Legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted even he didn’t think his team could win the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich when they were still trailing with only stoppage time remaining.
Bayern scored early in the game and later hit both the bar and the post. But United pulled off the unthinkable comeback when Teddy Sheringham equalised as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sensationally won it just moments later.
The 2-1 victory completed the historic treble and United’s achievements that season stand completely alone, with no other English club in history managing a clean sweep of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in a single campaign.
Speaking to The Guardian ahead of the release of new documentary Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In, the Scot admitted he was already starting to think about what he would tell his team when the final whistle blew and they had fallen just short.
“No chance [did I still think we would win it]!” he revealed. “I was thinking what I’d say to the players: ‘You had a great season.’ But then we won it.”
The core of the treble team was homegrown, developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in United’s own academy, which had been revamped at Fergie’s behest soon after he arrived from Aberdeen in 1986 and wanted to bring back the culture that had once produced the Busby Babes.
“We were making great strides in the youth department. Matt Busby had rebuilt the club [in the 1950s and 1960s] with fantastic young footballers. I wanted to do the same,” he explained.
“People have an opinion of Manchester United in terms of the great players like [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Roy] Keane. But the spirit of that club in my time was through the young players – Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, the Nevilles. I knew we were on the way. I just needed support from the board.”
What’s more, aside from being incredibly gifted footballers, the homegrown stars had the mental toughness to succeed, which ultimately laid the foundation for what they were capable of in 1999.
“We played a part in that because Eric Harrison, the [youth] coach, made it tougher for the youngsters. He said: ‘If you don’t have mental toughness, you’ll never make United’s first team’.”