Ninety seconds left on the clock, and the volume was building. Moments earlier, City winger Mark Marshall’s half-volley had been brushed wide for a corner; Josh Morris’ effort from distance was trapped at the last moment; Marshall had cut inside but struck straight at the keeper. Something, something, was coming.
Then, Rory McArdle strides out from defence and angles a long ball towards the forward line. Watching for the bounce, new boy Devante Cole, son of former Manchester United ace Andrew ‘Andy’ Cole, contorts his body, jerks his leg and ushers the ball home in front of a delirious Kop.
At the eleventh hour, Rory McArdle and Devante Cole made a Sliding Doors goal that may be critical in marking the path of the season. Had McArdle made any other decision in that moment – despatched a fullback, played to a midfielder, sent out winger to run down the clock – and City would have entered the fifth week of the season still searching for a first win. Cole will score far more impressive goals in his career, but the lift this has given to the Bantams fan base is truly priceless.
This goal comes in the context of a move that may transpire to be the most pivotal one Devante ever makes. Cole’s fledging career already encompasses loan spells with Barnsley and MK Dons, yet the decision to sign for the Bantams, following his release from Manchester City, is obviously his most permanent statement of intent thus far. Still only 20, the forward has two years to learn his trade at Valley Parade, with an option of an additional season. For a player who probably still harbours aspirations of Premiership football, the experience of playing lower down the pyramid, in the more combative League One, could prove invaluable.
For Cole’s dad Andy, the decision to leave Arsenal, in 1992, for second tier Bristol City, proved career defining. Just 21, Cole romped to 20 goals in 41 games, and looked a player worth every penny of his £500,000 price tag. Within a year, he had earned a big money move to Newcastle, Kevin Keegan parting with £1.75 million for the striker’s services. 41 goals duly followed. Then came the move to Manchester United. Then came the treble. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s both premature and unfair to Devante to elicit conclusions about his possible career arc from his father’s, but Andy’s influence is there for all to see. In his post-match interviews on Saturday, Bantams chief Phil Parkinson revealed that it was Andy Cole who encouraged Manchester City to waiver a fee for the youngster in return for a sell-on clause; all going well, this paves the way for a narrative almost identical to Cole senior.
And even now, from the little the world’s seen of Devante, the similarities to Andy are striking. In a goal against Gillingham, Devante slipped into the box, ran in behind his defender and chinked home at the near-post - a carbon copy of so many of his dad’s finishes. Devante looks a good signing and his pedigree is obvious. His movements, his composure in front of goal and in one-on-ones, his positional awareness, the way he works the channels, and his pace to open and cut up defences – the apple never falls too far from the tree.
Of course, there are fundamental differences. Devante claims to be more heavily involved in general build-up play out wide, which should help a City side that have looked short up top at times this season. Yet comparisons to Andy will be inevitable, as this article attests.
But before these can hold major weight, Devante must produce consistently for the Bantams. Entering a squad that have struggled for form, for whom expectations are high but have thus far outstripped reality, getting Cole firing quickly is imperative for all parties. Faced with sell-out home crowds, a team lacking fluidity and a forward line where several others clamour for a place, Cole will be under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead.
But as mentors go, Devante could do a lot worse.