Man Utd’s 1999 Champions League final was riddled with hatred between team-mates

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Most strike partnerships begin by blossoming off the pitch as well as on it. But Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole never found common ground, and their long-running feud threatened to ruin Manchester United’s chances of Champions League glory back in 1999.

At Old Trafford, Cole and Sheringham were — at least on paper — the ultimate strike partnership. An all-English frontline with attacking prowess and a natural scent for goals, the pair combined to score a hatful of goals for the club after Sheringham’s high-profile £3.5million move from Tottenham in 1997.

Cole managed 121 in eight seasons with the club, while Sheringham netted 46 times in four years. And yet, having played together on 99 occasions during their professional careers, they only had only registered 10 joint goal contributions together.

Ever since the former stormed off the pitch during an England game in 1995, there had been a palpable distance between the two players. Sheringham, seemingly unhappy about being brought off for the youthful Cole in a friendly against Uruguay, ignored his compatriot as he went for a handshake. That incident ignited a bitter row, with Cole holding a grudge towards his team-mate.

“Sheringham is coming off. I expect a brief handshake, a 'Good luck, Coley', something. I am ready to shake. He snubs me,” he later recalled. “He actively snubs me, for no reason I was ever aware of then or since. From that moment on, I knew Sheringham was not for me.”

That set the tone for their turbulent relationship when Sheringham was signed by Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to partner Cole in 1997, with Roy Keane even forced to get involved. Perhaps the legendary Scottish manager realised the error of his ways, as he brought in Dwight Yorke the following season from Aston Villa, leaving Sheringham on the periphery.

In the 1998-99 campaign, Sheringham had struck just twice in the league all season while Cole (17) and Yorke (18) were enjoying a glut of goals. As the striker recently revealed in a Sky Sports documentary, his lack of playing time had left him feeling frustrated, but Ferguson pleaded for patience.

"I always remember Sir Alex coming to me in late-January or early-February," Sheringham said. "I was still struggling trying to get back into the team and trying to get fit properly. But he said to me, 'Look, just make sure you're fit for the end of the season, I've got a feeling it's going to be a big season’. Lo and behold, he knew."

Having already secured the Premier League and FA Cup, United had a Champions League final to prepare for to secure an unprecedented Treble. For that, Ferguson knew he needed to select a team that was ready to fight for one another — and that involved consigning Sheringham to the bench.

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However, it was not the only ongoing argument in the lead-up to the final in Barcelona. In the Bayern camp, Stefan Effenberg and Lothar Matthaus’ relationship had deteriorated to the point that they had resorted to taking swipes in public at each other.

Effenberg had released an autobiography which included a chapter titled: 'What Lothar Matthaus knows about football’. The page was left blank. It seemed to be a retaliation to Matthaus’ remarks, who suggested Effenberg was “weak” and “lost his touch”, advising Bayern to offload him.

Yet, it seemed to have no real impact on the game as Matthaus and Effenberg put aside their differences for those 90 minutes of action. And with United trailing 1-0, Ferguson chose to bring off Cole in the 81st minute — only this time avoiding a potential incident by sending on Sheringham for Jesper Blomqvist 14 minutes prior, bringing on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the Englishman.

As fate would have it, it proved to be his masterstroke. Sheringham produced a stoppage-time equaliser and Solskjaer prodded home the winner with the clock striking 90+3 minutes to complete a sensational turnaround.

Whether it was the success or the fact Sheringham moved on to rejoin Tottenham in 2001, both players seemed to gain some clarity after that moment. Sheringham revealed that after a chance meeting in 2019, the pair managed to patch things up and civility between them was achieved: "That was the case with me and Andy. We just didn't click. But we've made our peace,” he told The Daily Mail.

On the day of his 56th birthday, Sheringham may reflect with some regret over how his beef with Cole escalated – and no one knows what might have happened had Ferguson replaced one with the other in the 1999 final. But with the Champions League winners' medal in his trophy cabinet, it all worked out for the best.

  • Champions League
  • Premier League
  • Sir Alex Ferguson
  • Manchester United FC

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