x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The beauty and the beast

I am often asked which striker I rate the highest in the Premier League. It's an impossible question to answer and I'll explain why.

Fernando Torres, left, and  Didier Drogba are, according to Andrew Cole, the Premier League's two most deadly strikers
Fernando Torres, left, and Didier Drogba are, according to Andrew Cole, the Premier League's two most deadly strikers

I am often asked which striker I rate the highest in the Premier League. It's an impossible question to answer and I'll explain why. To have an effective strike-force isn't just about one individual, but a combination of attacking players. In the Manchester United team who won the Treble in 1999, Dwight Yorke and I were most effective with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs supplying us with crosses from the right and left, with Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham or Paul Scholes behind - always looking to make the killer pass.

Dwight and I were always on our toes because we knew that the club's best finisher, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, could be introduced at any moment - as he was with devastating effect in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Yet it's only natural to admire individuals, especially if you are a striker. United fans may not agree, but if I had to pick two out at the moment then it would be Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Chelsea's Didier Drogba.

Torres stunned me when he arrived from Atletico Madrid because he settled so quickly. The Premier League is totally different to the Primera Liga, but you wouldn't know it watching Torres. Nothing phases him. I know that Manchester United watched him closely but decided that given the likely fee - Liverpool paid £26million (Dh153.1m) - he wouldn't be good enough to play at Old Trafford. United scouts judged him receiving the ball in all different positions and watched his reactions. We all make mistakes and not signing Torres was one because I've spoke to several of the current United players about him and they all say the same thing: "Top, top player."

The Spaniard reminds me of that great Liverpool goalscorer Ian Rush. He seems to drift in and out of games while always remaining a threat. At times, Torres can make out he's almost uninterested, and then tunes in, just like that, and he's away with the ball with fantastic pace. Torres's game isn't just about the box but he's most dangerous there because his close control allows him to take possession in confined areas. He can transfer the ball from foot to foot to create space to get in a shot.

Drogba is a completely different type of player. He's all about pace, power and aggression. I wasn't sure when I first saw him after Chelsea had bought him from Marseille but I was quickly won over. Drogba's a monster who bullies centre-halfs. Defenders hate playing against him because he charges at them and gets in behind them. If you're playing against him, you're going to have doubts in your mind from the first minute.

Wayne Rooney is another great forward. He can play centre- forward, right and left wing. He would probably play in net and do well - he actually plays in net a lot during training at Carrington. Rooney's work ethic is faultless, he plays for the team and he's got everything. When Manchester United look at young new players, they search for seven or eight key attributes. They'll usually sign a player if they have six. When they first saw Rooney at Everton they privately admitted that he had everything. United fans call him "the white Pele". He's not at Pele's level, but Rooney is thriving in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence, has started the season really well and is nudging towards the level of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo. Rooney can change a game and he's Manchester United and England's most important player.

I'll talk about one of my former clubs, Sunderland, another time because their manager Steve Bruce and strikers Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones are really impressing me at the moment, but there's one other striker I'd like to mention near the top of the goalscorers' chart. Like me, Jermain Defoe went to the National School of Excellence at Lilleshall. Most players from there don't make it to the top level, but he's had a great career. Defoe is very sharp. He's only small, but he's quick and with two good feet. He always tries to score goals too - no matter what the angle. He started this season in superb form and had become an important player for England.

It all looked so different for him at the start of 2008 when he felt he had to leave Tottenham because he wasn't playing enough. Tottenham had paid West Ham £6m three years earlier, but Defoe was sidelined when Darren Bent was signed so he joined Portsmouth for another £6m fee to get the minutes he felt he deserved. Tottenham soon realised their mistake and bought him back for £16m. He's now playing every week and gaining the confidence which comes with that. At 27, he's also mature enough and at the best of his game but is he in the same class as Torres, Rooney or Drogba? No - but then few are.

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