Sat. Mar 6th, 2021

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The Treble winner who tarnished his Manchester United legacy in a single moment

8 min read

Being part of the greatest Manchester United side of all time should make you immortal.

However for one Treble winner many fans would argue his legacy at the club has been irretrievably damaged, despite being such a towering figure of that fabled side.

Yes, there have been star players from different eras at Old Trafford, yet few would argue against the 1998/99 side being the best squad United have ever had at their disposal.

To win just one of the Premier League, FA Cup or Champions League represents a great season for most – to win all three is an unthinkable indulgence few teams could fathom.

But what is the standout moment of that season? The FA Cup semi-final win over Arsenal? The comeback against Juventus? Or that crowning night in Barcelona as United finally reached The Promised Land?

Given the immense success of the season it makes sense why different moments standout to different fans, but looking back on those wonderful scenes at the Nou Camp… one snapshot leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

As the United squad peeled off in euphoria following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dramatic winner, television cameras captured Peter Schmeichel cartwheeled like he used to as a young boy, such was the sheer excitement and adrenaline which had suddenly possessed him.

That gymnastic improvisation was the Dane’s last on-field contribution for the club.

It remains one of the most iconic shots from that famous night in Catalonia, but 22-years on it now holds a deeper meaning for many fans who would later feel betrayed by a man Ferguson described as the “bargain of the century.”



Sir Alex Ferguson and Peter Schmeichel with the European Cup at the post-match party in 1999

Although supporters were sad to see such an accomplished shot-stopper leave the club, deep down many appreciated the need for renovations to the squad if they were to do the impossible and somehow retain the three trophies they had just won.

Schmeichel departed south to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal as he went in search of a new challenge before easing into a retirement.

Or so they thought.

His first season in Portugal saw the Dane win another league title as Sporting ended an 18-year wait without the biggest prize in their domestic football, but in the second season they only managed a third-place finish – his lowest league finish since playing for Hvidovre IF in Denmark 14-years prior.

Schmeichel contemplated extending his stay at Sporting by another year, but eventually left on a free in the summer of 2001 as a return to the Premier League came calling.

His solitary season at Aston Villa is best remembered for his goal against Everton, becoming the first Premier League goalkeeper to find the back of the net in the history of the competition.



His solitary season at Aston Villa is best remembered for his goal against Everton, becoming the first Premier League goalkeeper to find the back of the net in the history of the competition

But he soon grew frustrated as Peter Enckelman established himself as the first-choice between the sticks.

After leaving Villa Park many thought Schemichel would call an end to a fantastic career – and based on his next decision many United fans would argue that he did.

The Danish legend sparked huge controversy when he agreed a move to Manchester City, a huge coup for manager Kevin Keegan as he prepared for their first season back in the Premier League.

It was a move which left United fans in disbelief – but the worst was yet to come.

After just two wins in their first 10 matches of the new season City found form at the right time as they beat Birmingham and West Brom away from home in the build-up to the final ever Manchester derby at Maine Road.

Three years after he ‘left to retire’ Schmeichel was back involved in a derby encounter, but this time he was playing for the enemy.

“He left Man United at the age of whatever he was, 35, and he said he was retiring, basically to go abroad,” former teammate Gary Neville told the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast.

“At the time when he came back, he played for Manchester City. You can’t play for Manchester City.

“I’m a United fan and I can’t play for Manchester City, I can’t play for Leeds and I can’t play for Liverpool. That’s just written in stone.

“You just don’t play for those clubs, irrespective of what happens.

“He’d won the treble with United in ’99, said that he was retiring… he should have carried on playing for United for the next two or three years if that was the case. We struggled for a keeper between Peter and Edwin (Van der Sar).”



Peter Schmeichel… of Manchester City… celebrates at the final whistle at Maine Road, victorious over his old side

It’s an issue which Sir Alex Ferguson was aware of too.

While the siege mentality certainly played a part in the frosty reception of Schmeichel in the Maine Road tunnel, the fact United had struggled so hard to replace him made the situation that bit more complicated.

“From the minute Schmeichel left to join Sporting Lisbon in 1999 – and having missed out on Van der Sar – I was throwing balls in the air, hoping one would land in the right place,” Ferguson admitted in his second autobiography.

What happened pre-match is now as famous as the game itself -from a United perspective, at least.

As the two fierce rivals lined up in the tunnel ahead of kick-off the Danish goalkeeper exchanged pleasantries with Ryan Giggs, before offering his hand to shake opposing captain Neville’s.



United stars celebrate their unprecedented Treble in 1999

Instead Neville stared straight ahead and refused to acknowledge the presence of his former teammate disgusted by the act of treachery which had been performed.

Reflecting later on that incident, Neville admitted: “I hated everybody, we all did. Everybody hated us, we all hated everybody. That’s the way it was. With Sir Alex, you’re on an island and we were siege mentality. If you’re not on the island, do one.”

There have been similar incidents in the past where Red legends have crossed over to the other side.

Dennis Law infamously scored a goal which didn’t relegate United back in 1974, fellow Treble winner Andy Cole played on both side’s too. But for Schmeichel it was different.

Not only did the Dane leave with the proviso he would be winding down his career having given United all he had to offer, but he would soon enrage the Reds packed into the away end as he celebrated City’s famous win.

“I remember losing the last one at Maine Road. I scored but we lost,” Solskjaer reflected on that match back in 2019.

“I didn’t score in a win. I actually scored against Peter Schmeichel but he should never have played for Manchester City anyway.

“Ah well. That’s another story.”



Peter Schmeichel has told Manchester United they need to land additional signings in the January transfer window.
“He should never have played for Manchester City”

It says a lot that someone as pleasant as Solskjaer still hasn’t forgiven his fellow Scandinavian.

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Manchester United lost 2-1 to Sheffield United as they passed up an opportunity to return to the top of the Premier League table.

There’s no time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players to feel sorry for themselves, though, with a game against Arsenal at the Emirates to come on Saturday.

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The current United manager drew his side level after just eight minutes of the match as he cancelled out a goal from Nicolas Anelka, the frailty of Fabien Barthez conceding it further amplifying the sour taste towards Schmeichel who could have still done a job or United if he was not guarding the other net instead.

Then a moment which City fans will never forget.

If Neville was stern and solid towards his former teammate ahead of the match, he was anything but during it as he gifted them a lead when he was robbed of the ball by Shaun Goater in his own box before the Bermudian forward finished coolly below the flustered Barthez.

United were rattled and shortly after the break they would be two behind as Goater again capitalised on some porous defending to lift his side into a two-goal lead and put the contest to bed.



For a man who reached such heights at Manchester United, fans have a complicated relationship with him today

As the full-time whistle was drowned out by the passionate home crowd celebrating their first derby win in 13 years, stern eyes soon fell on Schmeichel as he cartwheeled in celebration just as he had done on that famous night in Barcelona.

This time he had not won the Treble with United, but he had secured three points at their expense playing for a team they were genetically engineered to hate.

The man who was the rock behind their first great success under Ferguson was now no more than a crumbling statue of past glories, graffitied by the new club which he wore with curious pride on his chest.

Just as many former teammates have never forgiven Schmeichel after almost two decades, neither have many of the fans who made the trip across Manchester that infamous derby day.



Schmeichel during the 2002 Maine Road Manchester derby – the last to be played at the ground

News that Schmeichel was considering an application to be the club’s first ever sporting director was met by supporter outrage when first suggested in December 2018. Over two years later that vacancy remains.

“I would never have played for Manchester City had they been what they are today,” the Dane insisted when he addressed the issue back in 2012.

But in that moment his six Premier League titles, three FA Cup victories and Champions League win were forgotten.

To some fans, they still are.

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