By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor, Soccer America
A former Manchester United right-sided midfielder, renowned for remarkable crosses, comes to America to play in Major League Soccer.
David Beckham won't be the first, whether he comes this month or in the summer. Regardless of the time frame, it won't be soon enough for Colorado midfielder Terry Cooke, whose seven-and-a-half year stint at United overlapped with that of Beckham and a precocious group of players, some of whom still dot the lineup.
"I can't wait," says Cooke, who left United in 1999 to play for Manchester City, Grimsby, and Sheffield Wednesday before joining MLS in May, 2005. "In Colorado I'm watching TV and news channels that never mentioned soccer for the two years I've been here. Since David Beckham came into the league, it's been non-stop. That's what we need."
Cooke, who was raised in Birmingham, first met Beckham when both were invited to a holiday camp staged by United to scout players from all over the country. While growing up in East London, Beckham idolized United's legendary midfielder Bryan Robson, who captained England in the 1980s. Both Cooke and Beckham were eventually invited to enroll in the United academy.
"He's about a year and a half older than I am so he started his Manchester United career a year before I did," recalls Cooke, who turns 31 in August. "As a person, he was great. We got on really well, we'd hang out now and again, go out. We spent a bit of time in Manchester while we were young living together in the same digs. We were two young kids from out of town."
In addition to living together for a while, they spent a lot of time on the training field together, perfecting those staples of the English game that are required from wide players.
"At the time I was classified as a winger, an outside midfielder, and Becks would be like an inside midfielder although obviously he played on the right side," says Cooke. "When we were kids on the training pitch that's what we were told to do.
"When we got the ball in positions out wide, just make sure to get the ball into the box. We just practiced on it non-stop, all the time, crossing from midfield for the forwards, for the defenders, set pieces. With the right foot he's got, he's known worldwide. He was older than me and I was always trying to emulate him. His technique is unbelievable."
On that team a year ahead of Cooke were Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. Gary Neville and Scholes are still playing for United, Butt and Phil Neville are with other English Premier League teams.
"They were nicknamed the 'Dream Team' because they won the FA Youth Cup in 1991-92 season," says Cooke. "It was a great team and they were known nationwide. They just demolished teams across the country at the youth level."
A few years later, Coach Alex Ferguson would draw on those youths, age 20 or 21, to flesh out a first team that included Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin and Steve Bruce. After winning the first two EPL titles, United finished a point behind Blackburn in the 1994-95 race.
The youngsters didn't get off to a great start in August, 1995, although the opening game did feature the first league goal of Beckham's career.
"I was in the first squad that season and the first game we played Aston Villa away," says Cooke. "It was a very young team and we got battered at Villa Park, 3-1. Beckham scored. He got the consolation goal."
Manchester United recaptured the league title in that 1995-96 season and Beckham was named Sky Sports Panasonic Young Player of the Year. In the decade since his looks and lifestyle have propelled him into the weird, wonderful world inhabited by ultra-celebrities, yet Cooke believes he's not been seduced by all the adulation.
"People don't realize what a nice lad he is," says Cooke. "Set aside he's the most famous soccer player on the planet and he gets attention everywhere he goes. But in the locker room, he's going to bring a lot of team bonding. He not only wants to help the players, but he's a winner.
"That's the United mentality. Every game, even if it's a friendly or no matter who you're playing against, every game when you go out for Man United, you want to win. He's going to bring that mentality to the Galaxy and it's going to rub off on his teammates. I'd wish he'd have come to Colorado."