The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
The popularity of football has the effect of bringing to prominence some strange varieties of individual genius. Why should a person be born with a preternatural gift for judging, at the moment a round ball appears in front of him, the precise angle, arc, and velocity necessary for it to cross through a specific point in space before the person whose task is to stop it?
I once met a 10-year-old boy whose only goal in life was to draw fish. He was really good at drawing fish. He wasn’t particularly good at drawing, or doing, anything else. Football takes someone with a skill no less miscellaneous and says, here, be worshipped by millions.
Andy Cole, for some mysterious reason, was a genius at drawing fish. He wasn’t a great all-around player, with the result that he was often overlooked during his prime and is underrated today. But put him in front of the goal, and put the ball in front of him, and he had an astonishing ability to kick it into the net: imagine Pippo Inzaghi with pace, or Michael Owen without the hospitals.
He’s retiring today, at the age of 37, after spending most of his later career in the Championship. During his time in the Premier League, he scored 187 goals. I worry about him. A famously difficult man who stayed in football long after his skills had eroded and who parted with his last club acrimoniously, he has an ambiguous standing within the world of football and may face a challenging transition outside it. He says he wants to be a manager, and I hope he will.
He won a First Division title with Newcastle, five Premier League titles with Manchester United, two FA Cups, a Champions League title, and a League Cup. He broke Hughie Gallacher’s scoring record at Newcastle. Let’s wish him the best.
Read More: Time Doth Transfix
by Brian Phillips · November 11, 2008