United had won four Premier League titles under Ferguson but Champions League success still eluded them
Arsenal had improved beyond recognition under Wenger and Ferguson had to respond. He brought in Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist and Jaap Stam, a striker, midfielder and defender. They cost a combined fee of £30m but they were worth their weight in gold after helping United to their most successful ever season.
Stam was a rock in defence while Yorke and Cole formed a deadly partnership, scoring 35 league goals between them. It was a closely fought title race and this time it was Ferguson’s team who finished one point above Arsenal.
They also beat Arsenal in a memorable FA Cup semi final in which Schmeichel saved a penalty and Beckham and Giggs both scored wonder goals as United won 2-1 after extra time. They went on to beat Newcastle 2-0 in the final.
Champions League heroics
Even more drama was to come as United went to the Nou Camp in Barcelona to play against Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. They had already won their third double in six years, now they were going for an unprecedented treble.
To add extra spice, Bayern had also won their domestic league and cup double and were also hoping to win the treble. United rode their luck in the match, Bayern hit the woodwork twice after taking the lead.
As the end of the game was drawing ever closer, Ferguson brought on his substitute strikers, Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. As the game moved into injury time with United trailing 1-0, they proved to be inspired changes. A corner from Beckham led to a scramble in the Bayern area and Sheringham put home the loose ball.
A minute later, another Beckham corner was met by Sheringham whose glancing header was poked into the roof of the net by Solskjær. It was one of the most extraordinary ends to a European final ever seen and Ferguson was almost speechless at the end. When asked for his thoughts by a pitch side reporter he replied, ‘Football – bloody hell!’
It was Ferguson’s second great United team and he had now won it all at United. He was given a knighthood for his services to football in July 1999.
Trophies continue in the new millennium
Ferguson had to make sure his players were still hungry for success after such a trophy laden season. They didn’t compete in the FA Cup as they had to take part in the World Club Cup. They didn’t make it past the group stage but the break didn’t stop them winning the Premier League.
United won the title at a canter, finishing 18 points ahead of second place Arsenal. They won the title again the following year, finishing 10 points ahead of Arsenal.
Despite winning three titles in a row, Ferguson wanted to strengthen his side to improve their chances of more European success. He spent nearly £50m on Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastián Verón.
However the signing of Veron didn’t have the desired effect and actually disrupted the midfield that had worked so well for a number of years. United lost the title to Arsenal and also finished below Liverpool for the first time in 11 years.
It proved to be just the spur United needed to rediscover their hunger. They broke the British transfer record to sign Rio Ferdinand for £30m and won the title back having trailed behind Arsenal for much of the season. A daunting new challenger emerges – Read more