“Oh it’s Solskjær!” a disbelieving Martin Tyler screamed. “Extraordinary,” he continued summing up Manchester United’s Lazarus style resurrection from the dead against the reds of Merseyside in the fourth round of the FA Cup. The treble season was replete with highlights for United fans across the world but which goal truly defined that campaign?
The natural and understandable choice would be Ole Solskjær’s last minute winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. With virtually the last kick of the game the Norwegian had delivered the seemingly impossible securing the League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Others may point to Ryan Giggs’ blockbuster goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup. It was the last ever strike in an FA Cup semi-final replay and what an effort it was. More than anything the Welshman’s goal for a 10-man United against their most fearsome title rival gave Fergie’s team a seemingly irresistible momentum to landing all three major trophies.
But arguably it was Ole’s last minute strike against Liverpool that was truly season defining. Why? Well, firstly it was against Liverpool and getting one over a bitter foe is always welcome. More importantly though the Norwegian’s winning strike set the tone for the season, it was a statement of intent and a goal that made an indelible mark on the quest for the treble.
Solskjær’s goal against Liverpool didn’t just smack of defiance it demonstrated a pathological desire to win no matter the circumstance. Losing 1-0 with nothing but stoppage time to play? No problem there’s still enough seconds to strike twice.
Go 2-0 down within the first 20 minutes in the second leg of a Champions League semi-final? Three goals needed, three goals scored, what’s the issue?
Down to 10-men with your opponent’s most skillful player stepping up to take a potentially match-winning penalty? Nary a problem, trust your giant Danish goalkeeper to save the spot kick and then let your wing wizard do the rest.
And then let’s not forget some of the more mundane moments like a 10-minute quadruple against Nottingham Forest, a late equalizer against Juventus to keep a Champions League tie alive and a come from behind victory on the last day of the season to seal the Premier League title.
The comebacks and Herculean effort that went into making the 1998/99 season the most successful in the club’s history is remarkable but everything seemed to take shape when Ole gave David James the eyes and sent the Liverpool goalkeeper the wrong way to seal an unlikely win at Old Trafford after trailing for much of the match.
It was fitting that the goal was scored by Solskjær himself as the Norwegian was on the brink of joining Tottenham at the start of the 1998/99 season. A fee of £5.5 million had been agreed and a fax that contained Martin Edwards’ and Alan Sugar’s signatures was just waiting for Ole to ink his name to make the move permanent. However at the 11th hour and 59th minute the then plainly named Alex Ferguson convinced him to spurn the advances of the North Londoners. The first of a series of last minute interventions involving the Norwegian that culminated with the decisive strike that night in Barcelona.
So back to that winning goal against Liverpool, Solskjær’s effort was only possible because of United’s insatiable desire to get forward whilst doing it in an incisive manner. Most other teams would have been happy to escape with a draw but not this particular Manchester United side. If blood was in the water then United like a voracious great white shark was there on the scene to finish off the prey and no predator was as cold blooded as the baby-faced assassin.
In hindsight it was his late winner that set the story for an amazing season. It was the single moment that can be picked out and identified that 1999 was always going to be United’s year.
In isolation Solskjær’s goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup was simply the strike that saw United through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. However in the grand scheme of things it was the moment when the stars began to align and set the wheels into motion of United’s treble winning season.