DESPITE being 30 and having a record of virtually a goal every two games for Manchester United, the jury is still out on Andy Cole.

He has been unable to command a regular first team spot this season following Ruud Van Nistelrooy's arrival from Holland in the summer.

A much under-rated and lampooned striker, Cole is a hard-worker and his strike rate of 121 in 275 appearances belies his reputation as a serial misser of chances.

A late developer, Cole began his footballing career with Arsenal but opportunities were limited and he was transferred to Bristol City in July 1992 for a fee of £500,000.

He impressed at City and Newcastle subsequently paid £1,750,000 for his services - he repaid them with 55 goals in 70 league appearances.

Cole became a cult hero to the Geordies and helped them secure promotion into the Premier League in his first season at St James' Park.

During the 1993-4 season, he scored 34 League goals and won the European 'Golden Boot' and the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

In a shock move, he joined Manchester United in January 1995 for a British record transfer deal, though things took a while to go to plan.

He played his part in United's successes but was hit by injury and loss of form.

He started the season with pneumonia, then broke both legs in a reserve team game after a tackle by Neil Ruddock, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made hay in the first team.

Cole returned for the 1997-98 campaign and finished as United's top scorer with 25 goals only to be left out of England's World Cup squad for France '98.

The arrival of Dwight Yorke led to a superb partnership with his new bosom buddy and they grabbed 53 goals between them as United roared to the Treble.

His reputation for not scoring on the big occasion was answered with a goal in the Champion's League semi-final and the goal that secured the Premiership title against Tottenham on the last day of the season.

Season 1999-2000 was his best for United as he scored 22 goals, with a couple of contenders for Goal of the Season, and he passed 100 goals for the Red Devils.

Cole broke Dennis Law's European goal scoring record of 14 in style when netting a hat-trick against Anderlect in the Champions League on September 13, 2000.

He has had a patchy England career since making his debut against Denmark in 1995 and despite being one of the best strikers in the Premiership has missed the last two major tournaments, World Cup 98 and Euro 2000, and has scored just one goal in 13 games.

Cole had a disagreement with manager Glen Hoddle ahead of France 1998 and was left out of the Euro 2000 squad by his former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan because of a minor foot injury.

With Alan Shearer now retired from international football Cole will have thought that at last he had a great chance to make his mark on the World stage.

He was one of the few players who played the whole 90 minutes against Spain, in February 2001, and despite not getting on the score sheet his unselfish attacking play left the way clear for others to get the goals as England won 3-0.

England's World Cup qualifier against Finland in March was Cole's 12th international without a goal, but the striker did have a hand in both Micheal Owen's and David Beckham's strikes as England won 2-1.

Eventually Cole scored his first international goal against Albania in March. It was his 13th appearance for England and he characteristically he had a hand in both of England's other goals as they won 3-1.

But Sven-Goran Eriksson is unlikely to select a player for next summer's finals who isn't playing regular first team football - hence Cole's desire to move on. ANDY COLE

Born: Nottingham 15/10/71

Height: 5ft 10in

Weight: 12st 4lb

Position: Striker

Club: Manchester United

Former clubs: Arsenal, Bristol City and Newcastle United.

Manchester United debut: 20/1/95

Appearances: 275

Goals: 121