Gary Neville with the Champions League trophy.

Neville: 'We were virtually unstoppable'

I remember coming back to training at the start of the 1998/99 season and I was absolutely knackered.

I hadn’t had a break for three seasons, I’d just played in my first World Cup and we only had two or three weeks’ break because we had a Champions League qualifying game against Lodz. 
 
You say football players shouldn’t get tired, but you just do after three or four years of continually playing. You can still play, but you are nowhere near where you should be.
 
We drew our first two Premier League games, and after the second one, at West Ham, I told Kiddo how tired I was. He and the manager were brilliant; straight away I was given a week’s break. I went on holiday, lay on a sunbed for a week – and I usually hate sunbeds! – but I came back totally rested and felt completely different.
Gary Neville says

"I was absolutely knackered. I told Kiddo and the manager, and they were brilliant. I went on holiday, lay on a sunbed – and I hate sunbeds! – but I came back totally rested and felt completely different."

We weren’t defending well as a unit at the start of the season. That’s the time of the year when, generally, you are just working it out and finding the right things. Defensively, we were poor and were all over the place at times; it was almost as if we weren’t taking it seriously. 
 
We had a game shortly before Christmas against Middlesbrough when Jim Ryan was manager and Eric Harrison was his assistant, because the gaffer wasn’t at the game. I’ll always remember that afternoon because it was something of a turning point. It was quite embarrassing at the time because I was a defender and we were all over the place. But then it just clicked.
 
The attacking combination between Yorke and Cole, Sheringham and Solskjaer, was fantastic. We had the best midfield in Europe. The defensive bit was the problem. 
 
We’d signed Jaap Stam and he was some player, but, at first, we couldn’t get the balance right. I was playing either right-back or centre-half, and we had David May, Ronny Johnsen, Henning Berg and Wes Brown, but we didn’t get it right until after that Middlesbrough game.
It tended to be that the first parts of seasons were really unmemorable at United. It’s like you are waiting until January and then you think, ‘right, here we go’, and that is how it was that year. 
 
For me, the season started properly with the Liverpool game in the FA Cup. Everybody was right and everybody was at it. Coming back against them in the last minute was massive for our season. They had 8,000 fans behind the goal and led for most of the match. We didn’t play brilliantly, but in the last couple of minutes Yorkie equalised and Ole scored the winner. It was unbelievable and that’s when the season began. It kickstarted everything.
 
We started defending well too and, from March onwards, every game felt like the best one you’ve ever played in. I felt fantastic. 
Gary Neville says

"For me, the season started properly with the Liverpool FA Cup game. We didn’t play brilliantly, but coming back against them in the last couple of minutes was massive. It kickstarted everything."

I remember playing away at Inter Milan, the ball came to me, the crowd were up for it, and I remember controlling it and taking it around Roberto Baggio and thinking that everything just felt right. I was 24 years old and everything felt right. I never feared playing against any opponent. Nobody was going to get the better of me, no matter who it was. That was that point in my career where everything felt spot on. I was concentrated, I could go forward and back, everything felt really good.
 
I think the whole team felt like that individually. Everybody came together at the perfect time. Even the big teams couldn’t handle the speed and intensity of our play, of Keane, Beckham and Scholes in midfield. We weren’t carrying anybody. The defending from the front was brilliant, the midfield were the best attackers and defenders, and then you had two massive characters at the back in Jaap and Ronny. 
 
Me and Denis would fly forward and support at every opportunity, and then we had a great goalkeeper as well in Peter. And then you’ve got Nicky Butt in midfield, who was a warrior, and my brother would come in for me or Denis. There was real quality throughout the whole squad, whoever came in. Everybody was at a perfect moment. It wasn’t the biggest squad, but the quality, effort, attitude and intensity was unbelievable.
Gary Neville says

"At Inter Milan, the ball came to me, the crowd were up for it, and I remember controlling it and taking it around Roberto Baggio and thinking that everything just felt right. Nobody was going to get the better of me."

Teams couldn’t live with the Beckham crosses, the Giggs crosses, my crosses and the Irwin crosses. They couldn’t live with the power of Keane and Scholes, they couldn’t live with our running ability in the last 15 minutes of the game. 
 
People could stay with Beckham for 75 minutes but he would wear them out and then whip in a cross. It’s the same on the other side with Giggs, running at somebody 50 times – the 51st run killed them. The runs from the midfield killed them in the latter stages. They couldn’t continue to stay with us, which is where we got so many of our last-minute goals from. 
 
We attacked with eight because the two at the back were such strong one-on-one defenders. We detached ourselves and flew forward, both me and Denis. We had a great spirit between us. Most of us had come through the ranks. We had a good sprinkling of foreign players but not too many.
 
All in all, it was just everything coming together at once, and that meant we built up incredible momentum as the end of the season came along. By the time we came to those final games, we were virtually unstoppable.
This article first appeared in United Review, the official matchday programme at Old Trafford. If you are unable to attend theTreble Reunion game, you can purchase a copy of Sunday’s programme via manutd.com/programme.

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