THE 1998-99 SEASON
The time of the treble was the beginning of the journey that would go a long way and until date there has never been any one thinking of separating. Well this is the love story between Manchester United and me.
We have been inseparable no matter the highs and lows. The tough times of going without winning a trophy in a season or seasons, the rough times of losing to bitter rivals, the hard times of losing key players to other clubs and rivals but Manchester United and I still prevailed and succeeded. We stood the test of time by standing tall and strong. The 1998-99 season, the treble is a testimony to this love story.
Only seven (7) clubs as far have won the continental treble which is the league title, the UEFA Champion’s League and one other domestic cup. Domestic Cup in the case of Man United is the FA Cup.
Manchester United is the first English Club to ever win a treble which is the Premier League title, the UEFA Champions League Cup and the FA Cup in the same season. The treble team started the season with no honours from the previous season; this made them hunger for silverware much more in the following season.
Though the season started on the low with draws but you would not have betted that it would turn out to be one of the greatest and most successful seasons in the history of the club. With new signings familiarizing themselves with the club and trying their very best to get to their feet on the surroundings of old Trafford, the likes of Dwight Yorke, who was an integral part of the team and an exceptional addition to the squad that never let down his colleagues and his manager’s trust of bringing him to the club.
He was the joint top goal scorers besides Michael Owen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with eighteen (18) in the Premier League formerly known as the FA Carling Premiership due to sponsorship purposes and he was also the joint top goal scorer besides Andriy Shevchenko in the UEFA Champions League with eight (8).
The team’s attitude was never in doubt with every player and staff member doing their utmost best to make sure the season was a memorable one. Under the stewardship of the great Sir Alex Ferguson, the team was heading for greatness in that season. Ferguson was honoured due to the achievements he achieved with his team afterwards with a Knighthood and was given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1999 November.
The team went on a run of thirty-three (33) games unbeaten in all competition and only lost three (3) league games the whole campaign for the Premiership title. Overall Man United lost just five (5) times in all competitions.
In the Charity Shield against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium (3-0), in the League Cup quarter-finals against Tottenham at White Hart Line (3-1), in the Premier League against Arsenal at Highbury (3-0) which was Arsene Wenger’s third straight victory against Ferguson, fourth in all competition, Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough Stadium (3-1) and Middlesbrough (2-3) at Old Trafford, the only home defeat in the season.
THE RACE TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE
Manchester United in the premier league was a title favourite together with the title holders Arsenal who were a force to reckon with, for they had an amazing squad from the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, and so on.
United would indeed have a big say in the title race and all boy was it a good race. United’s first win only came in September a (4-1) win over Charlton Athletic. Solskjaer and the teams’ new comer Dwight Yorke scored two (2) goals each. Man United’s defeat in December 1998 against Middlesbrough was their last. The team went on striving and proving to each and every one that the season would be theirs.
The likes of Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, the veteran Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, Peter Schmeichel one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, Jaap Stam who was a then club record holder for £10.75 million, David Beckham the free kick specialist and master crosser of the ball, went on defying history.
From falling behind in the league standing to Aston Villa in the beginning then Chelsea and finally Arsenal who could not hold on to the first position after being defeated by Leeds United, a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s late winner almost done and dusted Arsenals’ hopes of them returning the league title. Man United only needed four points from their two remaining games against threatened relegated Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur.
A point was gotten from Blackburn after a nil –nil score line which in the processed relegated Blackburn and only three more points would secure Manchester United the league title. The last day of the league was an exciting but nervous one for a Man United fan. United were a goal down and what a nail-biting experience it was but United as they mostly do came back into the match with strikes from David Beckham and Andy Cole, winning the match (2-1).
Champions…! Champions..! Was the song of the day as Man United lifted their fifth (5th) FA Premier League title and twelfth (12th) including the titles won before the FA Premier League was born.
THE FA CUP – PERSISTENT AND DETERMINATION
Manchester United’s FA Cup run was of persistent and determination. Due to their fine run in the Premier League the hard work was also seen even in the FA Cup. The team faced difficulty opponents almost all were coming from the Premier League apart from Fulham who were in the Second Division.
Man United started the journey against Middlesbrough, the only team to beat them at Old Trafford. It was as if the ghost of the league defeat was still on the players’ minds as United went down to an Andy Townsend goal but United would fight the horrors of their mind and step their game up. Andy Cole equalized and United were more confident and stronger to finish the game on a high. They pushed Middlesbrough and were handed a penalty which Denis Irwin converted and Ryan Giggs rounded up the goals to make it (3-1) for a United victory.
Bitter rivals Liverpool were next on the menu. Liverpool took the lead through Michael Owen just minutes after starting the match. Bad start for the team but they persisted and the goal scoring machine Dwight Yorke equalized four minutes from normal time and the baby-faced assassin Ole Gunnar Solkjaer came through in the 90th minute to seal the win for United, (2-1) it finished. United matched on to face Fulham the only non-Premier League team which United defeated courtesy of an Andy Cole goal.
The next team were the Blues, Chelsea. The match was quite a tough one as no goals were recorded but in the process Paul Scholes was given his matching orders with a red card shown to him and in turn Chelsea’s Di Matteo was also shown his matching orders with a red card as well. The match needed a replay which was at Stamford Bridge.
This time around Man United were more determined to ensure that they came out of the Bridge with nothing but a win and they did not waste much time as Dwight Yorke got the goal in the opening five minutes of the game and later on doubled it in the second half, sending Man United into the semi-finals.
The holders were next, Arsenal the Gunners. The game was played to a scoreless draw which went to extra time but the teams would not be separated and the match had to be taken to a replay. The replay took place four days later and United took the lead through Beckham’s long range effort but it was cancelled by Dennis Bergkamp, making it one-all. As if things would not get worse Man United was a man down as Roy Keane was shown a red card for a second yellow card offence. United had to play without their Captain for the last thirty minutes. In injury time Arsenal had a penalty which Bergkamp took. Peter Schmeichel was on his very best to parry the ball away from the resultant spot-kick sending the match into extra time.
In the second half of extra time, finally the moment for Ryan Giggs came by through a slope pass by Vieira. Giggs got the ball from the centre half and dribble his way through the whole Arsenal defence and made them pay with a goal considered to be one of the goals of the century. Man United came out on top with a (2-1) score line and matched on to the finals against Newcastle.
The players were enthusiastic about the finals and they made no mistake and sealed the match with a (2-0) win over Newcastle and won the FA Cup, making it a double for the season after clinching the Premier League on final day.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – DO OR DIE
Manchester United’s campaign in the UEFA Champions League started from the second qualifying round between LKS Lodz of Poland who were the champions in the Polish League. United managed to beat the Polish Champions (2-0) and saw off a nil-nil draw in the return leg to qualify to the group stages.
In the group stage Man United was drawn against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Brondby, this was considered the toughest group in the competition. But United players were more optimistic of the opportunity and challenge ahead. They led both matches against Barcelona home and away (3-2) before Luis Enrique and Rivaldo equalized for Barca respectively, ending the matches (3-3) home and away.
Man United then faced Bayern Munich who they also drew to after leading (2-1), a mistake from the goalkeeper led to an open net for Giovane Elber to make it two all. The return match was also a stalemate (1-1) after a Roy Keane header was cancelled by Hasan Salihamidzic.
Man United thumped Brondby (6-2) at their home ground with goals from Giggs who got two on the day, Cole, Keane, Yorke and Solkjaer one each and the return league was no different as they hammered Brondby (5-0) at Old Trafford with goals from Beckham, Cole, Phil Neville, Yorke and Scholes.
The results were good enough for Manchester United to finish second in the standings one point behind group winners Bayern Munich and two points ahead of eliminated Barcelona and headed into the knockout stage.
In the quarter-finals Man United faced Inter Milan (Internazionale) and beat Inter at Old Trafford (2-0) with both goals coming from Yorke who met the master crossers well calculated cross into the box Beckham, to hand United the victory. In the return league Scholes scored a late away equalized to end the match (1-1) and put Man United into the semi-finals with a (3-1) goal aggregate.
Juventus were Man United’s semi-final opponents. Juventus were handed an away goal through their captain Antonio Conte and United struggled to find an equalizing goal but in injury time Beckham measured one of his masterly crosses into the box which Giggs converted to give the home side hope of qualifying to the finals in Barcelona.
In the return league the game plan for Man United was thrown out of the window within minutes as United fell to a two goals deficit through Inzaghi making it (3-1) to Juventus on aggregate. Man United never die attitude was tested in this match in the land that the team has never won before, Italy.
As the game went on United pulled one back through the captain Roy Keane who would miss the final due to the yellow card offence he had committed. He had accumulated two yellows and the rules stated that accumulating two yellow cards in a stage of the tournament will lead to a one-game suspension. Before the half time break Yorke levels the scores to two all, a breath of life for the fans.
In the second half Man United were more focus and had an age in the tie as Cole made it (3-2) and turned the tie around in United’s favour. They held on to the lead until full time and the victory became the first in Italy and off they were into the finals.
THE COME-BACK KINGS – WHAT A WAY TO DO IT
Group stage opponents were Man United’s UEFA Champions League final opponents; Bayern Munich. United did not have their regular central midfielders Paul Scholes and captain Roy Keane. The manager had to make adjustment to the squad and hope for the best with Peter Schmeichel as captain.
Bayern took the lead just minutes after the match had started through Mario Basler. Schmeichel made several saves to keep United in the match. Alex Ferguson made his substitute bringing on Sheringham and Solkjaer in hope of finding an equalizing goal. In injury time of three minutes added by the referee of the second half United got a corner which Beckham took.
Bayern never cleared the ball well and the ball fell to Giggs who stroke a low volley direct into the path of Sheringham who scuffed the ball into the Bayern net to make the score line one all. United would still get a last chance after Bayern restarted the game with another corner which was again taken by Beckham. His cross was nodded to the back-post where the baby-faced assassin had been lingering and the super-sub toe-poked the ball into the Bayern Munich net to seal one of the greatest come-backs of all times in the history of football, (2-1) it finished.
THE DNA OF CHAMPIONS
Man United were Champions of Europe for the second time in the history of the club and what a way to do it.
Manchester United the treble winner champions, the fans greatest moments and one of the fans most loved clubs. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this great rich club.
Thanks for your time and in case you have any comments please leave them in the comment box below and I will be more than happy to respond to them.