An hour and a half passed after Manchester United won the 1999 Champions League and completed the legendary treble before the winners began to leave the locker room in the bowels of the immense and now practically empty Camp Nou. The players all wore gray Versace suits with the club crest, and their huge, bemused smiles reflected a mood that ranged from delight to relief to utter amazement. Each player wore a Champions League winner’s medal around his neck, which David Beckham, as he later admitted, did not take off for several days and even slept with it.
A flock of journalists instantly flew towards the players. “It was supernatural. Of course, it wasn’t the skills and abilities that helped us win the match. It was something else and I can’t understand what it was. “I have never experienced anything like it in my life,” Gary Neville, who had played for the club since he was 11, struggled to find the words.
All United employees experienced similar feelings, because the team became the first of Europe’s top 5 leagues to win the treble. The achievements of Celtic (1967), Ajax (1972) and PSV (1988) are also incredibly great, but the Scottish and Dutch championships are significantly inferior in level to the English Premier League.
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The UEFA President was already preparing a congratulatory speech for Bayern in German
Two hours before Neville’s confessions, UEFA president Lennart Johansson looked at the scoreboard in the Barcelona stadium: it was the 90th minute, Bayern led 1:0. Johansson saw that the match’s main referee, Pierluigi Collina, had added three minutes, stood up from his chair and patted the shoulder of the legendary Bobby Charlton, who was sitting next to him, sympathetically. The official headed to the elevator accompanied by his colleague Gerhard Aigner, who had already tied ribbons with Bayern colors to the famous trophy. On the way to the stands, Lennart repeated his speech in German and when he entered the field he was stunned. “This cannot happen. What’s happening?! — the president was amazed. “Winners cry and losers dance.”
The first moments after the Champions League final – 1998/1999
Photo: John Peters/Getty Images
No one believed in salvation from “demons.” Throughout the match they looked nothing like the giant who that season completed the Premier League and FA Cup double for the third time in five seasons. “I was already preparing to say at a press conference something like: “What can you do, a little bad luck. Maybe next time we’ll have a better chance.” It’s true that deep down I was still not ready to give up until the last second. After all, during my career, Manchester United changed the game many times,” Ferguson admitted.
United’s players knew that, for all their successes that season, they could be remembered as the team that stumbled at the last minute and failed to win the Champions League. Ferguson wanted the cup with the “ears” more than anyone, because he knew that without this pinnacle his career as a coach would be incomplete. “Europe had become a personal crusade,” Sir Alex wrote in his autobiography. “He knew that he would never be considered a great coach until he won the European Cup.”
Ferguson once played for Manchester United:
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In the final, Ferguson was without his key midfielders: Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were serving suspensions for too many yellow cards in the semi-finals against Juventus. The coach had to rebuild his famous midfield: he moved Beckham to the center, Giggs was forced to play on the right, and Blomkvist took the Welshman’s place on the left flank. The problems with the team had a significant impact on United’s game: the team looked tight and lost in the sixth minute. The master of set pieces, Mario Basler, put the ball into the corner of the goal of Peter Schmeichel, who played his last game with Manchester United, with a clear free kick.
Manchester United’s only hope was Fergie Time, and it worked
The missed goal did not encourage the English champions at all, quite the opposite. Ferguson’s heartfelt speech at half-time didn’t help either: “If you lose, you’ll be just a couple of steps away from the Champions Cup, but you won’t be able to touch it. And you will hate this helplessness for the rest of your life. There’s still the whole half left, so you have time to convince yourself that losing today is an unaffordable luxury. “Don’t you dare come back here without giving your all in the most important game of your life.”
After great victories, Alex Ferguson could afford a glass of champagne
Photo: John Peters/Getty Images
Without leaders in midfield, Manchester United looked like an expensive car from which the engine had been removed: it was not even possible to start, let alone start. “I was surprised how weak we looked,” forward Andy Cole recalled. — That season we played against Bayern twice in the group stage, in both games we went ahead, but everything ended in a draw: 2:2 and 1:1. We were clearly superior to them in terms of play, but in the final something went wrong. Nothing worked at all.”
The Bayern players subtly sensed the weakness of their rival and after scoring the goal they played even more relaxed. In the second half, Mehmet Scholl hit the post and Karsten Janker’s header hit the crossbar. When regulation time expired, the only hope remained for the famous Fergie Time. From 1992 to 2013, Manchester United scored 4.98% of their goals after the 90th minute in Premier League matches, that is, 81 goals. A characteristic feature of this phenomenon was that the coach would approach the field line and hit the clock face on his hand. The team really improved, but the rivals went crazy, started to get nervous and conceded.
More information about the famous Fergie Time:
The Fergie Weather Phenomenon. The Bayern bosses entered the elevator with the score 1:0 and left with the score 1:2
In the 1998/1999 season, Fergie’s timing worked especially phenomenally, as did the determined qualities of Manchester United in general: the Devils won or drew 17 games in which they lost. “Knowing there were three minutes left, I felt a pang of desperation and thought, “What nonsense, we’re really going to give up!” We are Manchester United, we have done it before and we can do it again. We just need one goal,” recalled Manchester United’s top scorer that season, Dwight Yorke, who scored 29 goals in all competitions.
Solskjaer had the feeling that he would score against Bayern
This time the despondent Sir Alex went nowhere and did not show his watch; There were absolutely no prerequisites for recovery, so the coach hid in the same corner of the bench waiting for the final whistle. But despite this, Fergie’s time worked already in the 22nd second of additional time. United won a corner, the ball, after a cross from Beckham, bounced around the area and finally reached Sheringham, who pushed it into the net from a couple of meters. As 50,000 Manchester United fans screamed in relief across Catalonia, Ferguson woke up and muttered to assistant Steve McClaren: “What? What happened there?
Alex Ferguson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a memorable photo from 1999
Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nine minutes before the end of regulation time, Sir Alex let Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer onto the field, who after the game spoke of a feeling he might score. “On the day of the game a friend from Norway called me,” the forward admitted. “He couldn’t come to Spain, so he wanted to know if he would watch the game. The friend said: “Yes, but I have to leave with 15 minutes left in the game.” He had a night shift at the hospital. I convinced him to definitely watch the whole game: “Ask someone to replace you for an hour.” Because I had the feeling that something important was going to happen to me. It’s hard to explain, it was just a feeling.”
Solskjaer was not wrong. Those on the scoreboard only lasted a minute: United got another corner, Beckham crossed again, Sheringham extended the ball to the far post and Solskjaer raised his foot and shot under the crossbar: 2:1! The Bayern players fell to the ground in despair when Ghanaian defender Sammy Kuffour began to hit the grass with his fist. “I didn’t want to do it, but when you’re so depressed you can’t control yourself,” the African recalled. —After the game I just cried. I haven’t even watched that game again, I don’t want to see it.”
United players celebrate the treble surrounded by thousands of people
After the trophy presentation, the United players remained on the Camp Nou pitch for an hour and then stayed at their hotel until the early hours of the morning. In Manchester, the team was received by 750 thousand fans. “I feel a satisfaction I haven’t felt before,” said Ferguson, who was knighted a month later. “Maybe we were meant to win.” “I am convinced that people will never forget this team… They are legends.”