Watch your back at United, Berbatov

Hernandez and Bebe, Manchester United's new arrivals, could motivate - or demoralise - the Bulgarian forward.

How would you feel if somebody was brought in to do a job you thought you were doing perfectly well? What would you think if nobody explained to you what your role would be from now on, but circumstances dictated that you were deemed to be second best to the new arrival? That is what happens when you are a footballer.

In the summer of 2001, Manchester United paid a then British record £19 million (Dh109.5m) transfer fee for Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Holland striker. Unlike some of the other forwards at Old Trafford, Van Nistelrooy was an out and out striker like me. He was also bought as the first-choice striker; everyone knew that although little was said. The situation depressed me because I felt that no matter what I did, I would still be second choice.

Two years earlier, I had won the treble with United. The season before, I had been part of a team which won the league by a huge margin. I thought I had done well. One writer wrote: "Under the tutelage he has received at United, Cole is twice the player who cost a record fee in 1995. Last season, he led the line with a fleet-heeled savvy, two-footed, increasingly ruthless, and during the first half he gelled superbly with Teddy Sheringham, despite the fact that the two hadn't said a word to each other." I can't argue with that.

I had been injured in winter and I did miss a good chance against Real Madrid, but I had also overtaken Denis Law to become United's all-time top scorer in Europe. Just as Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney face more competition at United with the arrival of Javier Hernandez and now Bebe this week, I had faced competition before. In 1996, Patrick Kluivert was wanted by United, but chose Barcelona instead. Had he said "yes", I would probably have been on my way. When Sheringham (1997) or Dwight Yorke (1998) arrived, I never felt threatened. They were not No 9s like Kluivert or Van Nistelrooy and we played well together. The manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, stumbled on my partnership with Yorke and we clicked straight away.

You know the manager of any big club is always going to try and improve the team, spend big money and build a large squad. You accept that - it's tough at the top and competition is good because it keeps you on your toes and alert. But when you know the formation is going to change (United switched from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1) and that you do not figure, you can't help put feel demoralised and surplus to requirements. I knew that I would still play, but not in the biggest games - and football is about the big games.

And yet all the time you have to try and get on with the new signing and make him feel welcome. It's a weird world, football, but Ruud and I got on OK as work colleagues. He was a different player to me and more selfish. I was a team player, Ruud was about Ruud. He was a great finisher, but a loner who played up front by himself. If United won 4-0 and he didn't score he was fuming. He was more cunning than me and difficult to play with. He wasn't one for link-up play and he would make the same run as me but from a deeper position so I would look silly.

I learned to be a little cuter after that. Ruud's selfishness eventually led to Ferguson falling out with him and United letting him go to Real Madrid. Van Nistelrooy scored the goals, but his arrival was an example of how a new signing can upset the balance and United did not retain the league. The new strikers at United - including this week's purchase of Bebe, the unknown Portuguese striker, can be a positive. Berbatov already looks sharper and more focussed. I enjoy watching the Bulgarian with his languid style and the new arrivals may be the kick up the backside he needs.

Rooney will start out as the main man, but he needs to stay on the top of his game. Chelsea will be United's main rivals in the league. They don't have any new strikers, but in Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba they already boast two of the best forwards in football. They are so self-motivated and complement each other so well - Anelka being quick and Drogba physical - that a lack of new blood won't be a problem for them. They cause problems for opponents. I have spoken to the United defenders about them - they agree both would walk into any team in England.

Manchester City and Arsenal are the other teams I expect to finish in the top four. I will analyse both further in the coming weeks, but I will be watching closely to see if either make any purchases up front because I know the consequences new signings can have. Andrew Cole, a former Manchester United player, is the second all-time Premier League top scorer with 187 goals sports@thenational.ae

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS