Andy Cole on whether Manchester United need to sign a striker: “Yes, 100%”

 | November 21 | 

18 mins read

Andy cole footy 1

£72 million summer signing Rasmus Højlund has had a testing start to life in the Premier League. Despite five goals in the Champions League this season, the Denmark international is yet to break his duck in the Premier League. Ex-Manchester United striker Andy Cole believes his former club should sign a proven, Premier League goalscorer that Rasmus can learn from. Speaking to Betfred, Andy also discussed the form of Antony and Marcus Rashford, why he doesn’t believe Jadon Sancho will move to Saudi Arabia in January and Erik ten Hag’s future.

Despite their disastrous Champions League campaign to date, Manchester United have won four of their last five Premier League games. Do you believe there have been signs in recent weeks that suggest that your former club are improving or do you believe those victories are masking problems at Old Trafford?

“If Manchester United were playing attacking, galvanising football and the results weren’t going their way, then we’d all say it was unlucky, but I think we can all see that hasn’t been the case. No disrespect to Luton, but ten years ago if they travelled to Old Trafford, they would have been expecting a hiding and being on the end of five or six goals. For Manchester United to only win 1-0 at home, the victory was masking their struggles. Against Fulham they won with a late goal, so people may think that they’ve got a couple of wins and they’re back on track, but I wouldn’t assume that’s the case.”

Do you believe injuries are a valid excuse for Manchester United’s form this season?

“Injuries are a part and parcel of football and most of the big clubs have large squads. Injuries are the reason why they have big squads. When injuries occur, you either have a player to step straight in or you blood your youngsters, which is something that Manchester United have been famous for. Marcus Rashford is an example of that and that’s why everybody talks about the club’s academy. 

“I can’t buy into the excuse that injuries are the reason behind the team's form at present because that’s football. Manchester United should have the resources for players to step in and perform in the absence of another player. It’s not as if they have eleven players and nobody else. Pep Guardiola the other day claimed that he couldn’t think about the injured players in his squad because he needed to focus on the players he had at his disposal and that’s what Manchester United need to do right now.”

There have been question marks over whether Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United side has a firm identity. If you don’t think they do, then do you believe Erik has a long-term future at the club? 

“Football’s so up and down, so you can never know what’s going to happen. What’s the lifespan of a Premier League manager? 18 months? If that. 

“At times this season Manchester United have been disappointing in the way they’ve played and naturally people are going to ask questions. We need to put last season on the back burner because that was last season and unfortunately we can’t live in the past. Last season brought a lot of positives and they had to build on those positives. They’ve been lacking confidence and an identity, so there are many different factors for why Manchester United haven’t performed well this season. 

“They should have been playing with the confidence that they were playing with last season, but they’re not and that’s all down to not winning enough matches. That’s it. If you’re not playing with confidence and the players are questioning each other, then you’ve got problems. You’ve got to play as a team and you can’t play as individuals. I believe they’re playing as individuals at this moment in time.”

On Wednesday, it was confirmed that Manchester United’s CEO Richard Arnold will leave the club at the end of the year. Do you feel confident about what you’re hearing regarding Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s rumoured shake up of the club’s footballing operations?

“I’ll be honest, I’ve not really thought about it because it’s not happened yet. Until the deal’s announced, it’s just speculation. Once it’s done, then we can talk about what’s going to happen and whether X, Y and Z are all being sorted, but until that happens, it’s just speculation.”

Reports are suggesting that Sir Jim Ratcliffe is seeking guidance from Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of an overhaul of Manchester United’s footballing operations. Is this the right move in your opinion?

“This is my opinion, but when you look at the examples of Real Madrid and Barcelona, I don’t believe a manager should come in and completely change the way a club plays. There needs to be a common identity that represents the history of a football club. Now if Sir Jim Ratcliffe is going to consult Sir Alex and try and get Manchester United playing the way Manchester United should play, then you can understand it because of how successful the club was under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and how they gave the club its identity. 

“There have been so many managers that have come in after Sir Alex left and each of them have implemented their own style of play and for me, that shouldn’t be happening. When Steve Jobs passed away, did Apple change their approach? No, it’s tried and tested and it works. There have been five permanent managers in the ten years since Sir Alex Ferguson departed and they’ve all played a different way and they would have required major changes in their playing staff for each of them to have been successful. 

“There have been some really good players that have moved to Old Trafford during that period and for whatever reason, it’s not worked out for a lot of them. Manchester United needs to get back to what Manchester United are.”

Is Bruno Fernandes a ‘proper’ Manchester United captain in your opinion? Do you believe pundits criticising his credentials as a leader are wrong?

“First and foremost, captains now are different to captains in my day and they lead in a different way. If you look at all the captains in the Premier League currently, how many of them share characteristics with captains from ten or twenty years ago? Not many do. 

“There’s talk about Bruno Fernandes not being the right choice for captain, but if you look around the Manchester United dressing room currently, then who else would you give the captaincy to instead? There’s not four or five standout contenders. When I was at the club, you could have possibly given the captaincy to Jaap [Stam], Denis [Irwin], Peter [Schmeichel], Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) or Scholesy (Paul Scholes). There were so many options back then but nowadays, players are different and lead in a different way. Bruno leads in a different way and I understand it. I can also understand that people don’t want to see a captain waving his arms about in frustration, which I personally believe is disrespectful to his teammates, but at this moment in time, he’s the man and he will captain the side in a way which he believes is beneficial to himself and his teammates.”

As a former Manchester United striker, we want to ask you about Rasmus Højlund being unable to break his duck in the Premier League. Do you believe he should be doing more in his position or do you believe a lack of service is the reason behind his struggles? What does he need to do to get off the mark?

“For such a young kid, it’s got to be really difficult for him. I have sympathy because he’s been brought in at such a young age, for a big transfer fee and he’s gone into a team that doesn’t create a lot of chances. You need to ask the question, who’s he learning from? When I was at the club, there was Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes to learn from. They were massive players. 

“Rasmus has come in and he’s got the added pressure of being their main striker because the club hasn’t had a prominent goal scoring centre-forward since Robin van Perise. He’s been successful in the Champions League, but European football is completely different to the Premier League.

“I believe Rasmus is doing all he can do. Hopefully he can get his first Premier League goal very soon, but I understand how difficult it is for him. He’s such a young man and he’s learning on the job.”

So do you believe Manchester United need to sign a proven, Premier League goalscorer?

“Yes, 100%. Manchester United should never be in a position where they’re depending on a 20-year-old centre-forward. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City have established forwards in their respective squads and they have young strikers who can come in and learn from them. Højlund’s come to Manchester United and doesn’t have anybody to learn from. What does he know about the Premier League? He hasn’t scored in his first nine league games and if you haven’t scored during that period, then you’re going to be asking yourself questions, for sure. I don’t believe he should be in that position because he’s learning the game.”

How concerned are you by the form of Marcus Rashford this season? What do you believe is going wrong for him currently? What does he need to do to get back into form?

“I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. His form was phenomenal last season, but if you look at his form from two years before that, it was similar to what it’s like now. The freaks such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo never took a season off. Around twenty years at the highest level and they never took a season off. That’s what you’ve got to be like to play at that elite level. 

“Only Marcus knows what’s going on in his head at the moment. His form over the last four or five years has been inconsistent and I don’t know what he can or can’t do to get himself back on track. He starts week in, week out and that’s something that every player wants. If I had one goal to my name in sixteen appearances, then I’d go right back to basics on how I train, how I finish or whatever it may be. I’d do whatever it took to get me back into form.”

Christian Eriksen has been ruled out for the next month with a knee injury. Do you back Mason Mount to step up and fill the void in midfield? Are you confident Mason can come good for Manchester United?

“We find ourselves in a tricky situation at Manchester United. We end up paying £60 million for a player that’s out of contract in a year's time. He’s come to the club from Chelsea and I’m sure he’d tell you that his start to life at Old Trafford has been harder than he would have expected. 

“It’s been a tough season for him and he hasn’t hit the ground running. He gets an injury, gets left out, suffers another injury, comes back in, the team isn’t playing particularly well and people are looking at him and saying, ‘come on, you need to turn up,’ but you can say that about quite a few of the players.

“It’s been tough for him. With Eriksen out for a month, we will have to wait and see if he’s given the opportunity to play himself into form. He knows that he needs to do better and his and the team's performances need to pick up. They’ve got a tough game coming up against Everton on Sunday and it’s not an easy game to come back to after international duty.”

Why do you believe Erik ten Hag has dropped Raphaël Varane from Manchester United’s starting eleven? He’s been heavily linked with a move to Saudi Arabia and now he’s appeared to fall out of favour, do you believe he could push for that move in January?

“It’s very surprising. At the start of the season, Harry Maguire found himself in a position where the manager basically turned to him and said, ‘I’m not going to stand in your way - if a club comes in for you, then you can go’ and Harry doesn’t end up leaving. Raphaël Varane at the time was the number one centre-back at the club, alongside Lisandro Martínez, and now fast forward three months into the season, everything’s turned around. Harry Maguire’s form has improved significantly, Raphaël’s no longer the star of the show and now he’s linked with a January move to Saudi Arabia.

“Do I think Raphaël will push for a move to Saudi? He has no reason to push it. He’s been in the game long enough and understands what football’s all about. If he’s fallen out with the manager because he’s been told that he’s not the number one starter anymore, then if something does come his way in January, he will obviously take it into consideration but you just don’t know. In the game against Luton last weekend, he was still on the bench and [Victor] Lindelöf was in front of him, so I don’t know if the manager’s trying to tell him something there. That’s football.”

Paul Scholes recently claimed that he believes Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans are Erik ten Hag’s preferred centre-back pairing as he trusts them more than Raphaël Varane when it comes to playing out from the back. Why do you believe they’re the preferred centre-back pairing?

“When you play at Real Madrid as a centre-half, you’ve got to be decent on the ball. When you look at his time at Real Madrid playing alongside Sergio Ramos, the two of them were both good in possession. I understand Paul’s logic, but I think Varane was very good during his time at Real Madrid, he understands the game and he’s very comfortable on the ball. 

“Who would have believed at the start of the season that it would be Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans as the preferred centre-half pairing? It’s crazy. Jonny has gone in, trained himself fit, thought about retirement, went back to play for Manchester United again and has played very, very well when he’s been given the opportunities. 

“Harry Maguire was told he could go and ended up playing his way back into the team. People are now talking about how good his performances have been and how he’s leading the team. It’s a crazy turnaround.

“The only person who can answer whether it was a tactical decision to drop Varane is the manager.”

We previously mentioned that Raphaël Varane is being linked with a January move to Saudi Arabia, however there are two other Manchester United players linked with a move to the Middle East also. The first one we want to ask you about is Casemiro. It’s been suggested that the Brazil international could be axed due to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s reported rebuild of the Manchester United squad, but do you believe Casemiro has a lot more to give this season and do you think he’s indispensable to Erik ten Hag’s team?

“He’s not the only Manchester United player that’s had a tough start to the season, and that’s what we need to remember. Manchester United haven’t even got close to the heights that they touched last season. I don’t think any player from that team can get much credit for their performances this season, except for Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire. They were two players that the club tried to get rid of in the summer and they’ve done phenomenally well to play themselves back into the team.

“I think Casemiro knows what he is and realises that he’s had a tough start to the season, but I think with the ability he possesses and the class he has, then he’ll come back, no problem, but it all depends on where Manchester United are looking to go.”

The final Manchester United player that’s linked with a January move to Saudi that we want to ask you about is Jadon Sancho. According to the Daily Telegraph, Jadon and Tottenham forward Richarlison are reportedly top targets for Saudi clubs this winter. Do you believe Jadon would be open to the prospect of playing in the Middle East and if he does make the move, will he be wasting his enormous potential?

“I can’t see him going to Saudi Arabia. He’s 23 years old, so I can’t see him going there. The situation between him and Erik ten Hag continues to drag on, but I can’t get behind the idea of a young man of his quality, at 23 years of age, going to Saudi. Unfortunately, whatever’s gone on between him and the manager seems unresolvable. I don’t think he will struggle when it comes to finding a new football club. 

“He may have not reached the heights that he was expected to at Manchester United, but there are so many good players that have come to the club in recent years, and for whatever reason, it’s just not worked out for them. However, some of those players have ended up moving on and been a success elsewhere and that can be the same for Jadon.

“I’m sure Jadon will be a success at whatever club he decides to move to, but I can’t see him leaving Old Trafford for Saudi in January.”

What are your thoughts on Antony’s form this season? Do you believe he can hack it in the long-term in the Premier League?

“If I played with Antony, it would drive me mad. As a centre-forward, if you’re playing with someone like Antony and he doesn’t get to the byline and put crosses in, then you’re going to be pulling your hair out. Strikers need crosses, especially Rasmus Højlund who hasn’t scored in the Premier League yet. When Antony cuts in on his left-foot, nine times out of ten he’s going to shoot. The only chances Højlund’s going to receive from Antony is if the opposition goalkeeper parries any of his shots from distance. 

“I sometimes have to ask myself what Antony’s strengths are? He doesn't take players on, he doesn’t create chances and he doesn’t score goals. So what are his strengths?

“We paid a massive amount of money for him. When you look at a club like Brighton who signed [Kaoru] Mitoma for £2.7 million, then you have to ask what market are Manchester United shopping in when Brighton pays that for Mitoma and we end up paying £86 million for Antony? Are we not shopping in the same market? It’s like Primark and Zara; you think by paying more to shop at Zara, the quality will be better, but it turns out to be the same as Primark, so you end up paying more for the same thing.

“I look at the transfers we’ve made over the last 10 years and we’ve spent a hell of a lot of money on players that other clubs would have paid less for, so is it a case of Manchester United tax? We can’t continue doing that.

“Antony’s had a really disappointing season. I understand he’s had things going on in the background, but that aside, playing football is ultimately what he does and I struggle to see what he has given the team so far. If his form doesn’t improve throughout the season, you never know what will happen. It all depends on how much longer the manager wants to stick with him.”

Considering the injury crisis that Manchester United are experiencing currently, do you believe Sunday’s game away at in-form Everton is going to be a tough task for your former club? What’s your prediction for the game? Do you believe Everton will be fired up in response to their Premier League record points deduction?

“This will be a really tough game for Manchester United. I think Everton are going to be really galvanised and they’ll want to respond positively after they were handed the points deduction. They know that they need to win games to get themselves out of the bottom three. Despite the victory, it wasn’t an easy game for Manchester United last season and if they can come away from Sunday’s game with a draw, then I’d take that all day long. 

“Everton will be absolutely devastated that they were deducted ten points, but they’re in good form and Sean Dyche has got them going. Manchester United have been very unpredictable so far and if they can come away from the game with a draw, then that would be a good result in my opinion.”


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