UTD Unscripted: This is my topsy-turvy story
The Treble campaign was certainly an unbelievable season and one that epitomised what Sir Alex Ferguson was about as a manager and how he wanted his teams to be.
Very resilient with a never-say-die attitude.
As long as the game is still going, you’ve got a chance. That is exactly how he wanted us to be and exactly how his team carried out those instructions.
In my first season – 1997/98, the year before, we were going very well up until we lost the real backbone of our team. I think we had Schmeichel, Pallister, Keaney and Giggsy all out in the same few weeks. We lost in the Champions League quarter-final and Arsenal came to Old Trafford and beat us when we had a depleted squad.
It was very disappointing and we knew it was going to be tough to get our trophies back.
I think it was probably the first time anyone had ever seen four very good strikers playing within one club. I think you always had two, without a doubt, maybe three, but to have four was very nice for the manager to be able to call on all four with me, Coley, Yorkey and Ole.
Let’s be honest. The real case was Yorkey and Coley were having a fantastic season and were the number-one pair.
It was up to myself and Ole to fight our way back into contention, to try to change the manager’s mind on who the best pairing was. Whether it’d be Coley and me or Yorkey and Ole, whoever, it was up to us to change the manager’s mind. He was firmly set on Yorkey and Coley, and rightly so, as they were an outstanding combination. That didn’t mean to say myself and Ole wouldn’t try our hardest to get back into the side, though.
With two striking pairs, it would probably be said that Yorkey and Coley and myself and Ole were more the different type of players to accommodate each other and be the preferred pairing, you would say. For me, around February, I had an injury and obviously lost my place in the team.
I’d been in and out at times and had different injuries so the manager said to me, and I think it was around February time:
“Look, don’t worry about getting fit in the near future. Don’t worry about just being ready for the next game in a week’s time or two weeks’ time. You’ve had a couple of injuries, so make sure you’re ready for the run-in at the end of the season because I think this can be a big season for us.”
He said that to me in February so his foresight was unbelievable, to realise what was going to happen and it kind of gave me a breather to say, okay as a footballer, you want to be involved in the next game and want to be fit. You always try to push yourself to be ready but this was his way of saying it was going to be a big season and I want you to be part of it.
So just make sure you’re ready for it.
And I didn’t race back from my injury at that particular time. So I wasn’t going to break down and be out again a couple of weeks later.
It was nice to be told that was the case and I would be involved in the push at the end of the season.
It was also about the way he told you that you wouldn’t be playing as well, you’d be resting. I remember having a conversation with him at one time. I think I’d played on the Saturday and probably scored and felt good about myself and then, the next Saturday lunchtime, we were all sitting in the players’ lounge after the pre-match lunch and I get a shout and think: ‘Oh god, here we go’. I walk down the corridor into his little office and he says:
“I’m resting you today and playing this team.”
I remember being p*ssed off by this, at this time and different times, and said:
“You’re not really resting me, you’re just playing other people and playing a different team as you want to play them.” He went:
“Okay, alright then, I’m not resting you but you’re not playing whichever way you put it.” You weren’t playing that particular game and that was his way of letting you know he was firmly in charge.
Ole and I definitely had a similar philosophy on being substitutes. I mean, you don’t want to be known as or called a ‘super sub’ or a ‘great sub’. I played a lot of games. In the latter part of my career, I came on and scored goals as a sub and people remember that.
It’s fine. Not a problem, but there is the first part of my career people need to remember as well. But you do have to get your head around it.
You’re not in the starting line-up. This is the case, but you’re a professional footballer. You get your head around it and make sure you’re ready when you get a chance. Everyone has a different way of looking at it when you’re a footballer. Perhaps it takes more time to get accustomed to that, the more times you do become a sub.
It’s a very depressing time when you’re a sub and you want to get on and don’t get a chance. You build yourself up and get yourself ready and then don’t get on. The next week, you build yourself up and get ready to go on and don’t go on. It’s quite disheartening as a professional sportsman so, when you do get a chance, you have to make an impact.
So those 10 days in May?
From my point of view, I'm sure everyone has got different stories.
Mine was a very, very topsy-turvy 10 or 11 days. First of all, I get the nod to play in the starting line-up for the Tottenham game. I was very surprised after the season I’d had, after losing my place to Yorkey and then having injuries and not doing so well, not scoring as many goals as I would have liked. To get the nod and play in that game, I was delighted.
Shocked, in a good way, but delighted.
Then, being pulled off at half-time with the score at 1-1 at the time, I was utterly devastated and really upset. To get dragged off and then to be on the substitutes’ bench thinking, if I played the last game of the season, I might start the FA Cup final and maybe his thinking has changed around. Then to know, probably on the Friday, I wouldn’t be playing in the FA Cup final and, after six minutes, for Roy Keane to get injured and then he (Sir Alex) is telling me and two others to go and warm up.
Before I know it, Sir Alex is saying to me:
“Teddy, you’re going on,” and I’m like: 'You what? I’m a striker not a midfielder.' But then thinking, what am I even doing? Get on there before he changes his mind!
Well, just after a minute of going on, scoring the first goal in an FA Cup final and setting up the second one for Scholesy and being named Man of the Match, I thought, you know what, I must have a chance of playing in the Champions League final now. Surely I’ve changed his mind around.
So, to be told on Tuesday that I wouldn’t be playing meant, in the topsy-turvy 11 days, I’ve gone back down again. But I thought I’ve already changed it once in an FA Cup final. Maybe I can have the same effect on Wednesday. I’ll just gather my thoughts, prepare right and be ready if needed.
I’m sure we all thought it at different times, that it might be the case but the Treble was never really spoken about. I’m sure all the players will say the same. It was at the back of our minds but there have been many a club doing really well up until the end of January, really well up until February, really well until the end of March and it all falls to pieces and they end up with nothing. So, for us, to have a manager leading us that didn’t speak about it and players who were good and experienced knew that, if they got ideas above their stations, it could all fall apart.
So we were all on that level – let’s see about the next game and see where it takes us.
Was there a bit of an unwritten rule that it wasn’t discussed in the dressing room?
Yeah there probably was.
Until you actually get to it, even in the last week or the last 10 days, it can still go pear shaped but there's the one you win against Tottenham in the last game of the season, then you win the FA Cup and that's special.
I don’t think really, as a kid growing up, you dream about the Champions League final or the European Cup-Winners’ Cup final. You don’t think about that far.
You think about playing in the FA Cup final, as you watch it growing up as a kid. At seven, eight, nine and 10 years old, you love it and enjoy football, as a kid, scoring goals for the school team.
You want to play in the FA Cup final. You want that day and to enjoy playing at Wembley.
Finally, to do that at 33, was amazing and to be an integral part of it, scoring the first goal and being part of the winning team, was also amazing.
Then do you know what?
This can really happen.
It was probably then that we started talking about it.
And then we all know what happened in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. I equalised and, although it wasn’t my best strike, it found the back of the net so we were all delighted.
As I struck it, and scored, I had to glance over my shoulder to make sure the linesman hadn’t got it wrong. I didn’t want to see him with his flag up for offside. I saw the flag was down and that was it. I was off on the celebrations.
But I wanted to go and score a second. Let’s do it. Becks put it into a great area but I felt I was up just a little bit too early to head the ball down so the only way I could contribute was, in a split second, to think just flick it on to where, hopefully, there is someone. That would be little Ole, the baby-faced assassin. Ready to do his stuff.
Later, in my final year with the club, Yorkey had replaced me but then had problems with Sir Alex.
So I found myself getting back in the team.
In fact, when I signed the contract, after the third year, I was away and United had offered me a fourth year. I was on holiday, thinking about it, and I remember Steve McClaren phoning to ask if I was signing or not.
“Okay, I'm telling you I will sign but I'm letting you know I don't want to be sub. Can you make sure you tell the manager that.”
I got back in for pre-season training and forced my way back into the team and ended up having a very good season. We won the Premier League again, I was top scorer and won a few awards myself as well. It was a fantastic end to my Manchester United career.
To be honest, just playing for United is something beyond my wildest dreams as a footballer.
It’s a different level.
There are different clubs to play for but you realise how big it is once you play for United.
To have success at Manchester United is even better and, to do it all in the 1998/99 season, is one to look back on with a lot of fun. It was an unbelievable season.
As I say, everyone has got their story.