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EDITIONS
Uniteds treble triumph Thursday, 27 May, 1999, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
In squad we trust
United's players go wild after their substitutes combine for the winning goal
Never has there been such an eloquent demonstration of Alex Ferguson's "squad system".

United's treble triumph
Manchester United's European Cup victory owed everything to last-gasp goalscorers Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - two players who have spent much of the season warming the bench.

While the first-choice strikeforce of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole was grabbing all the headlines during United's charge towards the treble, these second-string forwards were left kicking their heels.

But manager Ferguson has always insisted that success in modern football, with its energy-sapping schedule, is all about having strength in depth.

And the events of the past 10 days have proved just how pertinent his philosophy has become.

Gunners pipped at post

First the Premiership title was secured, with Arsenal - another club determined to follow the squad rotation system - beaten into second place by one point, only because their reserves were not quite of the same quality as the world-class players United could call on.

Alex Ferguson: Master of squad rotation
Then Sheringham was voted man of the match in the FA Cup final victory over Newcastle.

He began the game in his accepted role as substitute - but an untimely early injury to skipper Roy Keane gave him his chance and he took it in spectacular fashion, scoring the first goal and making the second.

Any hopes the former Spurs striker had of starting in Barcelona, however, were dashed when Ferguson stuck with his preferred front pair of Yorke and Cole, whose goals had taken United to the brink of European glory.

But with the starting strikers showing signs that the long season had taken its toll, Ferguson made his tactical move, with Sheringham introduced for Jesper Blomqvist and Solskjaer replacing Cole with 10 minutes to go.

The shake-up in personnel gave United fresh impetus in the dying minutes and the replacements provided the killer blows, Sheringham equalising and then setting up Solskjaer for the stunning winner.

"I had to gamble," Ferguson said. "It's a European final so why not do it? Teddy and Ole paid off."

But, in truth, throwing two proven international goalscorers into the fray does not amont to much of a gamble - it is more like a considered strategy on the manager's part.

Team spirit

Ferguson's recipe for success is simple.

Everyone at Old Trafford knows the team comes first - there is simply no place for the kind of prima donna antics that have enraged fans of other clubs this season.

Teddy Sheringham: He went to Man Utd and he won the treble
From the moment a player arrives at United, Ferguson makes it clear that individual ambitions must be put to one side for the good of the club as a whole.

No-one is guaranteed a first-team place and the strict wage structure removes the prospect of jealous back-biting and dressing room in-fighting.

Unlike other high profile Premiership sides, there is no clique of superstar players earning sums that are ten times the wages of the average squad tyro.

Regular reshuffles

Such is the level of expectation at Old Trafford that the frustration of sitting on the bench never seems to force players out of the club.

Ferguson has frequently shuffled his pack during his quest for treble glory, resting tired players and preserving others for big games.

Fringe players like Wes Brown, David May, Henning Berg, Phil Neville and Jesper Blomqvist have all been given prolonged runs in the team.

And even established internationals like Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes have had to bide their time.

But it is Sheringham and Solskjaer who will ultimately be branded as United's "super subs".

Both have had difficult seasons while their illustrious team-mates have grabbed the attention.

Terrace abuse

Sheringham's United career had faltered since his arrival from Tottenham as Eric Cantona's replacement.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: No regrets for rejecting transfer bids
He has had to endure vicious abuse from rival supporters - particularly from Spurs and Arsenal fans - and a poor run of form saw him suffer the ignominy of losing his place in the England side.

Norwegian Solskjaer has never had a problem scoring goals for United - but he still found himself behind both Yorke and Cole in the queue for a starting spot.

Other clubs scented his desire for first-team football and decided to move in.

But Solskjaer rejected overtures from Spurs and West Ham, with the inference that it was better to play reserve team football for United than lead the attack in a mid-table Premiership side.

"If I had been at any other club but United then I think I would have gone to the manager and asked to leave," he said at the time. "But I want to stay here and win things."

No-one now will be questioning the validity of his decision.

Not too many substitutes have scored the winning goal in a European Cup final - and Solskjaer is in no doubt that the squad system is the key to success.

"The team spirit is unbelievable," he said. "Everyone works for each other. We're all in it together.

"If anyone wonders why I stay here at Manchester United, this is it."

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Audio
Sheringham and Solskjaer reflect on their late, late goals
See also:

25 Aug 98 | FA Carling Premiership
20 Jan 99 | FA Carling Premiership
27 May 99 | Football
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