x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Old friends can become new enemies in the English Premier League

Returning to a former club gives a player an added incentive to perform to a higher level than usual.

Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez faced his former team last season and received a warm welcome from Manchester United’s Chris Smalling.
Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez faced his former team last season and received a warm welcome from Manchester United’s Chris Smalling.

Wes Brown stared across at me in the Old Trafford tunnel. We were on opposing sides for the first time after I'd moved to Blackburn.

"If I've got to leave one on you I will, Coley," he said. His United teammates nodded in agreement.

"Don't wind Coley up or he'll be even more miserable," said Paul Scholes, smirking.

It was Scholes who "did me" in the match, going for a ball he knew he'd never reach and getting me instead. It was intentional and it should have been a foul, but the ref did nothing. Scholes didn't apologise, he just laughed. At me.

I could hardly get angry with him. We got on great and still do. He knew I'd bide my time and get him back, which I did when we next met with a similar clumsy challenge.

It's weird when you go back to your former clubs. I've heard Manchester City fans claim that former United players at Everton like Phil Neville and Darron Gibson, plus all the former United players at Sunderland, will go easy when the teams meet between now and the end of the season.

There's no chance of another former player, Carlos Tevez, going easy when City meet United on April 30. He'll have a point to prove, but then so will Sunderland's Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown and Kieran Richardson, as well as Everton's Neville and Gibson. Everyone will be hoping to beat United, in these final four league fixtures, no matter how much they enjoyed their time at Old Trafford.

Go easy? They'll probably try harder for numerous reasons.

For one, points mean prizes in the Premier League. The higher you finish, the more money the club - and the players - receive.

Professional pride is at stake too. Darron Gibson received dogs' abuse off Manchester United fans when he was at the club. They never took to him. How he would love to prove them wrong by scoring the winning goal for Everton and showing the United fans the player that he can be. Phil Neville, whose Everton play at Old Trafford on Sunday, has never entered a football field half-heartedly. He works his socks off every game, maybe more now than ever before.

Going back to your old club can have positives and negatives. I always tried that little bit harder. I wanted to shut up those thousands of Newcastle fans who were booing and jeering me for leaving St James' Park (and I'll never call it anything but that, no matter what sponsors call it). Those same fans had protested when I left and incidents like that make you realise how fickle football fans can be. Make you realise that over-the-top fan reactions are all part of the game.

Those jeering Newcastle fans may have thought they were unnerving me, but they were just spurring me on and making me more determined. I had no problem scoring against Newcastle, and scored nine goals against them in 12 matches for Manchester United, a better scoring record than against any other club. Sir Alex Ferguson knew that I was doubly focused on scoring against them and always started me. I celebrated the goals as normal. Maybe I would have been more respectful and not celebrated so enthusiastically if the fans hadn't given me so much abuse.

I still get abuse off Newcastle fans, the latest line being that Papiss Cisse is better than me. Fair enough, he might be. A few months ago they were saying that Demba Ba was better than me. I'm sure they'll have another hero in a few months.

It's not just the fans. My former teammates were critical of me, people like Rob Lee, who lambasted me for not working hard enough for the team. Interestingly, there were no such comments when I was scoring goals for fun for Newcastle, goals which would earn me a British record transfer fee move to Old Trafford.

Years later, after my time at Old Trafford was up, I also wanted to score when I went back to Manchester United - to show the fans who applauded me that I was still a quality footballer.

Playing against your former teammates and friends is tough because you are used to being teammates who train together, not opponents trying to get one over each other in an important match situation.

It's good because you know how to play against defenders you played against hundreds of times in training - but then they know how to play against you, know your tricks and turns. I always enjoyed the battles and I'm sure they did. There were times when I was kicked and times when I kicked, but I always shook hands at the end of the match knowing that I'd done my best. All those former Manchester United players will do exactly the same.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.


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