It was a surreal connection, something unprecedented in world football. He moves with a drop of the shoulder, but didn’t touch the ball. His movement pulls a defender away from the ball and his partner-in-crime cushions it comfortably in his ceaseless path. Selflessly, he places it back to his partner, who is, by now, free from both defenders and is in acres of space. He gladly receives it and places it to the right of the goalkeeper. Low, with just enough power. The net ripples. Barcelona were torn apart in three touches.
Such was the chemistry of arguably English football’s most famous duo – Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, who wrecked havoc wherever they played during their Manchester United days in the late 20th century. Khel Now got into a conversation with the latter when he arrived in India for the #ILoveUnited tour earlier this week.
Yorke was direct and unflinching in the conversation. We started off on the right path. “It is very important (the #ILoveUnited events). I have been to India quite a few times with the club and every time, I have seen how much football as a sport has grown in India,” he said.
“We all know that cricket is your first love, but the Indian (Super) League has grown and grown, attracting a lot of EPL players, like my colleague Wes Brown (he was present as well). Some of our most passionate fans are in India and we recognise this and respect their loyalty by returning season after season with events like #ILOVEUNITED.”
In tumultuous times for the club and Romelu Lukaku misfiring, we asked for advice from the senior pro who had a 0.60 conversion rate for the Red Devils. “It was great to see him on the score-sheet again (against Fulham) at the weekend (8th December 2018). He has said himself that he was carrying a little extra muscle post the World Cup, which he felt inhibited him a little. He is a talented player and he seems to have the determination to be back on form again,” said Yorkey, as he’s fondly called.
The event was a massive success in terms of numbers, with scores of United fans hovering inside the camp. United were playing Liverpool during the event and it didn’t end on the right note for the 20-time English champions, with Liverpool winning the game 3-1. Nevertheless, the Tobagonian harped on the importance of such events.
“Manchester United is lucky enough to have 659m global followers, 35m based in India and engaging with these fans is a priority for the club. It’s the opportunity to thank them for their support, educate them on our history as well as inspire future football fans. As a player, you always knew how big the club was, but you were focused on the games and your training. It is only now I have retired, I can fully appreciate our fans and it is great to have time to spend with them,” said the player who was a proven winner during his time at the club, with six titles in four years.
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Comparing the current situation of attacking options at United to his times, Yorke, who kept current interim manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer out of the starting XI a lot of times said, “It is healthy for a squad to have some competition for positions. It happened during my playing days and it meant you worked twice as hard to show the boss you were the one they should pick. A team always needs a back-up and it always needs some healthy competition.”
Boss – referring to Sir Alex Ferguson, the imperial and arguably the greatest manager in the history of football, had a huge impact on Yorke’s career, self-admittedly. “I don’t think there is anyone who can replicate what he achieved,” Yorke was all praise for his former gaffer.
“He has a certain way of dealing with people and everyone mattered. We were a team and that included everyone. It didn’t matter if you were backroom staff or a first-team player. He has influenced the careers of so many great players.”
“Given a chance, I’d love to come back to India again,” Yorke signed off, with his feet still moving in excitement as the Liverpool team-sheet came in. He mouthed names like Fabinho and (Mohamed) Salah with a hint of skepticism on his face. Later, we knew where that came from.