My old strike partner Dwight Yorke retired this week, aged 37. He was at Sunderland last season, but he’ll best be remembered for his time at Manchester United, especially when we won the 1999 treble. Dwight should have won more, but I’ll come to that.
When he joined United in August 1998 from Aston Villa, strikers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham were at the club and I wasn’t certain of my future. Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to sign Patrick Kluivert, but that fell through and United paid £12.6 million (Dh76.6m) for Dwight.
I was the striker United could have sold for the most and my fears were realised as I was on the bench a lot. I did start at Southampton and we won 3-0, with Dwight and I scoring in only our second game as a strike pairing. The manager saw something.
I liked Yorkey straight away and admired how he was completely unfazed by his huge transfer fee. Not many strikers settle as quickly at Old Trafford like Dwight.
We were totally different people. Dwight was, ‘Look at me, I play for United, I’ve got a nice bird and car’. I’m the opposite. I bought a Porsche one year but was so self-conscious that I couldn’t drive it. It took me two months to drive it to training. Yorkey had no such worries.
I invited him round to our house to spend time with my family. We went shopping together and I’d often call to remind him what time training was – because he always forgot.
When we started playing together, it was like meeting a special woman and falling in love. Everything felt right. Whatever he did, I did the opposite. We never had a cross word. If I was upset with him or he with me, we’d look at each other and say ‘OK’.
Dwight’s arrival changed my whole United career and our partnership got stronger. One game stands out – against Champions League favourites Barcelona away in 1998-99. We were behind after one minute. Yorkey equalised after 25 minutes after I combined with him. I then put us ahead, and ran to the corner to celebrate with a group of United fans sitting in the home end. Rivaldo levelled for Barca, before Yorkey struck again: 3-3.
After that, the biggest clubs in Europe were saying: stop Cole and Yorke and we stop Man United.
But they couldn’t. Our confidence soared and we thought we’d score every week. If one of us didn’t score, the other would. We could alter our play depending on the opposition: I’d go long, he’d go short. Nobody knew how to mark us. At times, we had so much space that we took liberties.
If one player lived the dream, it was Dwight. He always played with a beaming smile. Maybe he lived it too much because, if I’m brutally honest, for a boy of his talent Dwight never fulfilled his potential. He was one of the fittest footballers I played with and his ability was up there with the best of them. After the treble, though, I felt that he eased off. I told him and so did Roy Keane.
If he had put his nut down and worked, Dwight could have become a United legend.
Dwight is from a small Caribbean island and I’m of Caribbean descent. I know the mentality – when you reach the top, you relax and ease off. What more could Dwight do? He’d won the treble.
Sometimes he relaxed too much, like when he fell asleep in the middle of the pitch during a training session before a pre-season tour game in Australia.
Like me, Dwight moved to Blackburn where I saw him lose his temper for the only time. Manager Graeme Souness bought us together hoping that we would replicate our United success.
There was a problem: Blackburn didn’t have the quality we’d had around us at Old Trafford. That led to Souness falling out of love with the pair of us and we felt that he was trying to knife us.
Souness did Dwight in a tackle in training, causing a gash so deep in his shin that you could see the white of his bone.
He could have broken his leg. Dwight was still spitting bullets when I heard the commotion as he slaughtered Souness in the canteen – right in front of Blackburn’s chief executive. Dwight was saying: ‘Graeme Souness, the big hard man who bullies his own players?’ He destroyed him verbally. Dwight played 480 club games and scored 147 goals, including 64 in 151 appearances for United. More of those goals should have come at United, but I’m picking holes in a great career.
I saw him two weeks ago and he said: ‘These players today on £100,000 a week. If I earned that money I’d live like a £100,000 a week player with the best cars and birds.”
“What do you mean Yorkey?” I replied. “You already did.”