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Football Reporting


Behind Man Utd’s bitter dressing room feud which boiled during treble-winning campaign

It’s hard to fathom how any team can be successful when some of their key players dislike eachother.

Let alone a team as dominant as Manchester United were in their outstanding treble-winning season in 1998/99.

The Red Devils were simply irrepressible as they edged out Arsenal on the final day of the Premier League season, before adding the FA Cup and Champions League to their trophy cabinet.

But beneath the surface a long-running feud had been boiling between two of Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges.

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Ferguson was the master of man management and, despite having a team littered with talent, was not reliant on one superstar player.

Sir Alex Ferguson had to deal with an internal feud at Old Trafford in the late '90s
Sir Alex Ferguson had to deal with an internal feud at Old Trafford in the late ’90s

Yet the bitter nature of the well-documented hatred between strikers Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham was a problem which had the potential to derail United’s season.

Here’s how the club survived the feud, which started and finished more than 20 years apart.

England snub

Cole claims Sheringham snubbed him when he made his England debut
Cole claims Sheringham snubbed him when he made his England debut

Cole finally revealed the reason he “detested” and “loathed” Sheringham for so many years in a column for The Independent in 2010.

It all stemmed from the day Cole made his senior England debut vs Uruguay on 29 March 1995.

There was little memorable about the fixture itself – a drab 0-0 draw – though for Cole it was supposed to be a moment to savour.

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“I was so nervous it was frightening,” Cole recalled. “This was the culmination of a lifetime of ambition. You hear the cliché, ‘It means everything to play for my country’. But trust me, it did.”

However, when the board went up for him to come on as a 72nd-minute substitute, the shine quickly rubbed off of his evening, as Sheringham was due to be replaced.

“For all the respect I had for him, he was far from pleased to see his number come up,” Cole wrote in his autobiography.

Describing further in his column: “I expect a brief handshake, a ‘Good luck, Coley’, something. I am ready to shake. He snubs me. He actively snubs me, for no reason I was ever aware of then or since. He walks off.”

The pair barely knew each other anyway, with Sheringham plying his trade at Tottenham at the time, while Cole had only recently moved to United from Newcastle.

But the moment struck a real chord with Cole.

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“You know what my immediate thoughts were? ‘Jesus Christ! How many people just saw Teddy Sheringham do that to me?’ I was embarrassed. I was confused. And there you have it. From that moment on, I knew Sheringham was not for me.”

United teammates

The pair were soon teammates at club level when Sheringham signed for United
The pair were soon teammates at club level when Sheringham signed for United

While Sheringham was an England regular, Cole was largely on the fringes, and missed out on the Three Lion’s squad for Euro ’96.

However it wasn’t long before their paths intertwined on a more frequent basis, when Man Utd moved to land Sheringham in a £3.5million deal following the retirement of Eric Cantona in the summer of ’97.

“I was devastated when Teddy Sheringham signed for United because I couldn’t stand him.” Cole said in the book Glory, Glory! Man Utd in the 90s .

And it didn’t take long for them to butt heads.

“We played a friendly in Milan in 1997, just after he’d signed,” Cole said. “He said something on the pitch. I didn’t like it. ‘I’m only trying to help you,’ he said. ‘I don’t need your help,’ I replied.”

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While both players were happy to ignore each other, some scenarios were difficult to avoid, as frustration boiled over again during a 1-1 draw with Bolton at Old Trafford.

“I had a set-to with Teddy on the pitch,” Cole said. “Everybody knew that Teddy wasn’t my cup of tea and I wasn’t his. We came in at half-time and it was going to go off between me and Teddy.”

The issue centred around Sheringham blaming his strike partner for Bolton’s goal.

“What? I scored the equaliser, and now he’s saying that,” Cole said.

“I run up the tunnel and just as he gets to the dressing room, I’m ready to steam in. I’m screaming all sorts and trying to throw punches, but everyone’s on me, pulling us apart.

“The next thing I know, Roy Keane has me up against the wall and he’s shouting in my face. ‘What the **** are you doing, Coley? Sort yourself out. We’re a team.’”

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At 32, Sheringham was one of the experienced elder statesmen in United’s side, but he had seemingly rubbed more than one of his teammates up the wrong way in the past.

Cole continued: “I’m not hearing him, but I calm down, and suddenly Roy is going for Teddy, ripping into him, and it’s our turn to try to pull them apart. ‘What’s all that about, Skip?’ I ask a clearly incensed Keane. ‘You wanting to fight him reminded me of what a ***** he was to me at Nottingham Forest!’”

Keane later recalled their days together at Forest in his own autobiography.

“Teddy arrived for training on his first day at the club in his red Ferrari, every inch the confident Londoner,” Keane said.

“Teddy and I were acquainted from our Forest days but the chemistry between us was never quite right.”

A working relationship

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Both players learned to work around their differences for the good of the team
Both players learned to work around their differences for the good of the team

Regardless of their differences, Cole was keen to put them to one side for the good of the team.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t like Sheringham so much that I didn’t want to achieve anything with him,” Cole told The Times . “As a team you always want to do that.

“Football’s a team game, not everybody gets on, but what we had to do we did right, regardless of whether we spoke, on or off the pitch.”

Few could argue with Cole’s statement, as both players played pivotal roles in United’s unprecedented success in the years to follow.

In fact, Sheringham’s game was perfectly suited to compliment Cole, as he would drop deep between the lines while his teammate would play the more traditional No.9 role.

United defender Gary Pallister even remarked: “I know you don’t speak to Teddy and he doesn’t speak to you, but at least you play well together.”

Cole’s predicament was to be made all the more easier the following year however, as United shelled out £12.8m to land Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa.

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Despite struggling initially, the pair soon struck up a great friendship and an almost telephatic partnership, firing 35 goals between them in the Premier League in the 1998/99 season, with Yorke finished joint top scorer in the division.

As a result, Sheringham was pushed further to the fringes, making just 10 starts in all competitions.

The situation was made simpler by Cole and Yorke’s continued prolific form, leaving few complaints available to Sheringham and fellow super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

On reflection United skipper Keane hailed the professionalism of the club’s frontmen as one of the reasons behind their success.

“We were really lucky with the four strikers we had at that time, Yorkie, Coley, Ole and Teddy – brilliant players,” Keane said to Sky Sports.

“I always try make the point to remind people they were very good lads in the dressing room. People talk about strikers being selfish, they have to be, but I found all of these lads to be decent lads.

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“They looked at the bigger picture, they had to bide their time as the manager rotated the squad.

Keane admitted he didn't get on particularly well with Sheringham either
Keane admitted he didn’t get on particularly well with Sheringham either

“We were one of the first to rotate the squad throughout the competitions. The players made it work, they were professionals and when they got the opportunity they went out and did the business.”

Sheringham still had a huge part to play, and knew he had to try and smooth relations with Cole for the moments they were on the field together, using Yorke as mediator.

“Teddy was clever. He would speak to Yorkie because he knew Yorkie could bend my ear,” Cole told Off The Ball. “Yorkie would say to me ‘Coley, Teddy said XYZ’ and I would say ‘Yorkie, tell Teddy XYZ’.

“Yorkie is that character who gets on well with everybody and he’s a lovable guy. He would just say ‘Coley said no’.”

The rest of the United dressing room were aware of the feud between the duo, but their manager seemed nonplussed.

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Speaking about Sir Alex Ferguson to The Guardian , Cole said: “He understood me as a person and even with the Teddy Sheringham thing he was fantastic. He mentioned it to me once and then let it go.”

Cole then proved to be the hero on the final day of the Premier League season, coming on at half-time for Sheringham to score the winner and clinch the title for United.

Sheringham of course would have his own starring moments in the week to follow, scoring the opener in the FA Cup final before making a huge impact from the bench in the Champions League triumph, bagging the equaliser and setting up Solskjaer’s injury-time winner as United completed their famous treble.

Making peace

Sheringham (L) and Cole (R) eventually settled their feud years after the treble win
Sheringham (L) and Cole (R) eventually settled their feud years after the treble win

United went on to win the title twice more in successive seasons with virtually the same side, before Ferguson eventually started breaking up his strikeforce following the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Sheringham was first to go, rejecting United’s offer of a one-year contract extension to return to Tottenham, while Cole was sold to Blackburn just months later.

Other than the odd row and communication via Yorke, Cole claimed he “never spoke a single word” to Sheringham during their period together at the club, but time proved to be a healer of sorts.

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“I will look back on my career and think that some of the things I fell out about were trivial – but at that moment in time, then, it wasn’t trivial to me,” Cole said in 2005 while still playing in the top flight.

He later said to the Evening Standard a decade later: “I don’t think his apology would come, because I honestly do believe that he believes he was not in the wrong.”

Perhaps that was why Cole took it upon himself to end their longstanding feud once and for all when he bumped into Sheringham in a nightclub.

“I was out with my mates and he was with his wife Shirley, Sheringham told the Daily Mail in 2019. “I saw him walking towards me and I thought to myself ‘hold up’.”

Sheringham noted Cole’s “deadpan face” and explained how he “could see Shirley looking at me thinking, ‘f****** hell, what’s going to happen?’”

But Cole was only out to resolve their bitter dispute and move on, offering his hand to Sheringham and suggesting they “let bygones be bygones”.

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His former teammate was taken aback by the approach, admitting he had not seen it coming, but was happy to finally settle their differences.

Sheringham has largely remained tight-lipped on his relations with Cole, but admitted: “We never got on as players.

“You get on with some people in the workplace, but some you don’t like and don’t want to be around.

“That was the case with me and Andy. We just didn’t click. But we’ve made our peace.”

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