Ronnie McFall was puce with rage after a game his Portadown side should have won easily but didn’t.
A large portion of the legendary manager’s ire was directed at the normally smooth-running Irish League champions’ rather languid centre-forward.
“That Cowan boy,” spat Big Ronnie, “all he wants to do is score goals...”
Hard to argue with that. And Stevie Cowan did score an awful lot of them for the Ports — 130 in just 156 games.
During the veteran Scottish striker’s time at Shamrock Park in the early 1990s, McFall’s men won the Gibson Cup for the first time in their history — with Cowan bagging a crucial goal in the pivotal game against Linfield.
They comfortably defended their title the following season and, during Cowan’s time there, reached the Irish Cup final twice, winning the latter courtesy of their talismanic striker’s double strike against Glenavon.
Not bad for a lad who’d never heard of Portadown before he joined them, and only opted for the move because they wore a similar all-red strip to his beloved Aberdeen.
At this point, allow me to cite three things Cowan has in common with Cristiano Ronaldo.
No, don’t laugh. The first is obvious; they were/are both prolific scorers — albeit at incomparably different levels of the game.
Secondly, they were both mentored, as promising teenagers, by a bloke called Alex Ferguson.
And thirdly, all they’ve ever wanted to do was score goals.
(Honestly, there was one afternoon — New Year’s Day at Mourneview Park, 1993 — when, I swear, Cowan touched the ball no more than 10 times, yet still bagged a hat-trick against Glenavon).
Regular readers of this column may recall that, shortly after Ronaldo rejoined United last year, I wrote about how having a ‘goal machine’ in your side can be just as much a curse as a blessing.
Unfortunately for United, it’s been the latter regarding Ronnie’s second spell at Old Trafford.
Yes, he’s the club’s leading scorer — but this has been one of the worst seasons in United’s recent history. And one where the ageing Ronaldo’s overall contribution to the team — or lack of it — outside of those goals was ruthlessly exposed.
There are, of course, times when the recruitment of a guaranteed scorer can make all the difference — as it did when Cowan joined Portadown during the 1989-90 season as an emergency signing following the suspension of another striker, Marty Magee.
On the other hand, a quality Spurs side finished with nothing in the 1986/87 season, despite their natural-born marksman Clive Allen finding the net an astonishing 49 times in all competitions.
Another example for those of my vintage: Manchester City — a brilliant team containing the likes of Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, Willie Donachie and Joe Corrigan — were four points clear of the pack in March 1972 and heading for their second top-flight title in four years.
Manager Malcolm Allison then signed the charismatic, crowd-pleasing, self-centred — but nevertheless outrageously talented — QPR striker Rodney Marsh for £200,000.
It was the most money the club had ever paid for a player — and, at the time, the fourth highest fee in English football history.
City’s general manager Joe Mercer (who’d fallen out with Allison) is reported to have told his younger, brasher colleague after the signing: “That’s a lot of money to spend on losing a title”.
He was proved to be correct: with Marsh on board, City won only four of their last nine games and finished fourth.
Having replaced the less talented but harder-working ‘team player’ Tony Towers in a renowned counter-attacking outfit, Marsh scored four times during that ill-fated run-in but later admitted his recruitment had cost his employers dearly.
“I played for myself, not the team,” he recalled.
“City were a sensational side back then but were only getting around 33,000 fans, and I think Malcolm believed I’d make a difference — not in terms of winning games but in getting bigger crowds. Like Bestie at United...
“On my debut, they got 55,000 people into Maine Road, so Malcolm was right about that — but Joe Mercer was also right about it disrupting the team.”
City wouldn’t lift another trophy until after Marsh left.
And now the sports pages over the past week have been dominated by another jaw-droppingly expensive signing by Manchester City.
I’ve heard churlish United and Liverpool fans moaning: “City have signed Erling Haaland, we should just hand them next season’s title right now”.
No doubt that’s what Everton fans thought in 1985 when their club, the new champions of England, landed one of the world’s best strikers in Gary Lineker.
And ‘Links’ did his job, finding the onion bag 40 times in 57 games for the Toffees, including the opener in the 1986 FA Cup final.
But it was that other lot from across Liverpool’s Stanley Park who ended that season with their first Double.
Haaland — who, funnily enough, was rejected by Everton as a 16-year-old trialist — is undoubtedly another ‘goal machine, having scored 86 in just 89 games for Dortmund.
But while the likes of United, PSG or the two Spanish giants might have tried to rebuild their teams around him, City manager Pep Guardiola will do precisely the opposite.
The 21-year-old’s goals per game ratio has been well documented, and he’ll no doubt bag a shedload for City.
But the Leeds-born Norwegian’s stats in other areas are noticeably less impressive.
Haaland makes fewer passes than any of the other leading strikers in the top five European leagues; in fact, he’s a lowly 129th out of 193, which must surely be a red flag for a coach who lives and breathes a passing and possession game.
Real Madrid’s 34-year-old centre forward Karim Benzema makes nearly twice as many passes per game on average, as does Haaland’s big rival as ‘best young player in the world’, Kylian Mbappe.
Even 37-year-old Ronnie – with 33 passes per game to Haaland’s 22 — leaves him trailing.
Not only that, but Haaland completed just one accurate long pass for Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season, and not a single accurate cross (compared, for instance, with Mbappe’s 19).
“All he wants to do is score goals...”
This isn’t sour grapes (honestly!) from a United man because the big lad opted for the other Mancs; Haaland showed no interest in coming to Old Trafford, even when one of his dad’s best mates was managing the club.
It will be interesting, however, to see how he fits in at the Etihad, especially when you consider Guardiola’s previous, rather uncomfortable experiences when dealing with other tunnel-visioned, one-dimensional strikers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o.
City’s greatest-ever goal-getter, Sergio Aguero, never seemed comfortable with Guardiola’s tiki-taka system and was no longer an automatic first-team choice after the Spaniard’s arrival.
But City fans are nevertheless cock-a-hoop with Haaland’s recruitment, pointing out that he cost a lot less than last summer’s big target, Harry Kane, would have done.
True, but you can’t help feeling that all-rounder Kane was more of a ‘Guardiola player’.
One thing is certain: despite how much he cost, City won’t be changing their style just to accommodate Haaland.
United tried that with Ronaldo, and look where that got them.