They may have recently sold Demba Ba to Chelsea, but on January 10, 1995, Newcastle lost one of their best strikers to a rival club as Andy Cole moved from United to United (Manchester). After scoring 55 goals in 70 league matches for the Magpies, Cole was dramatically sold for a £7 million cash-plus-player deal that saw Keith Gillespie go the other way. He went on to claim his place in the history books at Old Trafford.
Newcastle saw something in a young Andy Cole that Arsenal did not. In 1992, the striker had left the Gunners after being accused of arrogance at the age of 15 by then-manager George Graham and was plying his trade with Division One Bristol City when Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan spotted him while trying to haul the Magpies back into the top flight.
Already Bristol's most expensive signing ever at £500,000, Cole scored 20 goals in 41 games in 1992-93 - his only season with the club - and proved that he was more than capable of a place in the newly created Premiership. But, with a host of clubs tracking him, Keegan ensured that Newcastle were at the front of the queue before they sealed promotion.
There was a touch of confusion about the initial contact, however, as Cole told FourFourTwo magazine in 2010: "I was playing for Bristol City, in the days before mobile phones, when I came outside to see a note on the window of my car from my team-mate Russell Osman - it said: 'Coley, give me a call.' 'Kevin Keegan wants to phone you,' said Russell. I went home and awaited the call. 'Hello, Adrian,' Keegan said. 'I think you have got the wrong person, because I'm Andrew,' I replied. 'Ah, sorry, sorry. Anyway, we'd like you to come up as we're interested in signing you. Is there any possibility that you can get up to Newcastle tomorrow?' I said: 'I can't come tomorrow because I have to finish my laundry. I can come the day after, though.' He was a bit taken aback, but I did my laundry and went the day after."
Keegan's confidence in Cole was enough to persuade him to join after they met. Indeed, the club broke their transfer record, coughing up £1.75 million for the young striker in February.
Newcastle's history on their official website recounts: "Although the big fee United paid was classed by many as a gamble for a player with limited experience, Keegan's judgement was proved ever so right. Cole rapidly developed into a natural goalscorer with devastating pace and expert placement of his shot. Within a few short months he was the new No. 9 hero to the Toon Army."
Cole made an immediate impact. His 12 goals in as many games fired Newcastle to the First Division title, and the following season saw him cement his place in the first-team with an incredible 34 goals in 40 games alongside Peter Beardsley. When he first joined the club, Keegan had proclaimed: "Some people say the sky's the limit, but I'm interested in what's beyond the sky." The Magpies, having not finished in the top four since 1950-51, ended the campaign in third.
Named the PFA young player of the year for the 1993-94 season, Cole's stock was on the rise. But conflict was never far away. Despite his goals, he showed the same spiky attitude that had permeated his early years at Highbury and bust-ups were regular occurrences. The seeds were sown as the Magpies prepared to face Wimbledon in the League Cup in October 1993.
"Life went well for me at Newcastle until I fell out with Kevin Keegan, the manager," he wrote in a ghost-written piece in The National in 2010. "We were about to play Wimbledon in the League Cup. I was messing about in training. It was cold and I was knackered from the game on Saturday. 'What's wrong? Do you not fancy training?' Kevin asked. 'To be honest, no,' I replied. 'If you don't want to train, you might as well f*** off in then,' the manager replied. So, me being me, I went inside and didn't come out. He probably thought that I would go back out, but he didn't know my character."
Cole eventually returned to the club after heading down to London for a few days and missing training but, in his own words, "it wasn't the same for me at Newcastle after that". Having been persuaded to sign up with agent Paul Stretford by team-mate Scott Sellers, his eyes started to wander and, ahead of the 1994-95 season, Stretford had "got to work" finding him a new club.
The striker kept his focus, and the Newcastle fans were none the wiser that their star marksman was looking elsewhere to continue his career. Therefore, it was even more of a shock when, midway through the season, he moved to Manchester United for £7 million. Even his team-mates seemed to have been kept in the dark, as Rob Lee revealed: "When we noticed he was missing today [from training] we thought he was off on one of his London trips."
Steve Curry in the Daily Express, under a headline of 'Andy's attitude is key to riddle', wrote: "The answer to why Cole moved lies in the complex personality of the young goalscorer... there have been rumours about a morose boy with an attitude problem; irksome and stubborn. Ask any farmer whether a fretful cow will release its milk and you have the reason Cole, who has gone nine games without scoring for Newcastle, is looking ill at ease."
But even Cole admitted: "I never thought Newcastle would sell me to another English club." Having been keen to build the side around Cole - once claiming that he would "put the phone down on Fergie if he ever called about Andy" - Keegan rationalised the deal as a footballing decision and nothing more. "Andy Cole will score goals for Manchester United and there are times when that will be rammed down my throat," he said. "But people shouldn't think that there is any more to this than pure footballing judgement."
The fans, understandably, were shell-shocked, and some converged at the stadium demanding answers. To his credit, Keegan famously spoke to supporters from the steps of the Milburn Stand and asked for patience. "I've got to be allowed to manage," he asserted. "If you think I'm making a mess of things then chant for me to go." They didn't (then) but there was plenty of displeasure at the thought of Newcastle becoming "a feeder club to those bigger than us" and that they had been "sold down the river" by suggestions that Cole would not be sold. It would take a long time for the wounds to heal.
Yet, despite the reasons for his departure, the 23-year-old Cole remained respectful to the fans who had worshipped him and chose not to play against his old club in his first game for his new United. "I want to play in every game, but not on Sunday," Cole said. "Emotion is running high on Tyneside and my playing would just add fuel to the fire.
"I wouldn't have gone to any other club than Manchester United. I am excited about the prospect of playing at Old Trafford. There are lots of world-class players here and lots of chances which I hope to get on the end of. I don't set the fee and I'm looking forward to playing in Manchester. It's every schoolboy's dream to play at Old Trafford."
What happened next?
The match between Newcastle and Manchester United, without Cole, ended 1-1 but the striker would have the last laugh. United only missed out on the title to Blackburn on the final day of the season, but Cole went on to win the competition five times, as well as two FA Cups and, of course, the Champions League in 1999. Newcastle signed Les Ferdinand within five months but never really recovered from losing a ten-point lead at Christmas 1995 - with Keegan's famous 'I would love it' rant the centre of attention - to see United claim Cole's first title from under their noses.