In 1999, Manchester United won the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, and became the first English team to achieve the domestic League, domestic Cup and European Cup treble in the same season.
The unlikelihood of their success, mixed with the attacking style Sir Alex Ferguson demanded from them, made them one of the most entertaining teams to watch.
Dwight Yorke – the league’s top goal scorer that treble season – and Peter Schmeichel – the man who saved a Dennis Bergkamp penalty in the dying minutes of the FA Cup Final – stopped over at Swissquote Bank’s office in Dubai to talk to us.
You were both part of United’s treble-winning team what was the team atmosphere like during that time?
Yorke: These guys were already a winning team before I came in. So for me personally, I expected to win some kind of silverware after I had signed my five-year contract. just not the whole thing.
Schmeichel: I think we were a really good dressing room full of professionals. We knew what was expected of us.
Yorke: During the run, we had a game around December 25. We lost. After the match, we just looked around the dressing room like ‘Really? Is this happening? This is not what we’re here for.’ We went on an unbeaten run after that.
What would you say is the difference between Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s team?
Yorke: You could see the difference in last night’s game (United and Hull played out a 0-0 stalemate). We’d have found a way to win. Now, this team didn’t lose last night. We’ve found a way to keep that undefeated run going. Jose Mourinho’s boys have been undefeated but haven’t won.
Schmeichel: In all fairness, Dwight came into a team that was ready. It took Sir Alex a good 10 years to build that team. We need to give Mourinho time. Ask any fan, in the last three years, we’d watch games and go, ‘Why can’t we do better.?’ Jose is doing better.
There’s a lot of competition in the race to qualify for the Champion’s League this season. Do you think this team will get there?
Schmeichel: I expect them to be top. We’re more than good enough. Liverpool and Arsenal are on the decline. We’ll pip them to a spot.
Yorke: We’re in the EPL Cup final. Peter and I were talking about the effects of being in a cup Final. Some teams implode while others step up. I’m confident we will step up.
The squad mentality of that treble-winning team was impenetrable. By contrast, Leicester who won the league last season has somewhat imploded this season.
Schmeichel: Both teams took time to build. Sir Alex took a long time and with Leicester, you have to look at the Championship. The managers built that team for three years before they took that league by storm. In many ways,s the Championship is harder to win than the Premier League. They won the Premier League and their life changed. It was a bit of culture shock. The hardest part of winning is what happens the next day. Can you pick it up again? That takes experience from everyone. We were fortunate we had a manager like Sir Alex who had won everywhere he was before. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened with Leicester.
But the days of having a long-term manager are behind us.
Yorke: You’re right. The longevity of management now is 12 months, if you’re lucky. People are looking for quick success. Like every other job, their jobs are result oriented. That’s the kind of setting Jose Mourinho excels at though.
Coming back to the winning mentality and the culture shock that comes with it, did you go through a form of culture shock when you stopped playing?
Schmeichel: It was more of a natural progression for me. Players forced into retirement have it far worse. The best job you’ll ever have, regardless of what you would do for the rest of your life, is playing football. Having said that, once I finished, I looked forward to not having it anymore. This really drains you physically and mentally.
Both of you have had long careers and have played at some of the best stadiums in the world. What was the worse one though?
Schmeichel: I won’t name it but when I left United, I went to Sporting in Portugal. We had one game left that we needed to win in order to win the championship. I swear to you, the dressing room was a quarter of the size of this room (our room is about 6-metres by 10-metres) and the grass was not cut evenly. I went from places like Old Trafford and the Camp Nou to that.