Updated: Jan 25
We wanted to get the lowdown on Devante Cole’s journey from son of a legendary number 9 to asking for something like +44 on the code.
Having overseen the transition at Manchester City from Premier League also-rans to Noisey Neighbours and then Premier League Champions, Cole’s career at the Etihad Stadium was in risk of being built up to break just halfway through. Then came 44, not 22.
“It did come with the realisiton that it would be difficult to break in to the first-team. I think it meant that the reason I signed for City in the first place was no longer valid. It is probably the same now in that a lot of youngsters at City struggle to break through.”
With that came loan spells in England before the forward finally made it North for the first time back in 2019, despite rumoured interest five years earlier - something that the man himself hadn’t heard before!
So we sat down with the Motherwell man for an extended chat covering his early associations with football, those loan moves, his fashion label, music, Jamaican influences and lots more. Let’s rewind to the beginning.
You are obviously the son of Manchester United legend Andrew Cole, but what were your own first memories of football? Probably just the same as everyone else really! Watching it as a fan and playing it at school. I don’t think my first memories of football were anything specific around my dad. Football is such a huge part of British culture outwith my dad’s professional status so yeah, I think my first memories are just playing it in the playground with my mates at school.
Now that you have made your own way as a professional, however, does it ever get frustrating that your dad’s name is always linked with yours in articles and press reports? Not really actually. I understand that’s just the way it is and it’s probably always going to happen. I know that I’m my own person and it’s up to everyone else to see that and see me for who I am.
Did Cole Snr. ever apply any pressure on you to become a professional footballer? None at all. He encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. He did tell me that if I wanted to be a footballer I would have to take it seriously, but he never pushed me to play.
When you were coming through as a kid, can you remember your dad playing? I do. Only vaguely, however. I remember him playing for different clubs in different places. But, at that age, it was just following my dad to work. I didn’t see it as getting access to football at close quarters, it was just going to my dad’s work for me.
Was he your footballing inspiration then? Or did you have a separate player that you looked up to in your younger days? My inspiration growing up was Henry! So his rival! (Laughs) Most people probably think it should be my dad but he was just my dad to me! He’s just a normal guy but of course he’s still had a huge impact on me being where I am today.
I also wanted to ask you about logistics - Cole Snr. had a lot of clubs in the latter part of his career which were spread across the length and breadth of England, yet you were at Manchester City from a very early age. So did you remain in Manchester throughout your youth and your dad lived away? I was actually born in London which is something a lot of people don’t realise. We stayed in Manchester for large parts but then returned to London whilst he was at Fulham. Thereafter we followed him wherever he went but always maintained a base in Manchester which allowed me to play for City.
Was that difficult for you growing up? Not really; I just got used to moving around. I got to see different places and different cultures so I enjoyed it.
As mentioned, you came through at Manchester City, but I read that you spent a day training with the red half of the city; tell us more about that. Yeah I actually had the choice of a few when I was younger. I chose City in the end because, at that time, they were the club who were bringing through the most young players - they had Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Stephen Ireland - so City stood out to me as the obvious choice.
How do you look back on your upbringing at The Etihad Stadium? It was one of the best you could have. 100%. It’s probably slightly different now to what it was then, but we still had an unbelievable team and we used to win everything. They gave me a great grounding and that is something I’m really thankful for.
You were there for eleven years and would have oversaw the transition at the club when the new owners came in - was that strange to witness? It was almost in the blink of an eye for us. We came back in for pre-season one summer and the whole training ground was redone, there was new investment going on all over the place - we went on a trip to Dubai with the youth-team; it was mad. That happened so quickly. We just had to adapt to the changes as players.
With the players that the club were bringing in at that point, did it come with a realisation that it would be difficult for you to break in to the first-team? It did. I think it meant that the reason I signed for City in the first place was no longer valid. The players that they were bringing in, especially in my position, were top class. It is probably the same now in that a lot of youngsters at City struggle to break through, with Phil Foden being the only exemption, and you can see how good he is!
On the back of that, you then had two loan spells at Barnsley and MK Dons; how did you find those? It was great to finally get out into the real world of mens football. I was almost in a bubble at City but it wasn’t conducive to learning the game as you are playing in the youth-team every week. Going to Barnsley gave me a sense of what it was like to play for three points and against seasoned professionals in a tough league. Those guys have kids at home to feed and mortgages to pay for - that really makes football mean more at that level and it makes you see it in a different light.
You won promotion with MK Dons as well; that must have been a great experience. Yeah it was. Getting promoted is one of the best feelings you can have as a footballer. I’ve been fortunate enough to win promotion twice with MK Dons and Wigan and both instances were amazing. That’s what you play football for, to be a part of occasions like that.
Despite it not happening at this time, you were linked with a loan move to Motherwell back in 2014 when you signed for Barnsley. Do you have a connection to Motherwell that we don’t know about?! That’s the first I’ve heard of that! (Laughs)
You finally ended up at Fir Park in 2019 on an initial six-month loan deal. How did you find the transition to Scottish football and what are the main differences to the English game that you noticed? I think it’s interesting in that the top-flight has almost four leagues in one; I think you could fit in certain teams in to each division in England between the Premier League and League Two, so it is difficult trying to adjust game-to-game. You will play Celtic one week on a really nice grass pitch, then have an equally tough game against a smaller club on astroturf - that is really hard to adapt to.
In terms of cultural differences between the two bordering countries, have you noticed any during your time in Lanarkshire? Yeah, definitely. Growing up in London, the guys there are different to Manchester and different again to the guys in Scotland. Up here, the boys are a lot more welcoming, whereas it’s probably a bit more cut-throat down South. I’m not sure why that is, but there is definitely a better atmosphere amongst the players up here.
You scored at Ibrox during your first spell with the club in front of 50,000 fans. You then scored in your first game back on your return in front of an empty Fir Park - how have you found playing behind closed doors? It’s weird, I was speaking to one of the boys this morning about this and we agreed that we didn’t even notice! I think when the whistle goes, you’re so focused that you completely forget. I would obviously love for the fans to come back as soon as possible, but when you’re playing football you’re so caught up in the game that it takes over.
On the subject of scoring goals, I noticed that your former manager Stephen Robinson mentioned that you can play all across the front three forward positions when you signed for the club, but where do you prefer to play? Do you know what, I just want to be on the pitch. My ambition is always to score goals but I feel I can do that from anywhere on the pitch. I might have more of a chance through the middle, but if I can help the team from out wide and we are doing well, I’ll still get opportunities to score. That’s how I see it anyway!
The centre-forward position is commonly associated with the number 9 shirt, but you seem to have an association with the number 44 - tell us more about that. It probably goes back to my first loan spell when I wanted the number 22! That was my lucky number at the time. 22 was taken so they said ‘why don’t you double it?’ and I clearly listened! (Laughs) I did well with it and it just stuck from there. I feel like I see a lot more people wearing the number 44 shirt now than I did a few years ago, though!
It’s like when you get a new car and you can’t stop seeing the same car on the road, isn’t it? Exactly! (Laughs) But I love the number now so there’s no way I’m going back.
You also have your own clothing brand that includes the number - 44LDN - what can you tell us about that? I’ve always had an interest in fashion so I thought I would just give it a go! It’s a lot of work and probably more than I thought it would be initially, so it has only been over the course of the last year or so that I’ve really put my mind to it and, with that, a lot of people are starting to catch on to the brand which is great. I want to bring luxury items together with affordable products and I think that is working.
Was there anyone who inspired you to launch your own designs - be that another brand or another footballer in the game with a clothing label? I have seen footballers launch their own brand but, for me, I just wanted to create something different. I also thought that if I can have the business in a good place by the time I retire from playing it’ll be perfect for me to continue on with and totally focus on, so it made perfect sense to me.
We also feature Aaron Tshbilba on our website who has his own brand as well, but do footballers who have their own label have a network amongst each other? I know Tish really well, but in terms of having a network amongst us, not really. I’ve bought items from Tish’s brand and we are good friends, but he started his brand before mine, so I think it’s just coincidence!
In terms of your own style, how would you describe that? I’m not sure as, if you asked me this time last year, it’d be totally different! That’s the thing with the fashion world in that it is always changing and evolving. But I never wear shirts, I’m always casual! If I could get away with wearing a hoodie to a meeting then I would! (Laughs)
Something else that 44 is synonymous is the UK music scene with a number of artists referencing our +44 caller ID, but tell us about your taste in music. I’m R&B - that’s all I really listen to. Well, you might see me listening to something totally out there from time-to-time! But, in general, it’s R&B.
With your status as a footballer, do you have a relationship with any rappers? Not really, to be honest! I wouldn’t say I was friends with any or that I’ve connected with certain rappers on social media.
Despite that, I saw Chunkz and Young Philly clad in some 44LDN gear - do you have a relationship with them? Aw yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ve known Felipé for years, way before he was “Filly” as everyone knows him now! I met him and gave him some of the hats and he helped me out by posting them which was cool.
Just on those links and relationships and the connection that football has with music and football, do you think that there is a disparity between Scotland and England on those fronts? 100%. Scotland is probably a bit behind England as a whole. Even looking at Manchester, you have the whole spectrum of football, music, fashion and culture which almost rolls in to one. That same full-circle affect is probably missing in Scotland’s towns and cities I would say.
If you could think of a remedy for that, what would it be? It’s difficult isn’t it? I think everyone has a responsibility to allow it to progress. But I reckon that there is maybe a lack of established artists in Scotland to allow it to fully flourish. Manchester has established artists across lots of different genres who are connected to football in the city from the Gallagher brothers to Aitch. The cultural side of Manchester and the success of both of the clubs also means that artists from London support them, which further enhances the connection with football in music - Not3s, for example, did his Colors set in a Man Utd kit.
The Jamaican music scene is also popping off again of late with the likes of Koffee and Beam - you have Jamaican roots yourself, don’t you? Firstly, do you ever listen to any Caribbean artists? I love Koffee, man! She is always on my playlists.
Secondly, did you ever grow up with any Jamaican cultural influences? Food from minute one, yeah! My parents never neglected that and I’ve grown up on it. As much as I am English, they definitely instilled my Caribbean roots in me from early.
With regards to football, you represented England up to Under-19 level, but is there any chance of you representing Jamaica in the future? 100% if they gave me a call! If they want me to play for them I would definitely be interested.
Lastly, if you could pick between getting a cap for Jamaica or you designing the next England teamwear drop with 44LDN, what would it be? I think I could do both!
Good answer! Yeah, I’ll secure the cap and get to work on the design! (Laughs)
Location: Hamilton Town Centre
Photography: Connor Stewart
Words: Scott Kelly