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Andy Cole remembers his World Cup regrets

Former Manchester United goal scoring wizard Andy Cole admits he regrets leaving Old Trafford in 2001 because not only did it cost him numerous honours including two Premier League titles, but also because he failed to make Sven Goran Eriksson‘s 2002 World Cup squad. Cole suggests he left Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to join Blackburn Rovers with the sole aim of being involved at the World Cup having missed out in 1998.

Having left Manchester United in December 2001 to join Blackburn Rovers, Cole enjoyed a good season at Ewood Park scoring 13 goals in 20 games and securing the Carling Cup trophy. The former Old Trafford marksman was involved in almost all of the England squads in the build up to the World Cup but Eriksson left him out at the last minute in favour of Darius Vassell.

Cole now believes that he would probably have been earned a call up to the England squad had he remained at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson wanted Cole to stay at Old Trafford at the time and the striker suggests leaving the club he served with distinction for the best part of seven years is the biggest mistake of his career.

The Manchester United legend admits that “The first time was in 1998 when I was close but then missed out. 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. That’s good for them and that’s part of football. Representing England was the ultimate honour for me. I’ve written before about how much it meant to my family and the 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 really mean that, he’s a nice guy. Hello Mr Eriksson’ I replied” before Sven continued “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 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 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 game time so I left for Blackburn. I won the League Cup with Rovers within a couple of months and I scored 13 goals in 20 games in all competitions in half a season and I thought I had done enough, but Sven had a different 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”


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