The morning sun stings my eyes as I crawl out of the corrugated iron bunker I’d constructed for myself in my back yard. A quick scan of the panorama reveals that, yes: I am still alive; and no: the Millennium Bug did not trigger the chain of cataclysmic nuclear explosions that I’d anticipated.
It’s 1 January 2000, and, thankfully, the world has not ended. Everything will carry on as normal. My thoughts immediately turn to how I’m going to get rid of the 10,952 cans of baked beans I’d stowed away for sustenance in the post-apocalyptic reality. Will someone hurry up and invent eBay, already!
Anyway, time to take off my tin hat, brush the dirt from my matchday suit, and get back to work.
The new millennium brings no respite and, as this month contains 10 games across four different competitions, I’ll be breaking it up into a two-parter.
First up, a trip to Sunderland. The Black Cats play with a pretty straight forward 4-4-2, so I see no need to alter my shape. Ludovic Giuly makes a welcome return to the line-up.
Everything goes to plan in the first half and we go in at the break with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a Phillipe Christanval header from a corner. And three minutes into the second period, Stefan Schwarz is dismissed for a second booking — happy days! But another former Arsenal player, Steve Bould, isn’t picked up at a corner, and the veteran defender pulls the home side level. Paul Scholes is having a shocker, so I take him off for Dwight Yorke and switch to a Marcelo Bielsa-style 3-3-1-3 to try and snatch a winner. But with 20 minutes to play, Jaap Stam is given his marching orders for picking up his second booking of the game. The Dutchman’s disciplinary record is becoming an issue and it’s cost us here. Full-time: 1-1.
I fine Stam a week’s wages for his indiscipline and he accepts his punishment.
I’ve been in the market for a new striker for some time now, but with just £10 million in the bank, I haven’t been able to secure the calibre of forward who could be considered an upgrade on what I’ve already got.
One player I have been monitoring — and have even had bids rejected for — is AS Monaco’s David Trezeguet. The 20-year-old Frenchman has scored nine goals in 15 games for the Ligue 1 club, and Internazionale have just snapped him up for £13.25 million.
On the plus side, though, Inter striker Christian Vieri was already unhappy at the club, and the addition of Trezeguet will only knock him further down the pecking order, so maybe a summer bid of the Italian will be worthwhile. There is another Nerazzurri striker I’d love to sign, but I’d probably need to quadruple my budget to even get Inter talking; Ronaldo has scored 21 goals in 15 games and has an average rating of 8.87 — there was a reason why they called him "Il Fenomeno".
We’re off to Stamford Bridge next to take on Chelsea. We played the Blues just before Christmas and they held us to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Giggs and Giuly are not fit to start this one.
Gianfranco Zola scores after 18 minutes, but I can’t stay mad at that guy for long; I just want to ruffle his hair and send the little scamp on his way — you can’t not love Zola. In the second half, I take Scholes off for Giuly; the England midfielder has been poor again. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (he’s a Swedish hero...) scores to bring us level with 25 minutes remaining. Giuly is causing the Chelsea defence all kinds of problems, but Ed de Gooey is on hand to deny the diminutive Frenchman on several occassions. It’s not long before we’re ahead, though, as Yorke nets his 100th career goal. With 10 minutes to go I’m just about to bring Phil Neville on and switch to a defensive shape to protect our slender lead, only for that lead to be wiped out by Dennis Wise. Just as was the case at Old Trafford, the game seems destined for a draw. But Yorke proves himself to be no lover of round numbers, as he scores career goal number 101 in stoppage time. Full-time: 3-2.
It may only be January, but Roy Keane has already accumulated 10 yellow cards so far this season, earning the Irishman a one-game Premier League ban.
In what I can only assume is a petulant act of revenge, Chelsea have gone and had a bid of £14.5 million accepted for another of my short-listed strikers, Henrik Larsson. Even though I know the cheque will bounce, I match their offer just to prevent Chelsea for signing him.
But I do manage to secure the signing of another striker, although he won’t be coming until the end of the season when his Real Madrid contract expires. And it will probably be a few years before we see the best of him.
Domestic action is put on hold now, as we fly to Brazil for the inaugural World Club Championship. It’s a two-group, eight-team competition in which the two group winners contest the final. In our group we’ve got Santos, Vasco de Gama and Raja Casablanca.
And it’s Pele’s (and Robinho’s) old club Santos up first at the Maracana. There’s no information available about their tactical approach, so I’m going into this one blind. I decide to revisit the Bielsa-esque 3-3-1-3 formation for no reason whatsoever and drop Scholes for his poor form.
Christanval rattles the post as the first half draws to a close with no goals scored. Ibrahimovic gets his 10th goal of the season in the second half, but I can hardly contain my rage when Stam gets himself sent off again (AGAIN!) shortly afterwards. With 10 minutes to go, Eduardo hits the bar for the Brazilians but we hang on. Full-time: 1-0.
Back in home in England, the FA Cup fifth round draw has been made and we’ll play Arsenal at home on the 29th of this month.
Our second WCC group game is against Vasco. We managed to beat them in extra-time in November’s one-off Intercontinental Cup match in Japan. Guilleme scored after 20 seconds in that one so we’ll have to keep an eye on him here.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ibrahimovic put us 2-0 up and the break, and the Swede almost makes it three after the restart, only to be denied by the crossbar. A Viola free-kick pulls one back for Vasco, but it’s not enough for the Rio de Janeiro side. A draw in the final game will put us in the final. Full-time: 2-1.
I go with the same tactics and line-up for the final group game against Raja Casablanca, although I hope to be able to bring a couple of key players off early to get a rest.
We only needed a draw but we cruised to a pretty routine victory. Ibrahimovic, Yorke and even Gary Neville scored to give us a 3-0 win. I managed to get Ibra and Giuly off at half-time to preserve their fitness levels for the final.
And our opponents in the final will be Real Madrid, who are probably a little irked that I’ve stolen their two best teenagers away on free transfers for next season.
But that’s it for part one. Check back for part two to see how we got on in the WCC final, as well as league games against Liverpool and Middlesbrough, the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur and the FA Cup fifth round tie against Arsenal.
If you missed the last instalment of the CM99-00 Challenge, you can find it here.
And if you’d like to check out the series that inspired this feature, it’s here.