Former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke talks exclusively to Sport360° about his time at Old Trafford, and taking Trinidad to the World Cup...
As a member of the last Manchester United team to go 29 Premier League games without defeat, you might think Dwight Yorke would feel protective of that particular club record.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the striker who plundered 64 goals in 151 games for United, if the current crop remain unbeaten for the rest of the season they will deserve their place in Old Trafford folklore.
“If they go through the season without being beat that’s going down in the history book,” he said. “Despite whatever people might say or think. Yes they are not playing the most attractive football but yet they can turn up and beat Birmingham 5-0.
“That just goes to show that there’s quality in the team throughout as they always has been with most Man United teams.”
Yorke joined United from Aston Villa in August 1998, with a death threat from then-Villa boss John Gregory ringing in his ears, to become the third and final signing of a summer that also saw Jaap Stam and Jesper Blomqvist head to Manchester as Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to wrestle the title back from Arsenal.
What followed was a “priceless” season that saw the Old Trafford club assert their dominance both domestically and in Europe with an unprecedented treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League success.
“Playing in the Premiership is one thing,” the striker explains. “Playing in the Champions League as everyone who has experienced it knows, is another. To win all of those in your first season is just incredible.”
Pivotal to that success was Yorke’s partnership with Andy Cole. The duo immediately hit it off away from the pitch, and after getting their chance on it in early October never looked back as they scored 54 goals in all competitions between them.
The Trinidadian revealed the pair’s friendship helped them on the pitch but feels their job was made a great deal easier by the players they had around them.
“I think it’s good when you become mates with someone and we take that from the football pitch to dinner and getting to know each other in that sense and hanging out,” he said. “So yeah that was great but as much as we take the praise and as much as people say that our combination was really good, we had some fantastic players in our team.
“If you go through that team, it was a priceless team from Giggsy (Ryan Giggs), (David) Beckham, Scholesy (Paul Scholes), Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, Jaap Stam, Dennis Irwin, not many Man United teams can assemble such a fantastic team with individual players throughout the whole team.”
It has certainly been said that the current United side lacks such quality. But what does the man himself think, would a player such as Darren Fletcher have got a game back in ’99?
Yorke, who has spent a lot of time around the club’s training base since retiring, is chuckling as he answers: “He got no chance. Everybody knows that, and that’s no disrespect to Darren Fletcher but of course he couldn’t get in front of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes at their very best. That’s just something that he as well would tell you himself.”
After two years at Old Trafford, Yorke appeared to have the footballing world at his feet. Another league title had been added in 1999/2000 as the striker became the first United hitman to score 20 league goals since Brian McClair.
But soon things started to go wrong. The striker was beginning to be seen on the front pages as much as the back, and as his performances began to suffer a run-in with Ferguson was inevitable.
After two progressively disappointing seasons Yorke was on his way to Blackburn, where he hooked up again with partner-in-crime Cole although with a lot less success. After leaving Old Trafford, he would never hit the heights again so does he have any regrets with how his career in Manchester finished?
“Yeah, there were lots of things, I’ve made mistakes along the way,” he admits. “Sure in hindsight if I could turn back the clock and do things differently, but would that make me the person I am today?
“There was just so much happening at the club and I got there and the first two years were priceless, the third year was good on any given standard, 22 starts 14 goals, was not a total disaster. But that’s what you get at United.
“I’m not so sure. I went there to win things, I’ve done it I’m in the history book. Maybe after three years I needed to go somewhere else and take up a new challenge but when you’re at such a great club you don’t want to leave.”
There was a bright spark for Yorke on the horizon though as led his country, Trinidad & Tobago, to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. A credible point against Sweden was followed by defeats to England, courtesy of the dread-tugging Peter Crouch, and Paraguay.
But it was an experience that ranks above all others for Yorke: “My treble-winning year was phenomenal and I didn’t think that anything would come close but representing my country at the World Cup was the ultimate.
“It was better than anything. The national anthem, all of that, where we came from and the world was watching. It meant a hell of a lot.”
By the time he got to Germany, Yorke had reinvented himself as a defensive midfielder because, “you just can’t do the things that you want to do as a striker anymore.”
A move to Sunderland followed as he saw out his days patrolling the middle of the park, but it will be as a striker and that trophy-laden 24 months when he first got to Old Trafford that Yorke will be most fondly remembered.