Converging for training at The Cliff before the start of the season, none of the players would have thought that the season that was going to unfold in front of them would be nothing less than a dream run.
What started as a working-class football team competing against teams from other departments and railway companies, reached the zenith of the footballing fairy tale on 26 May 1999. The 1999 Champions League Final was not just about the final but the whole season where they fought with a never-say-die attitude. None of us can forget the words “Can Manchester United score, they always score” from Clive Tyldesley as we watched Solskjær poking the ball into the net at an exact 90+2:17′ against Bayern Munich. We, at MUSC
Delhi-NCR, celebrate the 21 year anniversary of the glorious treble win by the best English side ever to grace the pitch.
The Journey to Treble
It all started with a fifth title win for Manchester United, who later went on to win the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League and that too in just a matter of 10 days. United clinched the title with a difference of just 1 point as the mighty Arsenal failed to defend their maiden Premier League title. This was the year when they brought in some wonderful reinforcements in the form of Jesper Blomqvist, Jaap Stam, and Dwight Yorke who starred during the course of the campaign along with the rest of the players from the squad.
On the back of a successful domestic league and cup campaign, the club went on to win the biggest club competition in the world to make it the first English club to win the treble.
Under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson, the team went on to play a total of 59 games out of which they just lost a total of three games and that too in the Premier League. Manchester United remained unbeaten in the club competitions and over the course of the season, scored a total of 128 goals. The only clubs that they lost against were Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough.
Captained by the fan-favorite, Roy Keane, they were not just a team but a close-knit family bonded together by a cumulative desire and hunger to win games at any cost. With the full force of the famed Class of 92, United was the perfect mix of youth and experience which showed in their performances which stunned many. There were a lot of detractors who questioned their winning run and termed it as a fluke but the results and the grind behind them told a different story, altogether.
Halfway through the Premier League season, they stood at the 4th position and the pundits thought that they would have zero impact on the top two positions. The team regrouped and worked their way up to claim the top spot. Their case was helped by the bad form of teams such as Aston Villa and Leeds. A string of bad performances from these teams ensured that the title challenge was now a three-pronged race between Arsenal, Chelsea, and United.
The team got into their groove and went on a five-game winning streak during which they also defeated Nottingham Forest 8-1 on their turf. It was the same match where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four goals in just 14 minutes. They went undefeated for the rest of the campaign while Chelsea and Arsenal were also fighting them for the top spot and a 2-2 draw with Liverpool brought United to the second spot. However, winning 2 of the last 3 games ensured that they finished the campaign on the top after defeating Tottenham Hotspur on the last day.
Similarly, the FA Cup campaign was not an easy ride for the squad. They received favorable home draws till Round 6, however, they had to face Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Fulham, and Chelsea during this time. They had to replay their R6 match with Chelsea since they drew the home tie and later defeated them at their home.
After winning the semi-final replay against the classic Arsenal team, they defeated Newcastle 2-0 with goals from Sheringham and Scholes in the finals. As if winning the league and cup double was not enough, the team was eyeing the biggest club competition where the galaxy of stars fought for supremacy over others. With just two draws and ‘zero’ losses, United has crowned the domestic cup champions for the 10th time.
United Champions League Glory(1998-99)
The start of the UEFA Champions League was a drab affair for Manchester United as they had to also go through the qualifying rounds to reach the group stage. The group stage was also not a piece of cake and had Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Brondby. With none of the pundits giving them a chance to qualify, they collected 10 points and were the only team to not lose any of their games.
Their qualification as the second-placed team from the group ensured that they also face Inter Milan in the quarterfinals. They won 3-1 on aggregate against Inter with Yorke and Scholes sharing the goal-scoring exploits. In the semi-finals, they were pitted against Juventus which had players such as Inzaghi, Zidane, and Edgar Davids in their ranks. However, the cumulative grit of the English team made sure that the Italians did not stand a chance against them and it saw them win the tie 4-3 on aggregate.
Going into the final, they had a few setbacks and were to step on to the fabled Camp Nou pitch without their first choice midfield duo of Scholes and Keane. Ferguson had to bring in a few changes to the team to give it a balanced look. After just six minutes into the game, Bayern was put ahead by Mario Basler and the scoreline remained unchanged for the rest of the regulation time. When the referee indicated that an extra three minutes of the game would be played, it was then that Manchester United sprang into action.
When everything seemed like it was over, and Peter Schmeichel accepted that his final appearance for the club would end in defeat, it was then that Sheringham put them ahead. Absolute mayhem followed the goal and they won another corner which went on to make history and sent all United fans around the world in a frenzy. A dejected Oliver Kahn was seen standing motionless as were the other Bayern players. Schmeichel was seen somersaulting as the final whistle blew and the historical treble was secured by an ‘English’ club for the first time. The German supporters were left stunned and an underdog team won the competition after thirty-one years cementing Ferguson’s and the team’s name in the annals of football history.
Manchester United won the treble and made a statement while doing so. They competed against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Bayern Munich among the whole host of clubs. They won convincingly against these teams and became the ‘Champions of Europe’ for the second time.
The United academy was inducted into the elite list of footballing academies in the world and is still churning out world-class talents competing at the topmost level. Sir Alex Ferguson was catapulted into the same league as that of Sir Matt Busby and the team went on to be termed as England’s best ever squad. With just 3 losses in 59 matches and three trophies out of three, Manchester United achieved perfection in 1998/99 and shot United to the top of the world’s richest football club list.