squad, for sure.’
I said: ‘That’s fine, I understand, thanks for letting me know.’
That was February 2002. And, dear reader, I can disclose that I’m still waiting for Sven’s next call! Yes, I’m still waiting to be included in his next squad. It’s untrue that I’ve not spoken to Sven since then, because we met last year when he asked whether I fancied coming out of retirement to join the Notts County dream (!). But I didn’t speak to Sven between being told I’d be in his next squad in 2002, and bumping into him in 2009.
I bear Sven no grudge, but it was a confusing time for me because I had left United with the express aim of getting the regular first-team football and goals that I felt would be necessary to get me on the England plane to Japan and South Korea.
Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want me to leave United back then. He said he’d be happy for me to stay, but he was also honest and said he’d never give a player guarantees about games. So I left for Blackburn. I won the League Cup with Rovers within a couple of months (against Tottenham managed by Hoddle, sweet), and I scored 13 goals in 20 games in all competitions in half a season. And I thought I had done enough, but Sven differed in his view, and that was that.
In the end, Sven took Michael Owen, Teddy Sheringham, Darius Vassell and Robbie Fowler. Those are the tough choices Sven was paid to make, and as a player in contention for a place, you know the manager might always be swayed by something another player does.
If I had stayed at United, maybe I would have been part of another two title-winning teams, or more. So in hindsight I do regret leaving United when I did, because my World Cup dream didn’t come to fruition. I tell you this story to illustrate how much of a lure the planet’s most important football tournament can be. I changed my club – and my life, leaving my beloved United – to chase it.