For Denis Irwin, Manchester United’s historic Champions League win of 1999 was the ultimate squad triumph.
Without suspended duo Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, two of United’s most influential players, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were handicapped against opponents Bayern Munich even before the kick-off.
Outplayed for 90 minutes by the Germans and trailing from an early goal, the rest is history, with supersubs Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring twice in added time to complete the ultimate smash and grab raid.
Reflecting on that momentous Treble-clinching win at the Nou Camp 21 years ago today, former defender Irwin said it was United’s strength in depth and never-say-die attitude that won it.
“That night we were missing our two best players in Keano and Scholesy,” recalled Irwin, now a United ambassador.
“That was a huge handicap for us. You’re missing your driving force, your cleaner-upper in midfield, in Roy, and Scholesy was the perfect team-mate, who could create and score.
“So the manager had to re-jig the whole team, and we didn’t know what the side would be.
“Teddy played really well when he came on in the FA Cup final, and had a chance of playing. David May played in that final too and had a chance of starting, with Ronny Johnsen going into midfield.
“So the manager had a dilemma, but it worked out in the end, moving Becks into the middle, bringing Nicky Butt in, putting Jesper Blomqvist on the left and Giggsy on the right.
“But it was pure desire and drive that got us there – and we knew we could score.
“It was a great night with a great group of lads, and a huge squad effort the whole season. You don’t just need a fantastic side, you need a really good back-up as well, which is what got us over the line.”
United had been knocking on the door in the Champions League prior to their 1999 win, getting to the semi-finals in 1997 and quarter-finals in 1998.
“When we won it, I think it was a relief, because we’d been trying for four or five years,” said Irwin. “In 1999 we’d gone through a tough group stage and really tough quarter-finals and semi-finals against Inter Milan and Juventus.
“In the final we came up against a great Bayern side. We didn’t play well but battled away and got the luck we deserved.
“It was an incredible 10 days, winning the Premier League, the FA Cup and then finishing off with the Champions League.
“Will it ever be done again? Every now and again someone comes close, and I think that shows how hard it is to win them all in one season. I’m just glad we’ve still got that honour.”
Manchester United Foundation has committed more than £1million to Covid-19-related activities.
The funding to help the community causes came from last year’s Treble Reunion match at Old Trafford against Bayern, to mark the 20th anniversary of United’s win.
Manchester United 2 Bayern Munich 1
Nou Camp, Barcelona
May 26, 1999. KO: 7.45pm
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Neville, Johnsen, Stam, Irwin; Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Blomqvist (Sheringahm, 67); Yorke, Cole (Solskjaer, 81).
Manager Alex Ferguson.
Bayern Munich (5-2-3): Kahn; Babbel, Linke, Matthaus (Fink, 80), Kuffour, Tarnat; Effenberg, Jeremies; Basler (Salihamidzic, 87), Jancker, Zickler (Scholl, 71).
Manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Scorers:Manchester United : Sheringham 90, Solskjaer 90. Bayern Munich: Basler 6.
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