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The Championship Manager 99-00 Challenge: December ‘99

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Join Busby Babe writer Ryan Baldi as he takes the reins of Manchester United circa the summer of 1999. As the dust settles on the previous season’s Treble celebrations, the challenge is to win another Champions League title sooner than Sir Alex Ferguson was able to in 2008.

Teddy Sheringham

December has arrived and as Christmas approaches the "Five Cantonas" chorus rings around Old Trafford on match days. The shopping centres of Manchester are full of hurried shoppers hunting for the best prices on Furbies or Pogs or Nintendo 64s, or whatever else was en vogue in 1999.

But, with six games to get through, we've no time for such festivities; Arsenal are in danger of running away with the Premier League and our Champions League campaign is hanging in the balance, so let's get on with it.

First up, we travel to Vicarage Road to take on Watford who, surprisingly, sit two places above us in third. They use the 3-5-2 formation which is so popular in this game, while I stick with the 3-4-3 that has helped us find our goal-scoring mojo. We will be without Jaap Stam who is still suspended.

Fifteen minutes in, David Beckham rattles the crossbar with one of his trademark free-kicks. In the 38th minute we are awarded a penalty which Ludovic Giuly converts and we go in at the break with a one-goal lead. In the second half I swap Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Dwight Yorke in an attempt to seal the tie. Peter Kennedy hits the post from a free-kick for the home side but we hold on for the 1-0 win.

We're back in Champions League action next, as Arsenal travel to Old Trafford for our second game of the (awful, ill-advised, money-spinning) second group stage. They play a standard 4-4-2 with Thierry Henry reduced to a substitute's role, while Emmanuel Petit is filling in at centre-back. I stick with the 3-4-3. Giuly is only 87% fit, so I'll keep an eye on him.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic flashes a volley wide of the far post in the first half's only real opening. The second period sees Yorke fire over when he should've scored, while Bergkamp went close for the visitors. The game ends in a stalemate. Full-time: 0-0.

In the other game in our group, Fiorentina beat PSV 1-0 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

League Cup quarter-final time now, with Newcastle at Old Trafford. They beat us at St. James' Park earlier in the season, with Alan Shearer scoring twice; we'll have to be weary of him here.

In truth, it was a dull affair. Nothing happened until Ryan Giggs hit the post after 66 minutes, then 10 minutes later, Giuly ran through on goal and scored to to put us into the semi-final.

We'll face Tottenham Hotspur in the two-legged semi. It'd be a great boost to win the first domestic trophy of the season.

Meanwhile, we've tied up a deal to sign this promising young goalkeeper on a free transfer at the end of the season. He's a long way from the finished article, but could develop into a top player for us.

Things are not going so well for Leicester City. The 2016 Premier League champions sit seventeenth and Martin O'Neill has paid for their underperformance with his job. At this point, Claudio Ranieri is in charge of Atlético Madrid, so there's not much chance of him being interested in the vacancy at Philbert Street just yet.

(Dirty) Leeds United at home in the Premier League next. I give Ibrahimovic a rest for this one; he's played a lot of football lately and his form has tailed off a little -- a rest will do him good.

Giggs thrashes the ball into the top corner to give us a first half lead, only for Darren Huckerby to equalise shortly after the break. Giggs heads the ball into the net four minutes later, but the goal is inexplicably ruled out. Paul Scholes is on hand to settle my nerves on the hour, though, with a fine finish from 20 yards. Full-time: 2-1.

Nicky Butt goes down holding his ankle in training. The injury will keep the combative England midfielder out for a month.

Chelsea visit Old Trafford for the this year's Boxing Day fixture. This is a pre-Abramovic Chelsea who currently sit eleventh in the table.

Despite the fact that they are three and a half years away from being transformed by Russian oil money, despite the fact that there is no Didier Drogba or Michael Essien or Arjen Robben -- there's not even an Adrian Mutu -- and despite the fact that they are not even in the top half of the league, Graeme fucking Le Saux gives Chelsea the lead after just 13 minutes. We struggle to get a foothold in the game and I begin to think some of my players have overdone it on the mince pies and turkey.

But early in the second half, Alessandro Nesta heads in from a corner to draw us level. In the final 20 minutes with find our rythm and start to pile on the pressure. Ed de Gooey is saving shot after shot, and Yorke rattles the bar when he really should have scored. But to no avail. Full-time: 1-1.

Fortunately, this turns out to be a point gained rather than two dropped, as Arsenal fall to defeat for the first time this season, beaten 3-1 by Coventry at Highfield Road.

On a positive note, United legend Bryan Robson is back in work having landed the Leicester job. I can feel the 5000-1 odds tumbling already.

And we close out the month with a huge game: Arsenal away. Anything less than three points here and we can effectively kiss our title hopes goodbye, and it's not even new year yet. Again they play 4-4-2, and again Henry doesn't start. I take the gamble of sticking with our adventurous 3-4-3, although Giuly isn't fit to start so Jordi Cruyff will come in.

In the opening minute, Cruyff conjures images of his old man as he ghosts in behind the Arsenal defence to score. With 13 minutes played, Roy Keane scythes down Petit 30 yards from goal and earns himself a booking. Dennis Bergkamp ambitiously goes for goal from the resultant free-kick, and somehow, the non-flying Dutchman finds the top corner. Then, just as I'm thinking of getting the lads in at half-time and going over my team talk in my head, Marc Overmars puts Arsenal ahead -- bollocks! But, after I finish kicking all of the Lucozade bottles within swinging distance of the technical area, I look up to see Ibrahimovic celebrating in front of the fans. The teenager has scored his first goal of the month to make it 2-2 in stoppage time at the end of the first half.

Early in the second half, Arsene Wenger brings Thierry Henry on for Davor Suker. What was an end-to-end basketball-like encounter, has turned into a tight, conservative game of chess; the game seems destined for a draw, which likely won't be enough to resurrect our title challenge, but I'll take it. But then disaster strikes. For all of the world-class attacking talent on the pitch, it's Nelson bloody Vivas who heads in with five minutes to go. Full-time: 3-2

We're playing for second now. We'll pick ourselves up soon enough, as next month we travel to Brazil for the inaugural World Club Championship.

If you missed the last instalment f the CM99-00 Challenge, you can catch up here.

And if you’d like to check out the series that inspired this feature, you can find it here.