Peter Schmeichel at Villa Park in 1999.

'I am a firm believer in luck'

What was going through my mind when Phil Neville conceded the penalty?

In all honesty, not a lot. I was just very, very focused.

I was concentrating fully on this next event that was going to happen - the penalty from Dennis Bergkamp. But I was also thinking, even if Arsenal score, we probably had about 10 minutes left.

There was no clock at Villa Park, or perhaps there was one, but I didn't notice it. The game was just so fast and furious, everything happening like that, so I kind of lost track of time.

More often than not, you would have a very good idea about where you are in terms of the time of a game. But not in this one.

Video
Dennis Bergkamp has his penalty saved.
Watch Peter Schmeichel's dramatic penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp.

So I was quite surprised that very few minutes were left and then the final whistle would be blown. 

Bergkamp is stepping up and there was no plan, no analysis done beforehand of how he took his penalties.

I never did that. I'm a firm believer in luck. Truly, a really firm believer in luck.

Obviously, there are some players nowadays who are very different because of how they prepare to face them.

I would never do it. 

You can do your research and, yeah, he might have put four to one side and two the other side so, statistically, he would be more likely to aim for that side. But who even knows what is going to happen in this moment?

It's a situation where you have no control. You don't put the ball on the spot. You don't make the run-up. You don't decide how long the run-up is. You don't decide which foot he is going to kick with. You don't decide the angle of the approach. You don't decide when the referee blows his whistle.

Instead, you have to react to what happens.

Dennis Bergkamp and Jaap Stam.
Dennis Begkamp tussles with Jaap Stam during the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay.

So, in order to gain a little bit of control, or at least to think I have a little bit of control, I would rather not know anything at that point.

When it comes to penalties, including in shoot-outs, for me it is simple. I have already decided. 

This is what I am going to do. 

I don't care who kicks the ball. 

In a shoot-out, I'm still going to go left, right, right, left, right. That is what I am going to do. 

So that gives me the idea, or impression, that I am actually in control.

It's all about thinking about the right height and, in shoot-outs, you want to save one penalty. I think one penalty is often good enough to win. So that is what you aim for.

Sir Alex hugs Peter Schmeichel.
Peter Schmeichel receives a grateful hug from his manager after his heroic save.

This was different. One penalty and it was crucial.

It's all about these key moments in games. That was a key moment but I was thinking, when Ryan scored the goal afterwards, that is another key moment.

When you go through that four or five-month period from the turn of the year in 1999, you begin to look into detail at what happened in games. You find that key moments swung our way every time.

It really is incredible, and that doesn’t usually happen.

Everything is balanced. You usually get a penalty decision against you, which you don’t think is a penalty, then, two games later, you get a penalty decision for you that is probably not a penalty, so it seems to balance itself out over the course of the year. But in this period where every time we needed a break, the break would fall our way.

Schmeichel and Scholes.
Peter Schmeichel and Paul Scholes in the dressing room after the 2-1 win over Arsenal.

Every time we needed a decision, a decision would come our way.

I think you need that, in order to achieve winning tough games, against tough opponents like Arsenal, who were neck and neck with us all the way.

You start looking at our results, and think it’s going to go down to the wire, so you've already made that decision. ‘This is going to go right to the end’.

So you just have to do your job, be focused, don’t pay a lot of attention to the particulars of what is happening. Just go by the result - you run and run and run - and you never look back until years later. You look back and think did that really happen?

You don’t understand how everything fell our way, if you just look at the results, and this is why it’s so difficult to do, and this is why, when we are talking about other clubs doing the same thing, it’s probably not going to happen because you really have to be very, very lucky.

And we were.

Recommended:

  • #Treble99: Arsenal 1 United 2Video

  • The best goal in FA Cup historyVideo

  • The full-time scenes at Villa ParkVideo

  • 'It was a great game with everything!' article

    Ex-ref David Elleray explains the big decisions from our FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal, on this day in '99.