My window of opportunity

Being transfered in January is not always a good thing, even though it presented me with a dream move.

It frightens me when I think that it is 15 years this month since I moved from Newcastle to Manchester United for what was then a British record transfer fee of £6million (Dh35.8m). I never said it at the time because I couldn't, but it was that fee, rather than the prospect of playing for Manchester United, that really weighed me down. Because things didn't go brilliantly from the start, I went from being someone free of self-doubt and with absolute confidence in my ability, to someone who questioned himself.

I paid attention to the critics who wanted me to fail and wondered if they had a point. I wanted to punch journalists who wrote stinging pieces about me until Sir Alex Ferguson told me to ignore them. Easier said than done. My first few months at United didn't go as well as I had hoped. I was trying too hard and over analysing. It culminated in us losing the league on the final day of the season at West Ham. Guess who was blamed for missing chances?

I'm not convinced that moving in January is a good idea and it's nothing to do with what happened to me. I just don't think that any player worth his salt is going to be going anywhere in January. Liverpool and United fans are asking for new players to brighten up their seasons. I can see why, but clubs at their level tend to go for top-level players who will be cup-tied in European competition and unwilling to move.

My situation was different. Newcastle were not in Europe but come to think of it, neither were United. That was one reason why I was bought, because the team had exited the European Champions League at the group stage. The January transfer window worked well for Kevin Keegan, my manager at Newcastle. I was prolific and had scored 41 goals in the previous season, but we'd fallen out and weren't seeing eye-to-eye.

When we played a game against Blackburn in January 1995, Kevin didn't say a word to me. I went home that night and watched Sheffield United against Manchester United on television. The phone went and it was my agent. "Andrew," he said, "you know you said that you'd only leave Newcastle to go to one other club?" "Yes." "The deal's on. Man United. I'm not messing about. Get yourself and your essentials together and I'll be up in three or four hours."

I couldn't believe it. I was later told that the Everton manager Joe Royle had tipped Alex Ferguson off that all wasn't well between me and Keegan. The news would have delighted Ferguson, who had been looking for a new striker since the start of the season. Mark Hughes was 31 and Ferguson had spoken with Everton manager Royle about taking Hughes. Ferguson felt that teams were changing their tactics to play United, becoming more defensive. His solution was to find a striker who was so quick that he could create spaces in tighter areas of the box. Two were identified: Stan Collymore at Nottingham Forest. And me. Sir Alex said that I had the speed and movement that could exploit the short passes from Cantona, while Collymore had the ability to turn and run at opponents.

Forest manager Frank Clarke did not return Sir Alex's calls, so he spoke to Kevin instead. They agreed £6m plus Keith Gillespie, who was valued at £1m, for me. The fee was almost twice what United had paid for Roy Keane only 18 months earlier. My agent picked me up and we drove to Manchester, passing the United coach on the motorway as it was returning from Sheffield. I thought 'These will be my teammates tomorrow and they haven't got a clue that I'm coming.'

I met the manager the next day. He was saying how he saw me fitting in the team when all I could think about was signing. I wanted it to happen so much. I had a really long medical - they even checked my toenails. It was a great day for me when I signed, a really great day. My parents were pleased and shocked at the fee, but it doesn't seem big now. Rio Ferdinand said to me recently: 'Look what Darren Bent went for, what would you be worth now Coley?'

Most of the top United players were earning £5,000 a week in 1995 and I was no different. By coincidence, we played Newcastle that weekend, but Keegan and Ferguson agreed that neither Keith Gillespie nor me should play. And it was when I started training with my new teammates that I knew I'd made the right decision. The standards were much higher, the dressing room was a who's who of world-class players and I struggled to get my head around it at first. I felt that I was still a boy who was learning my trade.

The assistant manager, Brian Kidd, came up to me and welcomed me to his United. He immediately added: "If you think that 40 goals a season at this club is good enough then you are wrong". Then he walked off. I couldn't believe it, but over the years I realised where he was coming from. Goals weren't enough at United, you had to become a team player, the complete footballer. @Email:sports@thenational.ae