This time of the season twenty years ago fans of Manchester United would have been getting very excited about the idea their team might be able to win the elusive treble of The Premier League, The FA Cup and The Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would go on to rewrite the history books and achieve what no other English team had achieved before – and what no other team has come close to since.
With a mixture of the youth in the illustrious Class of 92 combined with the experience of club legends Peter Schmeichel and Roy Keane, this squad was able to go on an unbeaten run of 33 matches from December to May and in the process sweep all three trophies. Not only does this team go down as the best team in United’s history but it has also firmly cemented its place as one of the greatest teams to ever step on the pitch with one of the most famous seasons in the sports history.
Sir Alex Ferguson had laid down the foundations in previous seasons and this was the year that all the players went to work and earned their money for him. Having faith in some of the players at a young age despite scrutiny from fans and the media turned out to be a key factor this season. Breaking the clubs record signing fee to bring in Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa only for him to go on and score 29 goals this season was another huge factor. Paying £10.6 million for Holland and PSV Eindhoven defender Jaap Stam making him the worlds most expensive defender also proved to be money well spent.
Mid way through the season Fergie even ordered some of his players to put their feet up, Peter Schmeichel was sent to Barbados in January with Neville, Beckham and Scholes all having time off around this time too. United played 63 games in this season so with the treble on the mind squad rotation was key. This was the ingenious influence that Fergie had on the club and is a perfect example of why they were so successful under him.
At the time, it was widely reported that Ferguson almost resigned after the 97/98 season over a disagreement with the board when they questioned his commitment after losing The Premier League title race to Arsenal. If it was the boards job to increase the motivation of the scotsman it certainly worked!
David Beckham is definitely the most famous graduate of The Class of 92 and this season was a key one in his 11 year career. The summer of 1998 was when the World Cup took place in France, many will remember Beckham’s involvement and contributing factor to England losing 4-3 on penalties to Argentina. He was sent off for kicking out at Diego Simeone in the 47th minute and the country was relentless in the way they treated him for it. This could have been enough to ruin the confidence of a lot of players, ultimately resulting in the demise of their career. However Becks was able to play through the abuse and consistently deliver for Manchester United.
Well known for his trademark set pieces and ability to pick out players with a long ball, it was exactly these attributes that was the difference between United and Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup. In the final for The Champions League it was also Beckham’s corners that set up both of United’s goals in what went down in the history books as one of the greatest comeback’s in football. Without David Beckham, this treble winning season was not possible.
Peter Schmeichel certainly made his last season at Manchester United one of his best. In my opinion a great goalkeeper is just as important as a great striker – but they do not get as much credit as they deserve. Schmeichel is an all time legend of football and United were fortunate enough to have him protecting their goal for 8 seasons, the final season being the treble winning season.
It was in this final season that arguably his most important save for Manchester United unfolded. After going down to 10 men in a replay of the semi final of the FA Cup against Arsenal, Phil Neville conceded a 90th minute penalty, taken by Denis Bergkamp and saved by Schmeichel. Manchester United went on to win that fixture in extra time with Ryan Giggs’ most famous goal.
Another gem that was plucked from The Class of 92 but Giggs had been in the first team squad since the 91/92 season so he was a firm fan favourite by 1998. That majestic run and finish by Ryan Giggs wasn’t the only input he made this season, he was magnificent for United and was probably in the peak of his career at age 26. It was his shot that fell to Teddy Sherringham for the equaliser in the Champions League. Performing on the biggest stages wasn’t an issue for Giggs; and this is a key reason as to why his trophy room is so decorated.
As I said before no other English team has even come close to achieving what United were able to achieve in the 1998/99 season. The sheer brilliance of this squad will be celebrated for years and years to come because this special season cemented their names into the history of football.