On a warm spring evening in May 1999, Alex Ferguson is standing on the touchline of the Camp Nou as his dream of a treble-winning trophy haul slowly dies before his eyes. Manchester United trail Bayern Munich 1-0 in the Champions League final, the one competition where victory has eluded the Scot in his illustrious career.
As the match enters the 91st minute, United win a corner, and Peter Schmeichel is rampaging up the pitch from his goal to join his team’s desperate search for an equaliser. United fans in the stands of this vast cathedral pray in search of divine intervention.
David Beckham stands over the ball eager to deliver with his usual pinpoint precision, and almost every United player is in the Bayern penalty area awaiting his corner. The England star floats a hopeful ball into the box towards the imposing figure of Schmeichel where the Great Dane’s physical presence causes panic in the German backline.
Bayern’s attempts at clearing their lines prove fruitless as a scuffed clearance to safety falls to Ryan Giggs on the edge of the penalty area. The Welshman’s first-time shot is mishit, but it’s heading back in towards the danger zone. On the edge of the six-yard box lies Teddy Sheringham. Amidst all the chaos, Sheringham can see Giggs’ shot will need some help along the way. The England striker swivels and hits a first-time strike to divert Giggs’ effort into the corner of Oliver Khan’s net. Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich.
In injury time of a match in which their opponents have dominated, they have kept the flickering flame of a historic achievement alight. “Name.On.The.Trophy”, screams ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley to the millions watching back in the British Isles. United supporters are now overwhelmed, experiencing a cocktail of emotions. Relief, adrenaline, and jubilation flow through the stands as their heroes have somehow look to have forced extra-time.
Weary and stunned, Bayern restart the match as the clock ticks on to the 93rd minute only to lose possession instantly. United surge forward to force another corner from the same side in which the dramatic events of the last few moments have just occurred. Beckham prepares himself once again for what will surely be his final kick of normal time. Bayern’s players are in a state of bewilderment from the equaliser, and United can smell the blood of the wounded Bavarians.
Beckham launches the corner into the near post towards the incoming Sheringham. United’s number 10 connects with a powerful downward header into the six-yard box where fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjær is lurking. The Norwegian reacts quicker than anybody else to Sheringham’s touch and, in typically predatory fashion, extends his leg to divert the ball into the back of the net. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich.
Solskjaer’s touch has won the Champions League for Manchester United in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. There will be no extra time and United are the cream of Europe for the first time since 1968. In the space of three minutes, United have somehow gone from the ultimate despair to incredible joy. Bayern’s devastated players are strewn across the turf, some in tears, completely stunned and unable to comprehend the events that have just occurred.
Las Ramblas will be alive with Mancunian chants as the United faithful party long into the Catalan night. An open top bus parade back in Manchester that looked as if it would be to celebrate two trophies will now be an occasion in which to celebrate three. Ferguson will finally be able to hold aloft the giant silver jug he has desired more than any other and will shortly receive a knighthood for his achievements in the game.
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Read | Ole Gunnar Solskjær: the super-sub who became an unlikely legend
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And just as at Wembley four days earlier in the FA Cup final, a 33-year-old substitute has risen to the big occasion to play a prominent part in ensuring 1998-99 will be the club’s most successful ever season. He has waited 16 years for the first major trophy of his career, and he now has three in the space of 11 days.
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Born in 1966, Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheringham’s long journey in the world of football began on the streets of Highams Park, north-east London. The young lad with a love of Tottenham Hotspur would kick a ball around down the local alleyways with his brother Jimmy just to the east of White Hart Lane.
Starting out in school football, Sheringham swiftly progressed to county level with Waltham Forest before turning out for Beaumont in Leytonstone until he was 15. In those early days, the young Sheringham already knew that playing football was all he wanted to do in life. A careers master at his school advising Sheringham to forget the prospect of a career in the game only made the teenager more determined to succeed.
A confident young striker who was self-admittedly a little flash in his adolescence, Sheringham often looked to score spectacular goals that would stick in the memory. At this early stage, the showmanship was evidently working out for him, as soon scouts on the London football scene began to take notice of the forward’s talents.
With his tall, wiry frame and self-assured persona, Sheringham stood out enough to earn trials at Tottenham and Leyton Orient, though neither club was sufficiently convinced to commit to him on a permanent basis. Approaching the age of 16, and with the time to leave school looming, the downhearted Sheringham had started to worry that his ambitions for a career in the game he adored were slipping away from him.
One afternoon while playing for Leytonstone and Ilford in the Isthmian League, however, would change Sheringham’s life. Leytonstone and Ilford’s opponents that day were Millwall’s youth team. Scorer of both goals in a 2-1 win, Sheringham had impressed the south London club’s onlooking chief scout and was invited for a six-game trial at The Den. Sheringham was critical of his performances in that short spell but had evidently shown enough promise to be offered a two-year apprenticeship at the club.
Thrilled at the prospect of this all important first step to a bona fide professional career, the only worry Sheringham had back then was how he would make the trip across the Thames every day to get to his new place of work. His suggestion for the club to buy him a moped was laughed off, so Sheringham’s daily commute consisted of hopping on a bus and taking three trains. The £25-a-week wage he would bring home was a far cry from the riches that would await him in the future, but Sheringham was so happy to be playing football for the next two years that he saw any salary at all as a bonus.
George Graham took over as manager at The Den shortly after Sheringham’s apprenticeship began, and with Millwall’s squad size so small, Sheringham wasn’t far off being in contention for a first team spot. Graham would put that dream on hold, however, and made no secret of his dislike for Sheringham’s showboating repertoire of fancy flicks and touches. “Don’t worry about the flashy stuff, just make sure it goes in the net,” Graham commanded of Sheringham.
The young cockney began to heed the advice Graham was relaying to him, and in 1984 made his professional debut in a Third Division 2-1 defeat to Bradford. He kept his place in the side the following week against Bournemouth, and the moment he’d always dreamt of occurred when he scored his first professional goal.
Sheringham’s exhilaration at this milestone would not last very long, however, as he was shortly sent out on loan to Aldershot Town. This two-month spell was a culture shock for Sheringham where he was battered by centre-halves in the rough and tumble of England’s fourth tier. The short goalless period provided a reality check of the rigours of the professional game, and the young forward again began to doubt if he had it in him to succeed in the sport.
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Cascarino and Sheringham
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Towards the end of the 1984-85 season, Graham would send Sheringham on his travels again, and if Aldershot had felt a very different habitat to Millwall, then this next destination should have provided a real alien environment to him. Second division Swedish side Djurgården was where Sheringham would spend the next few months of his football education, and after some early doubts, the time he spent in Scandinavia would prove to be thoroughly valuable for Sheringham.
He credits his time on the continent as crucial for his development not only as a footballer but as a man too. It was the first time he had been forced to stand on his own two feet, and Sheringham fitted in well in the suburbs of Stockholm where he was earning money and scoring goals on a regular basis.
Djurgården also provided Sheringham with the first trophy of his professional career as they triumphed in the Second Division North League. The striker managed to learn a little of the Swedish language, but with most of his teammates fluent in English, he was able to find himself on the same wavelength as them with relative ease. There was even an upgrade on his means of transport, as the club loaned him an old BMW.
Despite enjoying life in Sweden, Sheringham saw the move as a stepping stone and returned to south London at the season’s end. Having earned Graham’s respect with the successful spell in Sweden, Sheringham’s name began to feature more frequently on the Millwall team sheet. After winning promotion to the Second Division, Graham left The Den to take his managerial talents north of the river to Arsenal.
Sheringham’s time working with the Scot had provided him a valuable education, and he credited Graham for helping him to deviate away from his penchant for picturesque finishing. Under new manager John Docherty, Sheringham became a regular first-team starter as he scored 13 goals in a struggling side that narrowly avoided relegation in 1987.
Millwall would need to invest in their playing squad if they were to avoid another season battling the drop, and that summer saw the arrival of Tony Cascarino with whom Sheringham formed the first of his many prominent strike partnerships over the years. Sheringham and Cascarino developed an understanding with one another immediately as they rattled in 47 goals between them to help Millwall win promotion to the First Division first time in the club’s history. The Lions’ direct style played to the strengths of the prolific strike force. Both were natural finishers who possessed excellent link-up play and had the ability to confuse defenders with their movement off the ball.
Millwall quickly settled into life in the English top flight and were astonishingly top of the league until March 1989. The impossible dream of a league title proved to be just that, though, as a loss of form saw the club eventually finish 10th. Sheringham, meanwhile, had shown he had the required quality to play at the highest level of the English game as he claimed fifteen goals in an impressive season.
The following season turned out to be very different, however. A poor run of form for the team and ankle ligament damage suffered by Sheringham saw Millwall relegated back down to Division Two. Back in the second tier, he managed a career-best haul of 37 goals that season but, at the age of 25, he would begin to ponder whether his future might lay away from The Den.
With the scintillating form he had shown and rumours of an England call-up circulating it was no surprise that Sheringham felt his talents belonged in the top flight. After 111 goals in the blue of Millwall, Sheringham knew it was time to bid a fond farewell to the South London club that had given him his break in football.
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The City Ground and Brian Clough beckoned as Sheringham completed a £2.1 million move to Nottingham Forest in 1991. Sheringham relished the opportunity to work with one the game’s managerial greats in Clough. With the likes of Des Walker and Roy Keane in the side at the time, Forest battled their way to an eighth place finish and the League Cup final in 1992, but were outclassed in defeat to Manchester United.
Sheringham registered 20 goals for Forest in his first season and started the next one in good form too, scoring the first ever live Premier League goal to be shown on Sky Sports as he rifled in the winner in a defeat of Liverpool.
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Read | Behind the red mist of Roy Keane
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Despite things going well on the pitch for Sheringham, he shortly hankered for a return to London. Sheringham would later admit in his autobiography that he never completely settled in Nottingham, with an eight-month stay in a hotel seeming to confirm his hesitancy to commit to the club for a substantial period. So just three games into the 1992-93 season, Sheringham was to depart Forest for the club he used to stand on the terraces to watch as a boy; Tottenham Hotspur.
Terry Venables was at the helm of Tottenham when Sheringham completed a £2.1 million return to the capital, and ‘El Tel’ was putting together a team he felt would be capable of winning the title. Sheringham was an instant success at the Lane, finishing as top scorer in the first ever season of the Premier League era, and in Venables, he was working with a manager he later described as the finest he ever played for. Unfortunately, Venable’s vision of a first Spurs league title since 1961 would not have the chance to come to fruition as he was sacked from the club in the summer of 1993 following a legal wrangle with chairman Alan Sugar.
Spurs legend Ossie Ardiles would be the man to replace Venables, and if the Argentine couldn’t fulfil hopes of silverware, he would certainly look to provide some fun trying. Ardiles’ all-out-attacking, to hell with defending, philosophy was initially effective but by the time spring arrived Spurs were just relieved not to be facing relegation following a string of poor results. In an injury-hit first season under the Argentine, Sheringham still finished as the club’s highest scorer with 14 goals.
Shipping goals by the bucketload and a slide down the table would not deter Ardiles from his attacking principles and in the summer of 1994, he welcomed the Romanian winger Ilie Dumitrescu and German superstar Jürgen Klinsmann to the club. Klinsmann, a £2 million signing from Monaco, represented quite the coup for the club at a time when the majority of the world’s finest players were turning out in Serie A.
World Cup winner Klinsmann and Dimetrescu joined Sheringham, Darren Anderton and Nick Barmby to form a quintet of attacking players who became known collectively as the Famous Five. The prospect of these talents playing on the same side was an exciting one, but there were questions as to just how they would all fit in the same starting 11. Ardiles failed to create a sufficient balance between defence and attack and subsequently, was given his marching orders from the ruthless Amstrad tycoon Sugar that October.
Sugar’s solution to Spurs’ defensive woes was to appoint ex-QPR boss Gerry Francis. Francis almost immediately provided a more rigid and cautious style to the team which in turn provided more consistency in gaining positive results. As for Sheringham, he and Klinsmann built an instant rapport on the pitch. Klinsmann had quickly established himself as a cult hero at White Hart Lane, scoring 30 goals on his way to being crowned the 1995 Football Writers Player of the Year. Sheringham was the perfect foil for the German, dropping deeper as the link between the midfield, creating space in the final third for the predatory Klinsmann to thrive on.
An FA Cup quarter-final tie at Anfield in 1995 was the scene of a memorable exhibition of the telepathy the pair shared. Trailing to a Robbie Fowler strike, Sheringham equalised with a delightful curling effort after being teed up by Klinsmann. Then, in the 88th minute, Sheringham repaid the favour with a sublime flick to find Klinsmann who buried his opportunity to take Spurs into the semi-finals. That was as good as it was to get for Spurs in the Cup though as they crashed out to a Daniel Amokachi-inspired Everton in the next round.
Klinsmann would leave Spurs for Bayern Munich in the summer of 1995 and later claimed that Sheringham was the most intelligent player he had ever played with, which was some compliment from someone of Klinsmann’s standing in the game. With the German back in Bavaria, Sheringham continued to score regularly for Spurs firing in 24 goals in the 1995-96 season. It was to be another disappointing year on the whole for the club, though, ending the season in eighth and once again trophyless.
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In 1993, at the age of 27, Sheringham had made his England debut under Graham Taylor. With Taylor having been sacked a year later after failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, the FA turned to Sheringham’s old club boss Venables to lead the national team. In terms of strikers, this was an era in which the England manager had an embarrassment of riches to pick from.
Alan Shearer was the man Venables had identified as being a sure-fire starter, but he had selection headaches when choosing between Les Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore, Matt Le Tissier, Andrew Cole, Ian Wright and of course Sheringham to play alongside the prolific Geordie. Heading into Euro 96, Venables had identified Sheringham as the man best suited to partner the Blackburn Rovers goal machine and a partnership that became known as the SAS was born.
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Read | Euro 96: when football should have come home
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England’s preparations for the tournament on home soil were far from ideal. On a pre-tournament tour of China, the England squad found themselves the subject of a drinking scandal following a night out in a Hong Kong nightclub. Despite several members of the squad also present in the China Jump Bar that night, Sheringham along with Paul Gascoigne bore the brunt of the public outrage. Photos emerged of the pair, allegedly intoxicated while sprawled across an antique dentist’s chair with liquor being poured down their throats.
The media back in England went wild with the story and brandished the players a disgrace for their unprofessional behaviour so close to the tournament. Heading into the championships, Venables, and his squad found themselves under immense pressure to perform, and England rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion. In the space of three weeks, the team had managed to turn around the public’s perception of them from a drunken rabble to footballing heroes who had come within a whisker of European Championship triumph.
As Golden Boot winner, Shearer received most of the plaudits, but Sheringham would play a vital role in England’s run to the semi-finals. England were disappointing in the tournament’s opener, managing just a draw with Switzerland, only for Gascoigne’s wonder goal in the defeat of Scotland to give the English public renewed optimism and excitement ahead of their final group game three days later. It was a match that would represent the greatest ninety minutes of Sheringham’s international career.
In front of a packed Wembley Stadium, the Three Lions faced Holland in a group decider. England went ahead through a first-half penalty and early into the second-half Sheringham doubled England’s lead with a powerful downward header to beat Edwin van der Sar. Two-nil up and on their way to the quarter-finals, England toyed with the Dutch, spraying the ball around with an air of confidence rarely seen in the national side.
The third goal of the evening was an exhibit of Sheringham at his very best. After exchanging passes with Steve Mcmanaman, an inspired Gascoigne rampaged his way towards the Dutch backline before cutting the ball back to Sheringham on the edge of the box. Fooling the perplexed Dutch defenders by shaping his body as if to shoot at goal, Sheringham instead played an exquisite first-time pass to his side into the path of Shearer who blasted a fierce strike in off the post to send the Wembley crowd into delirium. The pass may have looked a simple one, but the fast train of thought and subtlety of the action summed up Sheringham’s qualities beautifully.
Sheringham doubled his tally for the night when he slotted in England’s fourth, and the eventual 4-1 victory saw Venable’s men progress to the quarter-finals. England defeated Spain before crashing out in devastating fashion to Germany on a penalty shoot-out. On a personal level, Sheringham had shared his talent with a wider global audience and the tournament had confirmed the ‘SAS’ as one of the finest strike partnerships in European football.
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Back at club football with Spurs, Sheringham continued to score regularly. Despite his good form, however, the club seemed to have stagnated. In the 1980s, Tottenham had been known as one the big five in England but the ’90s had seen them consistently finish mid-table. By the summer of 1997, Sheringham, still without a major trophy to his name, had become frustrated with what he saw as a lack of investment at the club and at the age of 31, the ambitious Sheringham began to wonder if the time was right to leave for pastures new.
Eric Cantona had retired from the game in the summer of 1997, and Alex Ferguson identified Sheringham as a player who could go some way to filling the void left by the iconic Frenchman at Manchester United. With Sugar accepting a £3.5 million offer from the Champions, Sheringham had no hesitation in committing to the move up north.
The departure from Sugar was a bitter one, with the chairman furious at Sheringham’s accusations of a lack of ambition for the club. According to Sheringham, Sugar phoned Sheringham warning the striker: “ I don’t want to see any shit in the papers about Tottenham or me, or I’ll be after you. I’ll hound you down and get my own back.” He was sad to exit the Lane and the Spurs supporters but was glad to see the back of the man he described as his nemesis.
Sheringham’s first competitive match for United would ironically be against his former employers back at White Hart Lane. The stands would save their most bitter rancour for Sol Campbell a few years down the line, but after being the hero of N17 just a few months earlier, Sheringham was cast as the villain on his return. In the second half of the game United received a penalty and to the delight of the Spurs supporters, Sheringham slammed the penalty against the post before blasting his rebound effort over the bar. United would go on to win the game, but it certainly hadn’t been the start Sheringham had envisaged.
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Read | How Sir Alex Ferguson became the greatest winner in Britain
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The England man soon got off the mark for his new club, however, and began to score with some regularity. He endeared himself to United fans in a match at Highbury, scoring a brace against title rivals Arsenal and subsequently celebrated by kissing the United badge right under the nose of the Gunners in the stands. Sheringham never disguised his disdain for Arsenal, previously declaring, “No money in the world would ever make me play for them.”
Sheringham’s fellow strikers at the club at this stage were Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Andrew Cole, and Jordi Cruyff. Despite forming a good understanding on the pitch, Cole and Sheringham were far from chums off it. According to Cole his dislike for Sheringham stems from an incident three years earlier on England duty.
In a friendly with Uruguay in 1995, Cole entered the Wembley pitch for his England debut to replace Sheringham. Cole later described the substitution:“For my England debut against Uruguay, he was going to be substituted for me to come on to replace him, and he snubbed me on the line. I just thought to myself, ‘I’m making my debut here, and Wembley is a packed house.’ And I felt so small.”
Though Sheringham had a respectable first season at Old Trafford, scoring 14 goals, he and United faded as the season wore on and the hunt for that elusive trophy continued as double-winning Arsenal dominated the domestic season.
Sheringham would not have time to dwell on the disappointing season with United, though, as he and the England squad prepared to cross the Channel to France for the World Cup. Just as at Euro 96 two years previously, there would be controversy surrounding Sheringham as the tournament neared.
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The striker again found himself the subject of front page tabloid news when photographs emerged of an allegedly drunken Sheringham with a cigarette hanging from his mouth in an Algarve nightclub at 6.45am just a week before the tournament’s kick off. Sheringham defended his actions, claiming he wasn’t in fact drunk and had merely put an unlit cigarette in his mouth for a humorous photo opportunity with a fan. England manager Glenn Hoddle gave Sheringham the benefit of the doubt but was furious with Sheringham for his lapse in professionalism.
Hoddle had taken control of the national team when Venables departed after Euro 96, and there was a sense of promise heading into the World Cup that England could go far. The SAS partnership was still proving to be successful, and Shearer and Sheringham would both line up in Hoddle’s starting eleven. The pair complemented each other perfectly with reaping the benefits of Sheringham’s intelligent passes and flick-ons.
With the tournament fast approaching, however, Hoddle found himself under growing fan and media pressure to include 18-year old Liverpool sensation Michael Owen in place of Sheringham. Owen was coming off the back of a stunning debut season and was everything Sheringham wasn’t.
While Sheringham’s game was constructed on acute positional awareness and intelligent movement, Owen was a raw talent who utilised his explosive pace to feed on through balls, possessing the ability to run at petrified defenders with frightening speed. The calls to include the teenager weren’t any slight on Sheringham, but in Owen England had a genuine matchwinner in their ranks who was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
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Read | Michael Owen: the boy woner who came and went
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Despite the public clamour for the teenager’s inclusion, Hoddle kept faith with Sheringham for England’s opening win against Tunisia and their second game with Romania. England shrugged off the challenge of the Tunisians comfortably but found Romania much stiffer opponents in their second group match, and with England trailing by a goal to nil Hoddle summoned Owen from the bench in search of an equaliser. The teenage striker did indeed pull one back only for Romania to score a late winner.
Owen had replaced Sheringham not only for the final 20 minutes of that match but had now also replaced Sheringham as a first-choice England starter. Liverpool’s boy wonder would go on to score his magnificent solo goal against Argentina but for the third successive tournament England would be knocked out on penalties, and Sheringham, at the age of 32, would wonder if his chance of glory with his country was over for good.
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At United, Sheringham was set for what would become the defining season in his career, but first had a new obstacle to overcome. Alex Ferguson had acquired the services of Dwight Yorke in the summer, with the Trinidadian regarded as the manager’s first-choice striker from the start. Yorke formed a brilliant understanding with Cole, and although still receiving their fair share of playing time, Sheringham and Solskjær often had to play second fiddle.
Ferguson’s rotation of four international strikers was a relatively new concept back in the ’90s, but with the club chasing success on four fronts, Sheringham, and the Norwegian poacher would play more than a significant part in proceedings when they got the opportunity.
The most glorious 10 days of United’s long history would begin with a final day league fixture at Old Trafford with the visit of Tottenham. With Arsenal just a point behind in the title race, United knew a win would secure them their a 13th league championship. Despite falling behind to Arsenal’s arch rivals, goals from Beckham and Cole completed the first third of a potential treble as Ferguson’s men wrestled the Premier League crown back from Arsenal in what had been one of the great title battles of recent times.
The following Saturday United would travel down to London for the FA Cup final to face Ruud Gullit’s Newcastle United at Wembley, where Sheringham would find himself on the substitute’s bench. It wouldn’t take long for him to be introduced, however, as the injured Roy Keane hobbled off after just nine minutes of action. Instead of replacing Keane with a like for like midfielder, Ferguson instead called for Sheringham in a move which would pay dividends.
Sheringham took to the famous turf and within 90 seconds of his introduction, United were ahead. The England striker picked the ball up just inside his half and after evading three Newcastle players with some tricky footwork laid the ball sideways to the influential Paul Scholes. Sheringham had continued his run towards the box and Scholes played a perfectly weighted first-time pass towards Sheringham who coolly slotted the ball under Steve Harper. Sheringham then teed up Scholes to double United’s lead in the second half, ensuring United had won their third league and cup double in just five years. Sheringham had left an indelible mark on the cup final, and the next stop for United was Barcelona.
Four days later United ran out to a 90,000 capacity crowd at the Camp Nou for the Champions League final to face Omar Hitzfeld’s Bayern Munich. United’s run to the final had been erratic but thrilling at the same time, pulling off a stirring semi-final comeback against Juventus in Turin in which Keane produced a captain’s performance for the ages. Unfortunately for Keane and United he, along with Scholes would be suspended for the Catalonia encounter.
Without their influential captain and creative maestro in the centre of the park, United struggled to replicate their natural attacking fluency. Bayern, while not completely dominating, looked comfortable after taking a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute through Mario Basler, and twice hit the woodwork before Sheringham and Solskjær intervened with their late heroics to bring the trophy back to Manchester and confirm the third and final part of the historic treble.
Sheringham had in fact been a peripheral figure for large parts of the season but had shown his worth when United needed him most. Recalling the madness of those final two minutes Sheringham later said: “It was a complete shock how we turned it around and to this day people come up to me and tell me that by the time they had finished celebrating the first goal we were celebrating the second one. People watching it in pubs were still celebrating reruns of the first goal and then were celebrating even more – some didn’t know there had been a second goal, it happened that quickly.”
Incidentally, the Epping house where the striker now resides is named Camp Nou in honour of his finest hour.
With the long wait for silverware finally over, the next two seasons at Old Trafford would bring even more glory for Sheringham as he was more than making up for lost time in his quest for trophies. United stormed to a successive title in 2000 but on a personal level, Sheringham’s influence appeared to be on the wane. After a lacklustre season concerning goals – just six that season – it could have been deduced that the striker’s finest days were behind him at the age of 34.
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Read | Ruud van Nistelrooy and the art of scoring goals
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Sheringham would prove any doubters wrong the following year, however, as he fired home 21 times on his way to being crowned PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers Player of the Year. United’s domestic dominance continued as they won their third successive title. Given his advancing years, Sheringham’s blistering return to form came as a surprise to many but with Yorke going off the boil, Ferguson was more reliant on the England man than he had ever been.
Regardless of Sheringham’s form, though, Ferguson identified the need for more youth in his forward line and the summer of 2001 saw the arrival of prolific Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy. With his four-year contract at the club coming to an end, Sheringham could see that his playing time would be limited with van Nistelrooy there and decided the time was right to leave Old Trafford. The club offered him a one-year deal to stay, but Sheringham’s mind was made up. He would depart the champions and the north-west for the club he had left four years earlier.
Upon moving back to White Hart Lane, Sheringham expressed a desire to win a trophy with Spurs where his old England chief Hoddle was now manager. That wish for glory would not bear fruit though as Hoddle found it a struggle to forge a balance between playing attractive football and winning matches.
The quality of the squad was arguably poorer than that of the one Sheringham had left in 1997 and if anything the club seemed to be in regression. Spurs did make it to a League Cup final, where Blackburn defeated them, but in the league came the usual mid-table frustration. In some respects Sheringham’s second stint in north London was valuable as he had won back the fan’s respect at the club he loved more than any other, adding another 26 Spurs goals to his name in the process.
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At international level, ever since the 1998 World Cup, Sheringham’s appearances had been rather sporadic. Kevin Keegan had left Sheringham out of his squad altogether for England’s doomed Euro 2000 campaign, but his England career couldn’t be written off just yet. The veteran striker had made a habit of proving age was no obstacle down the years, and Sheringham would provide one more memorable moment for the Three Lions.
Sven Göran-Eriksson had taken over from Keegan in 2001 as England looked to secure a place at the 2002 World Cup. Old Trafford was the setting for England’s final qualifying game against Greece, and they only had to avoid defeat in order guarantee themselves a place at the tournament the following summer. As ever with England, they wouldn’t make life easy for themselves.
Eriksson’s side trailed 1-0, and a defeat would leave them facing a potentially perilous playoff match. With 67 minutes on the clock Eriksson, desperate for a goal, called Sheringham from the bench. Within seconds, the 35-year-old was wheeling away in delight having scored England’s equaliser. Sheringham had glanced in a deft header from David Beckham’s set-piece delivery with his very first touch. England would lose the lead again before an injury-time Beckham free-kick levelled things up to send England on their way to Japan and South Korea.
Eriksson had seen the positive impact Sheringham’s was capable of providing and included him in his final squad for the World Cup. Sadly for Sheringham, the striker’s action would be limited to two substitute appearances and the last of his international caps came in the quarter-final exit at the hands of eventual winners Brazil.
Those three weeks in Euro 96 had undoubtedly been Sheringham’s finest days in the white of England, but his late intervention against the Greeks ensured his international career didn’t slowly peter out. Sheringham’s record of 11 goals in 51 England appearances may not look too impressive at first glance, but to judge him on the statistics alone would be undermining the selfless qualities and creative influence he brought to the team.
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In the summer of 2003, with Tottenham opting against offering Sheringham a new contract, Portsmouth’s Harry Redknapp identified Sheringham as the experienced player he needed at the newly promoted club. Sheringham’s stay on the south coast would be a short one, but he left the Fratton Park fans with a wonderful memory when at the age of 38 he became the Premier League’s oldest ever scorer of a hat-trick in a victory over Bolton Wanderers.
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Sheringham shone in an entertaining Portsmouth side
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Sheringham’s presence helped Pompey’s inexperienced squad grow into the top flight, and Redknapp praised his impact on the club: ”The standards were lifted, and he was somebody everyone looked up to. The coaches and younger players all learned from him, and he was a massive influence.” Portsmouth secured their Premier League status but decided against offering Sheringham a new contract.
At 38, and still, in great shape, he had no intention to retire just yet. Sheringham’s next destination was east London where he would drop down a division to sign for West Ham United in 2004. Sheringham took the Championship by storm, where he fired in 21 goals and was named Championship Player of the Year. The ex-England man was instrumental as West Ham won promotion and, at the age of 39, Sheringham would once again be playing Premier League football.
Sheringham helped consolidate West Ham’s top-flight status and broke more records along the way, becoming the oldest outfield player in the history of the Premier League. His three-year stay would also include an FA Cup final in which the Hammers suffered defeat to a Liverpool side inspired by a magnificent Steven Gerrard performance.
At the age of 40, West Ham released Sheringham, so he moved east to Essex where he signed for Colchester United. Back playing in England’s second tier, Sheringham scored four goals in 20 appearances before finally deciding to hang up his boots in 2008. Sheringham’s career spanned 25 years, where he racked up 366 goals in 959 appearances.
Since his retirement, Sheringham has worked under Sam Allardyce at West Ham as a striker’s coach before making the move into management himself in 2015 when he took the reins at Stevenage Borough. Sheringham found the management side of the game didn’t come as naturally as the playing side, however, and was fired after just eight months into the job.
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Reminiscing on Sheringham’s career, it can sometimes be difficult to think of him in individual terms given that he was at his best when working in tandem with a strike partner. He was the type of player who could improve the performances of those around him. Shearer, Klinsmann, and Cascarino have all credited Sheringham with being the player who brought out the best in them. Famously devoid of any real pace, Sheringham’s game wasn’t about explosive runs or spectacular goals. His was a more understated talent, built on subtle touches applied with precision and finesse.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sheringham’s startling longevity is that the major honours came so late to him. At a time when most players are thinking about retirement, Sheringham was winning the first of multiple league titles. The fact that he kept himself in shape to play top flight football at 40 years of age is a testament to the professionalism and high standards he set in his long career.
At the age of 50, we wait to see which direction Sheringham will take his career in next. If a return to management is in his plans, it may be a while before we see him take to the dugout in the upper echelons of the game. Though if his playing career is anything to go by, persistence will likely pay off in the end for Sheringham.
By Aaron Attwood. Follow @ajattwood