1999 is one of those iconic years. And not just because of S Club 7. Soaked in history, mystery and drooling Premier League advocates, it marked what remains the highest point of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford.
The last European Cup Final of the twentieth century was to be played between two of European football’s biggest names. Two teams who, on top of their grossly oversized hordes of silverware, have the shared honour of being the most hated entity ever to exist in their respective home countries. Manchester United, led by the ever-chewing, red faced Alex Ferguson and his tiny, tiny eyes, and FC Bayern Muenchen, under the command of the wiley old fox of German football Ottmar Hitzfeld. A man who just two years before had secured the Champions League with his former club Borussia Dortmund.
The final itself, held in Barcelona’s glorious Camp Nou, had, for the first ninety minutes, struggled to live up to the great finals of old. Having held a lead granted by Mario Basler right up until second half stoppage time, it appeared that Bayern were destined to make this another triumph of German efficiency. Until, that is, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came off the bench…
Upon this moment, we focus this next installment of The Butterfly Effect and how what happened next, impacted on the world of football, changing the very fabric of the space and time in which it exists. Had Solskjaer not entered the field of play, and had Bayern thus not been hit by a newly invigorated United attack and won the Final, this would probably have happened…
On the 27th May 1999, Ottmar Hitzfeld stood proudly on the balcony of the Munich Rathaus, holding aloft the hallowed metal mass of the European Cup. At his right shoulder, and equally revered by the sea of red and white engulfing Marienplatz below, were goalkeeper hero Oliver Kahn and centre back Samuel Osei Kuffour. Between them they held a slightly less grand but no less deserved piece of silverware: the newly formed Mario Basler Trophy For The Ability To Defend Two Relatively Simple Corners And A One Nil Lead To Boot Cup. Though this award was quickly dissolved by UEFA the following year however, due to its rather tedious requirements with regards to inscription, it retains its prime position at the top of Mr Kahn’s home trophy cabinet, which is home to such footballing relics as two European Cup Winner’s Medals and a considerably-sized chunk of Miroslav Klose’s nose.
Two months later, just before the start of the 1999-2000 season, an untitled and ridiculed Alex Ferguson was dismissed from his position as manager of Manchester United after a summer-long press scandal which had pitted the nation firmly against him. Ferguson, whose inflated sense of self-importance was not going to be diminished by one defeat, had heard rumours that a knighthood would have been coming his way had he attained the treble. After the defeat in Barcelona, he pursued said rumours, in a long political campaign which led to him denouncing the monarchy as “an amoral, capitalist institution, which is probably in league with the referee’s union”. After months of pressure from various tabloid outlets, the Manchester United board eventually thought it better to dismiss Ferguson.
This led to a relapse in the fortunes of Manchester United, who proceeded to sack managers on a yearly basis. After sliding down the table under the care of everyone from Alan Curbishley to Ruud Gullit, United eventually turned to a twenty six year-old managerial prodigy from Portugal named Andre Villas Boas.
After losing the respect of his dressing room early on, Villas Boas was dismissed late in his first season at Old Trafford after throwing a boot at David Beckham. Player manager Dennis Irwin could do nothing to stop the rot, and United were relegated on the final matchday after two of their ex-players, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, scored in stoppage time for Liverpool to inflict an excruciating 2-1 defeat onto their former employers.
As a result of its incessant failure to secure an European club trophy, English football had a minor crisis of confidence in the early years of the 21st century. On the first of September 2001, at the Olympic Stadium in Munich, they lost a World Cup qualifier 8-0 to traditional rivals Germany, with players such as Steven Gerrard and former golden boy Michael Owen being denounced in The Sun as “the poison at the heart of a rotten body”. Gerrard decided to work both on his in game tactical awareness and his mentality, and Owen vowed to become the fittest individual ever to wear an England shirt. Together they revolutionised the entire set-up of the England national team, and led their country to glory at the 2006 World Cup.
Over in Germany, Bayern Munich’s 1999 success led to them attracting even more of the world’s best superstars. Real Madrid’s Raul Gonzalez was one of their first major signings, and his reputation continued to grow as he became the Champions League most prolific goalscorer. Raul eventually retired in 2011, having represented FC Bayern for more than a decade. He was still unable to speak a word of German.
Bayern’s short term success thus only continued to expand. In 2000, they became the first team to retain the Champions League title under its new format, and with it secured their first season treble. After two more seasons of Champions League glory, Hitzfeld, who was always of progressive nature, decided that he had done everything he could in football and in 2004, formed his own political party. He was supported, if not joined, by his former employers Uli Hoeness and Franz Beckenbauer, the former of which even donated his hallowed matchday scarf to act as a campaign banner.
Hitzfeld’s successor at Bayern was another young Portugese named Jose Mourinho. This precocious young manager was quickly seen to be a vast mistake, however, as his immensely large ego overwhelmed even that of Uli Hoeness. A proud man, Hoeness, dismissed the Portugese and replaced him in 2005 with Louis van Gaal. One player to benefit from the new manager was Canadian born England international Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves, who was under appreciated under Hitzfeld, was given preferential treatment by van Gaal, and was allowed to miss a training session after a fortune teller predicted that he would pick up a career threatening injury if he attended. Whether or not the seer was justified will never be proved, but Hargreaves, who was as fit as Michael Owen, went on to captain England to their World Cup victory in 2006.
In 2005, FC Bayern also moved into their brand new stadium, the Allianz Arena, which was specifically built for the approaching World Cup in Germany.
Though its glowing exterior and vast capacity sufficed for international fans at the World Cup, the Allianz had to be redesigned in 2007 due to the rapid expansion of the Bayern fanbase. Renamed Hoeness-Beckenbauer-Park, and expanded to incorporate 120,000 spectators, today the stadium still looms over the city of Munich from the outskirts in Froettmanning, the Mount Rushmore-esque faces of Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Karl Heinz Rummenigge carved into its new walls.
Traditionally, if Bayern lose a match, the face of Hoeness is lit up in a bright and dangerously hot shade of red.
In 2009, Manchester United regained Premier League status and, under the careful and considered investment of new owner Malcolm Glazer, worked their way back up to the top of the table, knocking Liverpool from their perch once more. In 2010, they faced Bayern in the quarter finals of the Champions League, and Louis van Gaal’s world-beating side came back from behind in both legs to pip United to second place. Some things are the same in all dimensions.
By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, FC Bayern were the world’s biggest club, Manchester United were fighting Stoke City for a place in the Europa League, and Ottmar Hitzfeld was Chancellor, at the head of the recently renamed Uli Hoeness For President Party, who had formed a testy coalition with the SDP. On the 27th May 2011, Alex Ferguson was visited by a ghost in his Glasgow council flat, who showed him what might have happened to him had he been knighted and continued as United manager. Though disappointed to have missed out on all the glory, Ferguson was so disgusted by the greed and arrogance of his potential self that he devoted his life to God, and became a monk. After a few dodgy deals and illegal horse races, Ferguson became one of the richest cardinals in the Vatican, and set up the “Referee Appreciation Fund” with his former player Steve Bruce. This foundation allowed the FA to train Mark Clattenburg and other men in black to do their jobs properly, and British football began to prosper again…
For other insights into what might have been, see other articles in The Butterfly Effect series: