My old manager’s book – Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography – came out this week. You may have heard about it. If you haven’t, then you must have been out of contact with the rest of the planet.
Sir Alex mentioned me several times. Largely in a positive vein, I am pleased to say. He even described me and Eric Cantona as peacocks.
I am flattered that, a) he mentions me with Eric, and b) that he compared us to such beautiful birds. I did not know the manager was into bird watching.
I loved playing football for that man and enjoyed great success under him. I have a huge amount of respect for him, though not all my former teammates were received such positive reviews.
Sir Alex and Roy Keane had their differences. Not everyone can get along in football or in life. Nor do they need to.
Teddy Sheringham and I did not get on and it did not affect our relationship on the pitch. Great player, Teddy, yet we could not stand each other. As I have mellowed with age, I look back at it differently.
I just wanted to win, and so did he. We were under pressure, in competition with each other and I think we both used that to motivate ourselves, even if it came at the cost of a personal relationship.
We will probably look back over a drink when we are old men and think how stupid we were.
Differences arise between very strong personalities. My dad used to say that there wasn’t room for two bulls in one pen.
The gaffer and Roy found room. The gaffer gave Roy, the most driven, single-minded player at the club, the power to be his voice on the pitch and in the dressing room. Roy spoke his mind, but once you give someone power, it is hard to take it back.
He makes reference in his book to Roy’s tongue, describing it as “the most savage tongue you can imagine. He can debilitate the most confident person in the world in seconds with that tongue”.
Roy’s tongue was an asset. He used it as a motivating tool. There was not a single player he did not have issues with, at one stage or another.
Why? Because he was so absolutely driven to win that it came at all costs. I liked that about him – it rubbed off on us.
He had few words for me. Instead, he had give me a look to kill with those frightening eyes. I had give him a look back.
I might have been annoyed, but I knew he wanted more from me, I tried to give him more. More, more, more.
He was going off on the pitch in Camp Nou against Barcelona in 1998/99, going crazy at Dwight Yorke if his first touch was not perfect. He was so pumped up that we had to make it perfect.
Because he did not get hold of the ball to his liking, because he was trying too many flicks and dummies. He simply refused to contemplate the idea of defeat to a side rated as the best in the world in their home stadium.
He would not entertain that idea and drove that team forward. He even set up a goal for Yorke to score as we drew 3-3 on the way to winning the competition, though Yorke could have scored six and it would not have been enough for Roy.
His motivation worked. He only wanted the best.
So did his manager.
It was a pleasure to work with both. I liked both then and I like them now.
While Roy’s words were hard, they were not personal. He took Yorke to Sunderland when he was manager there. Me, too.
While I was a player there, I told him that the lads were too scared of him. His eyes tightened.
“Me? Why are they scared of me?”
He answered his own question, the greatest captain I ever played for. A few years ago, Roy turned up to play a veterans’ game with his former teammates.
I was surprised to see him, because it wasn’t his type of thing, mixing politely with former rivals.
Roy said it would be a bit of fun.
Five minutes into the game, he was raging like the Roy of old. He never did lose that fire, nor did our old manager.
It made them both winners.
Andrew Cole’s column is written with the assistance of the European correspondent Andy Mitten.
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