Manchester United 2-3 Real Madrid (agg: 2-3), 19.04.2000
The best goals are typically those that can be looked back on fondly; naturally, then, they have to be in a winning context. This one isn’t that. It’s an exception to the rule — my rule — that goals have to mean something.
It could be argued that it wasn’t a completely meaningless goal, even it did happen with Manchester United 3-0 down (at home in a game they were expected to win). Indeed, David Beckham’s strike had appeared to reinvigorate United at the time, and was perhaps one that would inspire the side to another late, famous rally. But, then again, they needed three more because of the away goal rule. And they managed just the one, a Paul Scholes penalty just before the clock struck ninety.
In isolating the goal, regardless of the result, it is clearly a very good one. But again, a goal needs something around it for it to resonate; just look at what placed 40th on an ITV show on the greatest Champions League goals: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ’99 final winner against Bayern Munich. That one was going to be special before it was even scored, no matter how it was scored. What does this mean for Beckham’s goal, then? No context, no nothing. Not important.
Except, maybe not. “The thing that was always said about David Beckham was that he couldn’t beat a man,” said Clive Tyldesley, as he introduced the show’s number 47. “Well, he beat a couple there.” It was a goal that was so unconventional, so surprising that it was oddly amusing, because it had come from Beckham, a player often accused of being fairly one-dimensional. George Best probably agreed with that, in typically Best-like fashion: “Beckham can’t kick with his left foot, doesn’t score many goals, can’t head a ball and can’t tackle. Apart from that, he’s all right.”
A proper, damning criticism of Beckham came weeks before the Old Trafford game, in the aftermath of the 0-0 draw in Real Madrid’s home leg, where the defending champions no longer looked a team to be feared. Roberto Carlos was most disappointed by United, calling them “just another team”. He didn’t see much in Beckham, either. “Against Real Sociedad, I had to face [Ricardo] Sa Pinto, who came at me one-on-one and put crosses in,” Carlos started. “But against Manchester United I had Beckham, who comes from centre-field and tries to cross, but he is not a player with speed or real ability and you seldom have to face him in one-on-one situations.” It would have been wonderful for United to have won that game and Beckham to score the goal that he did. It’s funny, but could have been infinitely funnier had the reds turned up, to think Carlos had been made to look most pathetic by the player he seldom faced in one-on-one situations.
Picking up a Scholes pass, Beckham looked up, saw a charging Carlos — and just eased past him. Beckham didn’t take a breather; he glided past Carlos’ Brazilian counterpart Savio, moved away from the approaching Aitor Karanka and smashed the ball hard into the top right-hand corner past Iker Casillas, who, for 154 minutes of the tie, looked nothing like what an 18-year-old goalkeeper should do. The finish would have made a fine goal in itself.
Carlos’ poked tongue at Beckham was nothing new around this time, especially with all the post-France ’98 revisionism, even though this moment fell not long after Beckham had the boast of being the world’s second best player, after Rivaldo, as those that voted in 1999’s Ballon d’Or agreed. Indeed, Carlos was quick to change his tune when Beckham joined his club a few years later, describing him as an “excellent player” that would soon “end all the rumours saying he is only an advertisement boy.” For the initial jibe, read: mind games. And as much a nothing concept as ‘mind games’ is, Carlos must have believed it, because he was unfortunately right. For over an hour with United trailing 3-0, Beckham could barely impose himself in the game. But, even still, that goal. It was pretty good (and one that surely would not have been scored had the game not gone from the hosts).
All of this, and it could just be that Beckham’s great moment wasn’t even the game’s best. Raul’s second, Madrid’s third, hasn’t even been mentioned yet. But everyone knows of Fernando Redondo’s 40 yard run, nonchalant flick through Henning Berg’s legs, then the manner in which he accelerated to the byline with a pass to Raul to seal it off.
It seems strange to say so now, but what Beckham did was surprising even in a game where Redondo did that; at the time, there seemed to be something romantic about Argentine and Brazilian players in Europe — they had an altogether fresh approach, and those that played for the top clubs played with an air of superiority and Redondo was one of them. He was one of those players we see these days as cool to like because, why not? Everything Redondo did seemed natural (far more expressive than your typical ‘defensive-midfielder’), while Beckham’s was just — not very Beckham.
The Redondo-Raul goal will forever be remembered, but Beckham’s own effort at least warrants a passing mention.
Cast your mind back ten years to 2002. We witnessed the broadcast of a tenuous and tedious Pepsi advert featuring David Beckham staring down a young Iker Casillas in a Wild West showdown. It was bad, camp and yet somehow, in someone’s mind, commercial; hawking carbonated drinks and brand Beckham through pastiche and golden ball’s very talented horse.
The summer of ’02 also saw Denis Irwin leave Old Trafford for Wolverhampton Wanderers, having played 511 games for United, scoring 33 goals and winning more trophies than he had fingers (deep breath … that’s seven Premier League titles, three FA cups, a League Cup, the Champions League, the Cup Winner’s Cup and the 1999 Intercontinental Cup).
Back to the ad. With Casillas downed and defeated, Roberto Carlos, the ultimate full-back glamour star, arrives ball in-hand, not seeking glory, honour or the defence of his team mates or colours, but to demand satisfaction for his interrupted haircut.
Had Irwin, so often trusted to take penalties in a team that featured the likes of Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona, interceded on Pepsi’s dustbowl shootout, he would have ridden in as if portrayed by Eastwood: a quiet yet formidable character whose unassuming, humble demeanour belies a lethal, quick-draw ability in a dead ball situation.
Carlos, the Brazilian rockstar wing-back with the ridiculously curvaceous free kicks, will probably forever be popularly remembered as the greatest full-back of Irwin’s era, but the Irishman’s considerable claims to such a title are not easy to dismiss.
He may not have looked the part of the superstar player, or boasted an arsenal of tricks and skills, but Irwin was an exquisite and clever footballer with an unfussy yet elegant style. He favoured the finesse of intelligence and functional technique rather than glossy, hollow flair. Genuinely two footed, he was potent and unpredictable going forward – happy to overload the flanks or cut inside – while also solid and dependable in defence. As a footballer, Denis Irwin had what some folks might call True Grit.
As the box-to-box midfielder fell out of fashion, and effectiveness, the tactically free and uncontested nature of the full-back position lent itself to complete footballers with the skill, imagination and fitness to marauder up field. While only five-foot-eight in height, Irwin was a stocky, square-built player with impressive stamina and a match winning appetite. Adept at left and right back, with the ball at his feet he could switch the play with ease, pass long or short, deliver from wide and offer a serious threat from set pieces.
Purchased from Oldham for £625,000 in 1990, the Irishman stayed at United for twelve years – an exceptional return for the outlay, especially considering the size and consistency of the club’s trophy haul during his years of service. No wonder Sir Alex believes the full-back was his greatest ever signing. In that time he endeared himself to Old Trafford faithful as a hardworking, no-nonsense professional toiling away – in stark contrast to the PR men whose powers and influence appear to grow in line with the game’s new-found appetite to consume itself and its integrity in exchange for profit.
If he were a Dutchman, or perhaps named Irwinho, his abilities may have been even more highly praised, although with his inclusion in a number of “best of the Premiership” team lists during the league’s 20 year anniversary it’s clear that many do remember the skill and charm of the Corkman bursting forward or harrying opponents from full-back.
Today Paul Scholes is United’s exceptional quiet man, lauded for his longevity at 38 – the age at which Irwin retired in 2004 when playing for Wolves. While the commercial travesties of the modern game have often run roughshod over the traditions and history of football’s institutions – Manchester United’s badge has been contracted and redesigned for branding reasons by marketing gurus – players such as these stand out as discreet honourable anti-icons.
Irwin is arguably Manchester United’s greatest ever left-back, one of the finest players to ever come out of Ireland and emphatically football’s answer to Eastwood’s Man With No Name.
It was no more than a year after Manchester United’s visit to Hell, where fans were invited to buy carpets just so they had something to take home with them, that they re-visited the inferno seeking vengeance — but arrived back in Manchester with just a point in a game that ended scoreless. United had found Galatasaray to be a stubborn and worthy match; up to this point, December 7 1994, their last three meetings read: draw, draw, draw. What made this game — the focus of this piece, and the one mentioned earlier that year — different from the infamous encounters of a year ago against the Turkish side was that this was just a group game, with not away goals to worry about, rather the might of stronger teams that would shape fate elsewhere.
To progress, Manchester United had to defeat Galatasaray in the sixth and final round of the group stage; and hope for an already-safe IFK Göteborg to beat Barcelona away from home.
That wasn’t going to happen.
And Alex Ferguson thought as much. Partly because of trademark tinkering and largely with several players missing, the Scot would field an eleven and a bench full of players who practically still had fontanelles. “The restrictions on foreign players are unfair but we can’t hide behind that,” Eric Cantona would say post-match. “We have to develop or buy more English players but we have a good school of young players and they may be the answer.” Cantona was on to something. While this game could simply be dismissed as irrelevant as it did not lead to anything as noted by history, it was significant in that it gave Ferguson the opportunity to trial the best crop of young players in the world — unbeknown to all at the time — against a strong opposition, however beleaguered and exhausted they were after a dismal campaign. They put four past their bogey side. Welcome to Heaven.
The Reds did have reason to expect something favourable over at Camp Nou; IFK were Group A’s best side, in terms of performances isolated to that one group, and had with them a dangerous 20-year-old named Jesper Blomqvist; while the Spaniards in Barcelona’s midfield had to speak to each other — ‘la humiliación,’ they’d probably say — as they could not yet communicate through telepathy, but even still, only in games like these does one team want it more than the other (it ended a goal apiece). United were knocked out of Europe too soon — again — and how they would respond to this failure was unclear; but the young players offered a sort of reassurance as to say that the best solution is not in the transfer window, but closer to home.
Though not everyone was convinced.
As with many youngsters in football, giving them a chance puts you at risk of being deceived. Rob Hughes mentioned this in his column a day later in The Times: “Where do they go from here? Down the years, careers of international schoolboys have been still-born at Old Trafford,” Hughes wrote. “There have been great expectations, a brief flurry in the red shirt, a disappearance and then a traumatic slide down the scale to lesser clubs.” That much was true for Simon Davies, scorer of the night’s first, and impressive throughout. But Davies would go on to make just a handful of first team appearances before barely-notable spells at lower-level sides, ranging from Macclesfield Town to Bangor City to Airbus UK.
If Davies’ performance was impressive, Beckham’s was extraordinary, considering all things. ITV’s Brian Moore opined that “young Beckham has had a superb game on the right of United’s midfield.” Indeed, this sort of praise, to call it ‘superb’, is typically reserved for the untried or the goalscorer. Beckham was both. He would be a constant presence on this, like Davies, his senior début, whether on the flanks or in the box and there were already signs of an understanding, especially with a floppy-haired Gary Neville, a partnership that would gradually become one of the finest of its kind in later years.
United would have four 19-year-olds in Beckham, Neville, Davies and Nicky Butt, who looked as promising as the rest, with a further four players on the bench no older than twenty-two, including Paul Scholes. Neville and Butt were already growing as United players; the former was slowly establishing himself at right-back while Butt, Rob Hughes describes, was “a player of tempestuous attitude, [and] has shown throughout the European campaign that he can live with the pressure.” Ryan Giggs was missing from the action but was by now a first-team player, something for the others to try to emulate.
Davies would open the scoring with a left-footed, angled finish after just two minutes, and then Beckham doubled the lead with a low, drilled shot from outside the area. Moore exclaimed: “First Davies the youngster, second Beckham the youngster … well, the young boys are doing Alex Ferguson proud!” Goals are just goals for players that are expected to carry out other duties, but it is a wonderful method of attention seeking. Beckham would then set up the third; flicking a header from a Cantona cross that Roy Keane, after easing past two defenders, finished smartly. Beckham threatened to score again, Butt, too, but it was Bülent Korkmaz, definitely not an academy graduate of United’s, who added a fourth with an own goal.
Alex Ferguson was full of praise for his young players after the game. “That was the way to do it, just go out and enjoy themselves. They were fantastic and I’m pleased for them.” Simon Davies, who could not have expected his career to go down such a different route to his colleagues, pleaded with the manager to retain faith in youth.
“We hope we’re solving the problem for him,” said Davies. “We were all thrown in the deep end against Galatasaray and we’re all very pleased with ourselves. We didn’t let him down and hopefully we will all get stronger and bigger as the years go on. We’re almost a team in ourselves. We won the Youth Cup together, now we’ve come up through the reserves and won that League together. There’s a great sense of camaraderie.”
Going back to Hughes’ piece, he ended by saying: “We have enjoyed a glimpse of United’s future. It is full of promise of youth, but when will we see it reach manhood?” That question was answered a year later. Alan Hansen nor could anyone believe it, but Manchester United had won something with kids. With the power of hindsight, the club and its fans could point to a particular European night, among others, as the starting point for the new success that would continue through the ’90s and beyond.
With thanks to Tr16ia for the newspaper clippings
How do you define who is, and isn’t, a great? A legend? Or is that the same thing (it isn’t, apparently)? Gary Neville isn’t a great, we know this. Is he a Manchester United great? No — or at least I don’t think he is.
Instead, he was just a good player, the no-frills type, but unlike the airlines the term is connoted with, Neville was reliable and consistent; a so-called ‘team player’ who is correctly renowned today as the English right-back of his generation. Indeed, there is a feeling that Neville was universally undervalued throughout his career and that is true, to an extent. Sure, there are and have been many right backs, such as Javier Zanetti or Gianluca Zambrotta, who were superior to Neville in many respects, but it’s not taking anything away from him. If technique did desert him, Neville can at least boast longevity which allows him to be mentioned along with and among the other great right-sided defenders in a career spanning roughly 19 years.
And so, there is more to football than what it may seem. Neville’s strength was being able to perform well over a sustained period — perhaps without being able to do something so expansive — for nearly two decades. Very few players – even those who dazzle us every Saturday with their fancy tricks, flicks and overhead kicks (all this now further dumbed-down to “tekkers”) – can boast that. Neville did everything asked of him; well, nearly.
The joy of Neville might have been born from something else; perhaps his antics that make him the lovable little scrote he is today. And, goodness, here was a man that could make football fans – particularly Liverpool and Manchester City supporters – united in joyous hate. Fantastic.
He was the sport’s very own [insert controversial pop-culture figure here] the moment he repeatedly kissed the Manchester United badge in front of a bemused, anguished Liverpool fans immediately after Rio Ferdinand notched a late winner in a game years ago. Schadenfreude was Neville’s forté, while for everyone else, it was German for a very, very bad word.
Back to the football. While injuries did shorten and stunt his career somewhat, and made the last few a bit wince-worthy, there were still plenty of joyous moments to look back on. He forged an impressive partnership with David Beckham in the late 90s/early 00s which was all the more spectacular because they were actually quite similar in some ways. Neither were excellent dribblers but fed on each other and Neville’s adventure down the flank was perfect foil for Beckham for both club and country, to a considerably lesser extent. Gary Neville himself was a good crosser – albeit not as good as his teammate – but still pretty effective with or without him.
Defensively, he went about his job quietly and without much fuss. Of course, there have been times where it didn’t always gone according to plan. United’s ill-fated run in the Club World Championship in 2000 might have had Neville partly to blame for their explosion in a different environment, where he absolutely capitulated at the hands of nifty Brazilian Romario in a 3-1 defeat to Vasco de Gama and some other teams from far away places.
He was at fault for the first two goals and United really weren’t able to recover from there. In the same year, he didn’t particularly perform in either leg of the Champions League quarter final against Real Madrid (aggregate defeat 3-2) which many observers had noted at the time. Yet, these instances were rare in such a lengthy career. Granted, he lost his wheels in his penultimate and final seasons at the club but that can only be expected and his excellence in previous season meant it could be forgiven for.
Neville was no great. That title is reserved for very few players and is decided by a wider consensus. Legend is perhaps more appropriate as it suggests something that has been decided internally. Gary Neville, Manchester United legend. Sounds good.
The actual day was some time before this ...
“We don’t want Shearer, he’s f*cking dearer, so please don’t take my Solskjaer away …”
Even now, you can hear these words booming at and around Old Trafford; it tells you all you need to know about how Ole Gunnar Solskjear is viewed by Manchester United fans. Celebrated over the Premier League’s record top goal scorer and current Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer, as you would expect, Solskjaer goes down in United folklore — but when he’d signed, very few had envisaged the impact he would eventually have on the club and its fans.
After a summer of tedious speculation regarding Manchester United and their apparent pursuit of Blackburn Rovers’ Shearer, he officially signed for Newcastle in a then-world record £15m move, in July 1996. Only the day before, United had announced the signing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a 23-year-old Norwegian striker for a fee of £1.5m. With only six Norwegian caps and one full season in the country’s top flight with Molde, for whom he scored 31 goals in 42 appearances, Solskjaer was hardly a household name, but, given the saga, he inadvertently found himself competing with Shearer who had just scored 5 goals at the summer’s European Championships.
Upon signing, a modest Solskjaer said that he was only expecting to play in the reserves and would be delighted to get some first team games before Christmas. It turned out that he didn’t have to wait that long; in the 64th minute of United’s third league game of the season, at home to Blackburn and 2-1 down, he was given his debut and came on for defender David May. Six minutes later he found himself one-on-one with Tim Flowers and despite having his first effort saved, he tucked away the rebound to claim a point for his new side. No one knew it then, but the legend had just begun, as well as his much-celebrated, unique ability to make an impact off the bench.
A debut goal to savour, yes, but Solskjaer would not be immediately rewarded. He had to make do with the substitute bench for United’s next two league games versus Derby and Leeds, and then a 1-0 defeat in the Champions League away at Juventus. It would be three days later that Solskjaer would finally make his first start for club; impressions had to be made in a home league game against Nottingham Forest. Solskjaer opened the scoring as United ran out 4-0 winners — his career, it seems, was only going one way.
Solskjaer was on a roll. He started the next six games for the Reds in which time he scored in his 3rd consecutive game at Old Trafford (twice in a 2-0 win v Spurs) and his first European goal for the club in a 2-0 win over Rapid Vienna (a goal in his 4th straight appearance at Old Trafford, he really was at home). He finished his debut season a Premier League champion and United’s top goal scorer with 18 goals.
Unfortunately, Solskjaer experienced a stop/start second year; he started the 1996/97 season injured and didn’t feature until late September when he came off the bench in a 0-0 draw with Bolton. He only managed six league goals in 22 games as injuries and form saw him in and out of the team. For some, this was a case of second season syndrome. It was, however, during this tough campaign that Solskjaer’s hero status was born.
The making of a hero
On April 18th 1998, United went into their home game with Newcastle a point ahead of Arsenal having played two games more. Whilst United were wobbling, Arsenal were in great form with nine wins in 10, including a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford the previous month.
The game started shockingly for United and after 11 minutes, a lack of an offside call saw Gary Speed head back across goal for Andreas Andersson to score. Seven minutes later, Peter Schmeichel went off injured, adding to the hosts’ woes. United did manage to get themselves level through David Beckham’s goal just before half-time but despite piling on the pressure in the 2nd half, it was still locked at 1-1 with ten minutes remaining (however hard makeshift striker Gary Pallister tried). United turned to the bench and on came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but there was to be no last-minute winner for him today. As United sent everyone forward for a late corner, Newcastle broke and midfielder Rob Lee, with the entire United half free for him to run into, closed down on goal. Solskjaer, who started almost 10 yards behind Lee, sprinted after him but as they approached the penalty area, Solskjaer made his decision. He knew that United could not afford to lose the game and as Lee set his sights on a winner, one-and-one with Raimond van der Gouw, Solskjaer took action and cynically brought him down before it could be a penalty and before Lee could get a shot away.
Solskjaer knew the red was coming and waited, hands on hips, for the card. The Old Trafford crowd gave him a standing ovation, Beckham ran over and gave him a consolidating pat on the head for he knew that Solskjaer had done what he had to.
He took away the forthcoming red card from his mind, the three match ban that would end his season and made Manchester United and their faltering title bid his only priority, allowing them to escape with a point. It was, for me, the day that the legend was born. The day he showed how much he loved the club and the day the fans found a new hero, to go perfectly with all the others.
This was written by the Shaun Birch. He is the editor of Beautifully Red — a magical website where the most beautiful, yet often overlooked, moments produced by Manchester United and its players are shared (usually is GIF form — like the above image — immediately after ever game). You can follow him on Twitter. Read more Retrospectives here.
If you ever find yourself incarcerated in an El-Salvadorian prison and forced to watch ITV’s football coverage, you will see a man in the studio. A man who seethes with contempt at the inane banality around him, a man whose icy stare at the artificially folksy repartee of Adrian Chiles could freeze magma. This man is Roy Keane, and before dedicating his life to campaigning against glove-wearing pansies and slating Alex Ferguson in the gutter press, he was actually the captain of Manchester United and — oh — what a captain he was.
As a player, Keane will be remembered for many things, like kicking Alfe-Inge Haaland’s right knee so hard it caused a career ending injury in his left one or scaring the brioche out of Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel. Of course, some ‘purists’ will tell you he was nothing more than a thug, a madman who had no place in a gentleman’s game but deep-down, in places they don’t like to talk about in the comment section of the Guardian football site, they wished that they had someone like him in their side. Keane was a winner, a force of nature, a rabid, iron-clad wolverine who would rather kill his granny and sell her body as dog food than accept a 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park, a man who, if he had lived in ancient Sparta, would have been the subject of a best-selling graphic novel and blockbuster movie called ‘1’.
Perhaps his finest hour was in the 1999 Champions League semi-final second leg against Juventus. It’s often overlooked now, but sandwiched between the last, and possibly greatest FA Cup semi-final replay in history (won in extra time by Ryan Giggs beating seven Arsenal players, two unused substitutes and Pat Rice before rifling a shot past David Seaman and flaunting his chest rug all over the West Midlands) and that balmy night in Barcelona where half the Bayern squad were already tucking into their celebratory bratwurst when Teddy Sheringham scuffed home the equaliser, Keane was the driving force behind what, until a famous flick off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s leg, was considered the greatest comeback in the history of the European Football.
United had been scintillating in qualifying from the group of death that featured both Barcelona and eventual finalists Bayern and had made fairly light work of Italian giants Inter in the quarter-finals. History, however, was not on their side as they travelled to Turin. In the late 1990s, Juventus were quite the side; they’d featured in the last three Champions League finals and had beaten United three times in the previous two years. With the skill of Zinedine Zidane, the drive and energy of Edgar Davids and the movement of Filipo Inzaghi, the Italian champions had dominated Fergie’s men for much of the first leg. While a late Giggs equaliser (yes, another late goal, this is Man United) had given them a lifeline, the Reds had never won in Italy and the ‘Old Lady’ had never been knocked out of Europe in the comfort of their own rocking chair.
United couldn’t have got off to a worse start. After a scrappy first five minutes, Juve took the lead through a nicely worked corner routine that saw Pippo Inzaghi nip in at the far post to poke the ball past Peter Schmeichel. Five minutes later, their lead doubled when another Inzaghi shot took the cruelest of deflections off of the outstretched leg of Jaap Stam and looped over Schmeichel’s head. United were visibly shaken (seeing Pippo Inzaghi onside twice in the same calendar year will do that to you) and looked in danger of being humiliated.
Roy Keane, however, had other plans and immediately began to impose himself. Edgar Davids had been one of the standout performers in the first leg but Keano dominated him here, rendering the former Milli Vanilli man as effective as a celery stick at Charlie Adam’s house. The Reds followed their captain’s lead with the movement of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole proving particularly difficult for the Italians. As David Beckham jogged over to take a 24th minute corner, ITV co-commentator, former United boss and perma-tanned jewelry magnet, Ron Atkinson suggested that the next goal would be the most important of United’s season. Seconds later, Keane duly obliged with the ultimate captains’ goal, firing a glancing header past stranded Juventus ‘keeper Angelo Peruzzi.
Such was Keane’s focus, he barely celebrated but the goal invigorated United who began moving the ball around like sugared up children playing pass-the-parcel with an overly wrapped scented rubber. In the 34th minute, however, a misplaced Jesper Blomqvist pass forced Keane to bring down Zinedine Zidane and the Irishman was given the yellow card that meant, no matter the outcome, he would have no role to play in Barcelona. This was the same stadium where, nine years earlier, Paul Gascoigne had received a booking that would have caused him to miss the World Cup final but, rather than blub a toddler who’d dropped his ice cream, Keane was unyielding, the very embodiment of the grit and determination that characterises Alex Ferguson’s United.
What followed was immense. There were no 40-yard passes or no pointless step-overs but there was a master-class in midfield efficacy. Keano covered more grass than Season 5 of ‘Weeds’, chasing down loose balls, bolstering the defence and making surging runs in support of front men.
Within minutes of his booking, United were level thanks to a diving header from Dwight Yorke and Juventus were forced to chase the game. They responded by introducing Nicola Amoruso to partner Inzaghi up front and moving Zidane back into central midfield where diminutive water-carrier Didier Deschamps played Penfold to his Danger Mouse. Keane, however, was unperturbed and maintained his vice-like grip on the contest, reining in the World Cup winning duo with his trademark snarling aggression while simultaneously providing the impetus for the United’s passing game, offering a constant outlet and distributing quickly and efficiently.
Save for an Inzaghi effort that was ruled out for offside (his record-breaking 364th of the season) Juve offered very little in the second period. United, however, with Keane calling the shots like Paulie from ‘Godfellas’ (except a lot thinner and wearing a magic hat), continued to dominate, hitting the inside of the post for the second time in the game before Andy Cole finally put the game to bed.
There were a number of men in red who put in great performances that night, but the impact of Keane is best summed up by United manager and renowned trophy aficionado Alex Ferguson, who said: “It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”