Cole: Our team spirit in 1999 was 'ridiculous'
I would be very surprised if another team could ever repeat the camaraderie among our Treble-winning squad. For some reason, the team spirit among those lads was absolutely ridiculous.
Every man was out there fighting for their team-mates, and if you weren’t involved on the field on a given day, the other boys came in and did exactly the same thing.
Forget the issue with me and Teddy [Sheringham] not talking; the fact that we didn’t get on would never reflect on the football pitch. At the end of the season, we were trying to get the same things. We all were. There wasn’t any animosity, and we all respected each other as footballers.
How could you not, when you look at that squad? Peter Schmeichel in goal. The two centre-halves, Jaap [Stam] and Ronny [Johnsen], were made for each other. Henning [Berg] played his part as well. Playing against Jaap and Ronny was a tough one anyway, but even more so with Nev [Gary Neville] at right-back with Den [Denis Irwin] on the left and Pete behind. That is a complete back five for you.
The midfield... Butty [Nicky Butt] was in there with Scholesy [Paul Scholes], Roy [Keane], Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] and Becks [David Beckham]. Then we had the lucky four up front. People talk about me and Yorkie [Dwight Yorke] but it wasn’t just us – it was all of us.
As a four, the way we looked at it was that it didn’t matter who scored as long as the team scored the goals. If it was me, Yorkie, Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] or Teddy, it didn’t matter. If we played and didn’t score, we didn’t care as long as the team won. We were all part of it; we won the Treble together, not as individuals.
Did it matter to me and Yorkie that Ole and Teddy scored the goals against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final? Hell, no. We couldn’t have cared less. We were all in it together. Me and Yorkie scored against Juventus in the semis and these guys took over in the final. We all got the same medals.
Teddy scored some important goals and made a big contribution. He was a top-rate player for a long time. Ole, whether he started or came off the bench, could be frightening. I remember at Nottingham Forest that season; the gaffer took Yorkie off, brought Ole on and he got four goals in 11 minutes. That is some going. If you get four goals in 11 minutes as a substitute, that says a lot about you.
Ole was a connoisseur of the game and he used to watch from the bench to see how he could hurt people. He used to get in great positions because he watched the game and picked out weaknesses to exploit. Ole was absolutely ridiculous from the bench. A lot of the time it was me and Yorkie starting, but if the manager changed things around and went with Ole and Teddy or brought them on, they just did what they did.
We all just wanted to succeed. When Yorkie came in from Aston Villa, he didn’t know where to live. He’d just been signed to play in the same position as me, but I was the first one to try to help him out. He came to my house and had dinner with my family, I showed him the best place to live and the things to do and not to do.
Coming into the club, Yorkie was a breath of fresh air. He came in to enjoy his football and liven up the dressing room; I don’t think anybody at Man United had seen that type of personality before. This guy’s attitude towards football was totally different. It was sunshine football.
People used to wonder how we got on so well together because we are total opposites – Yorkie was the life and soul, while I was the other way and wanted to keep things quiet – but opposites attract. I loved his personality and he loved mine. We got on so well and, to this day, we still get on so well because we are two totally different people who approach life in two totally different ways, but we just understood each other.
On the pitch, things clicked for us as a partnership at Southampton early in the season. Yorkie had already played up front with Giggsy, Scholesy, Teddy and then Ole. We went down to The Dell and, for some reason, the manager just decided to give me a go with him.
I said to myself, you are going to get a game today so just enjoy it. And then, wow! Nothing had been worked on before, but everything we did just worked a dream. Afterwards, the manager said he had stumbled on something. That’s what happens sometimes. It was just natural. We just played what we saw.
As the season went on, we were racking up the goals, but we always had the team’s interests first. Even if Yorkie had a brace and I had a brace, if either of us had a good opportunity to slip somebody else in, then we would have done it, and that is why that partnership worked for the team. If someone was in a better position, then we would have given the ball to him all day long.
That, for me, was the secret to it all: the mechanics of that team were just right. The camaraderie was right, the personnel was right, everything was right for everything else, and we completed something that will possibly never be done again.