There is often a drop-off from certain players who have been traumatised or rewarded after a World Cup – Diego Maradona’s 1990 World Cup was his unexpected swansong; Roberto Baggio took an age to recover from his missed penalty in 1994. After two years of dominance Zidane took a year off – in fact, the entire French team did – and Ronaldo immediately went down with injury. Just like that, the two major stars of not just the World Cup but of world football itself were non-factors.

 

The injury-time specialists

That opened the door for Manchester United’s unorganised, untactical team to steal a series of from-the-death results and rollick their way to the Champions League title. They were led by two-year wonder Dwight Yorke, the 1999 Champions League’s leading goal scorer, and wingers Ryan Giggs (the dribbler) and David Beckham (the passer).

The uninspiring way they began their business-end showdowns against an off-the-boil Juventus and Bayern Munich (with, in mitigation, their entire centre midfield suspended for the final) would indicate that Manchester United were not actually of a world-conquering standard and that they ultimately won through greater spirit and ability to impose a sort of force towards the end of matches.

The season culminated in Manchester United registering a two-goal comeback in Turin and scoring three injury-time goals in their last three Champions League matches – two in the final itself, prompting UEFA’s top brass into frantically changing the coloured ribbons attached to the trophy. Manchester United would prove in the following seven years that their 1999 victory had no bearing at all on any larger patterns and that they would always be a tier below the super teams of the next half-decade: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Milan.

 

Dynamo Kiev and Andrii Shevchenko, Eastern Europe’s last ever shot at success

The side lesson to be taken from the 1999 Champions League was not so much the spate of injury-time goals but the last challenge for glory from a club from Eastern Europe. Dynamo Kyiv, besides introducing the world to the number one forward of the following half-decade, Anrdii Shevchenko, should probably have beaten Bayern Munich in the semi-final (after also reaching the quarter-finals in 1998), pummelling them in Kyiv but conceding two soft long free kicks toward the end of each half.

The following season, Milan would buy Shevchenko – if you can’t beat them, join them, as usual from the top clubs – and the cream would now rise to the top, financially. Anyone who was anyone in the 2000s would immediately head for one of six or seven super clubs in Spain, England or Italy. The days of poorer clubs with their distinctive character from unconventional countries aiming to become the best club in Europe were done.

 

Marty Gleason

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