Significance of Champions League comeback not lost on Manchester United players

Manchester United were in celebratory mood on Saturday evening and the following day offers the chance to reflect on past success.

United ended a poor season on a huge high as Erik ten Hag masterminded a shock FA Cup final win against rivals Manchester City.

It was a repeat of last year’s all-Manchester showpiece under the arch, where Pep Guardiola’s men lifted the trophy en route to becoming English football’s second ever treble winners.

HONOURS Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United had a great night in Barcelona (PA)

The 25th anniversary of the original treble triumph falls on Sunday, with May 26 a date etched in United history thanks to a jaw-dropping conclusion to a helter-skelter season.

Super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completed a scarcely believable stoppage-time Champions League final comeback, breaking Bayern Munich hearts in a 2-1 triumph that sent ripples around the world.

Former United defender Gary Neville told PA: “We did know at the time, those of us who were United fans, how special it was because we had the European Cup success of 1968.

“We knew about this, we knew how important it was, the statue of (George) Best, (Denis) Law and (Sir Bobby) Charlton, the Busby Babes, the journey in Europe. We knew that it was important.

“And obviously we’d won the double already as a group of players, some in ’94, us in ’96, and some in both, so we’d won the FA Cup and Premier League a few times.

“It was always the Champions League that was the icing on the cake, the cherry, if you like, and I think from that point of view we knew how big it was. We knew.

Euro Cup/Man Utd fan/Morning
Manchester United and their fans will never forget the night at the Nou Camp (PA)

“I remember saying to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that night ‘you don’t know what you’ve just done’.

“Honestly, it hit me the minute that goal went in. I lay on the floor and looked up because I was a United fan. I knew that what we’d done was monumental.”

United’s landmark achievement is remembered in recently released Prime Video docuseries ‘99’, with May’s world premiere bringing many of the old team back together.

David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel and Teddy Sheringham were among those in attendance in Manchester, along with Class of 92 members Neville and Nicky Butt.

“Things like this are great for us,” Butt told PA. “Obviously it’s been so long ago, 25 years ago that this happened and you don’t really sit back and think about it because it’s part of your life.

“It’s a great part of your life but I am not one that sits about and goes on about it.

Champions League/Butt’s joy
Nicky Butt realises the significance of the win in Barcelona (PA)

“But when you do come to these places, I think that’s when the goose pimples come on and you remember what a special time it was.”

Butt says he regrets not celebrating more at the time due to a mindset of always striving for more – a mindset that helped make Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams so special.

United are now a long way from the peaks scaled under the Scot and going into a summer of transition under Ineos, who have taken control of football operations after Sir Jim Ratcliffe became minority owner.

Steve McClaren is the last first-team link between the 1999 team and modern-day United, where he serves as assistant to Ten Hag having done so for Ferguson back then.

“When the game finished, we walked round the (Nou Camp) stadium and someone told me to soak it up and make sure I took it all in because it will eventually be a blur and in 20 years, you won’t remember,” he told the BBC at the premiere.

“I just took a moment, sitting by the post, looking at three-quarters of a stadium full of Manchester United fans and soaking it up.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Steve McLaren is positive about the future (PA)

“I wanted to keep that mental picture in my mind. I have always had that. The fans, stadium, celebrations and taking in what it meant.”

McClaren took in more celebrations on Saturday, before perhaps toasting the treble on Sunday.

“We have had many storms,” he said. “I see tremendous plusses from Ineos coming in and what they are trying to do. It is identifying the standards and getting back to them.

“At certain times since I have come back over the last two years, we have had those standards. We have also had standards that have not been Manchester United.

“Speaking to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, speaking to Sir Dave Brailsford, they are getting the best people in. They want this to succeed.

“They have done that in their other sports and businesses. I am positive they will do it again with Manchester United.”