“The magical transformation.” So goes the description in Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography of the most remarkable, least probable conclusion to any European Cup final. It was the 101-second slice of added time in which his Manchester United side snatched club football’s greatest prize.
The date was 26 May 1999, the place was Camp Nou and the hero a Norwegian substitute known as the baby-faced assassin: the elfin-featured Ole Gunnar Solskjær. On an epic Barcelona evening, he was the man who applied the killer touch that broke Bayern München hearts and secured United’s unprecedented treble of Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup.
Less than three minutes beforehand, the clock had ticked past 90 minutes with United trailing 1-0. As Lennart Johansson, UEFA president at the time, left his seat to head to the trophy presentation, there were Bayern ribbons being attached to the prize. A despondent George Best, a hero of United’s previous European Cup triumph in 1968 under Sir Matt Busby, had already left the ground. Hopes of a repeat success on what would have been Busby’s 90th birthday were drifting into the Catalan night.
Then came that transformation. In the first minute of extra time, David Beckham swung over a corner. With goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in the Bayern box causing mayhem, a scuffed clearance fell to Ryan Giggs. His miscued right-footed shot from the edge of the box was heading wide– but there was substitute Teddy Sheringham. swivelling to sweep the ball into the net. 1-1.
Solskjær’s only thought was to dash back to the halfway line; having replaced Andrew Cole in the 81st minute, he was eager to make an impact. “I felt great and I was just looking forward to doing something in extra time,” he said on his return to Barcelona as United manager last spring. “But I went and ruined it,” he added, wryly.