DAN WILLIAMSON looks at a goal that, perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing, was hugely important to Manchester United’s “treble” in 1999.
“Full speed ahead Barcelona,” uttered enthusiastically and memorably by the ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley, are four words seared into the brains of Manchester United fans of a certain age. The stage for the iconic moment was Juventus’ former home, the Stadio delle Alpi in the northern Italian industrial city of Turin. Serie A was the place to be in the 1990s, and an Italian club was present in seven of the 10 European Cup finals of that decade. It boasted the best players, paid the highest wages, and clubs knew that to lift “the trophy with the big ears” would require taking on, and beating, the finest Italy had to offer.
Although other major leagues around Europe were catching up – namely Spain’s La Liga and England’s own Premier League – the Juventus that Manchester United faced in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final of April 1999 was a formidable force, having contested the last three finals of Europe’s premier cup competition. The side included the likes of current Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids, and Zinedine Zidane. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, Juventus held the cards with a crucial away goal to their name. The Old Lady, a nickname that belied the ferocious nature of Juventus, gave Manchester United a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb by going two goals up, through poacher extraordinaire Filippo Inzaghi.
A characteristic of the 1999 Manchester United side which swept all before them in winning an unprecedented treble was an indefatigable never-say-die attitude. Rather than quitting and sulking, the men in red rolled up their sleeves and fought tooth and nail to get back into the game. Captain Roy Keane rose highest to nod in a David Beckham corner to give United hope on 24 minutes, although a tackle on the mercurial Zinedine Zidane 10 minutes later would produce a yellow card to rule the Irishman out of the final. Undeterred, the United comeback continued. Dwight Yorke headed in a Beckham cross just a minute after Keane’s booking to make it 2-2. Going into the half-time break the advantage, courtesy of the away goal rule, was United’s.
Juventus increased the pressure in the second period, and on the hour Inzaghi was denied a hat-trick after being ruled offside. The adventurous nature of United’s style that season saw Denis Irwin hit Angelo Peruzzi’s post after 71 minutes. Sitting on a “lead” was just not in the vocabulary of Alex Ferguson’s side. A short time later Paul Scholes joined his captain in the referee’s notebook, also meaning he’d cruelly miss the final. With just five minutes to go, Juventus push forward in vain search of the crucial goal that would qualify them for the final.
A long ball was uncharacteristically fluffed by the typically resolute Italian defence, and the grateful recipient, Dwight Yorke, skipped between two exhausted Juventus defenders, run ragged for almost 90 minutes by Manchester United’s relentless attacking juggernaut. Face-to-face with Peruzzi, Yorke dropped his shoulder and went to his right-hand side, only to be felled by the Italian goalkeeper. A sure penalty if ever there was one, the advantage was played due to the presence of Andrew “Goal King” Cole.
Like all great strike partnerships, Yorke and Cole were always within a few feet of each other, although it wasn’t love at first sight. Ferguson initially tried to pair expensive signing Yorke first with Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, although when Cole got his chance he grabbed it with both hands, the pair striking up a telepathic bond on and off the pitch. Cole picked up the loose ball after Yorke was tripped and slid it in from a tight angle, too quick for the recovering Italian defender who was unable to reach the line in time. Cole thrust his right arm into the air in sheer delight, relief, and exhaustion, knowing he’d just sealed Manchester United’s place in their first European Cup final since that famous Wembley night in 1968. The following month history would be rewritten, Manchester United claiming a seemingly impossible treble, and Cole’s moment in Turin will prove an everlasting monument.