The 1998-99 English Premier League title was won by Manchester United, thanks to a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of the season, denying Arsenal in the process. The two rivals had been exchanging blows for much of the second half of the season, but when Arsenal lost to Leeds with just one game remaining it handed the initiative to United, who made no mistake in completing the first leg of their famous treble.
Arsenal had finished strongly while United had succumbed to a long injury list at the end of the previous campaign, and Sir Alex Ferguson knew he had to refresh a squad which had ageing players in certain departments. The transfer of Jaap Stam from PSV Eindhoven for £10.75m freshened up a back line, with Gary Pallister returning to former club Middlesbrough soon after. United weren’t finished there, adding Jesper Blomqvist as high-quality cover for the injury-prone Ryan Giggs, but their hunt for a forward stretched into the start of the new campaign until they secured the £12.6m million transfer of Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa.
Arsenal’s summer was low key, adding Freddie Ljungberg before bolstering their attacking options with Kanu in mid-season, while Chelsea welcomed a few marquee signings, securing the coup of Marcel Desailly, Pierluigi Casiraghi came in from Lazio, and the brilliant Dane Brian Laudrup was added from Rangers on a Bosman.
Elsewhere in the division there wasn’t much in the way of significant spending, though Newcastle ended that by spending £8m on Duncan Ferguson from Everton.
Nottingham Forest, deserved winners of the First Division, were joined by Middlesbrough and, via one of the most dramatic playoff finals ever, Charlton Athletic, who won on penalties after a gruelling 4-4 draw at Wembley.
One of the most bizarre, ethereal moments in Premier League history arrived in September when, after being a mini-brawl broke out between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal at Hillsborough, Paolo Di Canio confronted referee Paul Alcock and shoved him to the ground, leading to a sharp exhaling of breath from all present, and a gigantic ban and forced apology from the Italian.
United started the season in uneasy fashion; after a 3-0 humbling in the Charity Shield to Arsenal, they needed a last-minute David Beckham free-kick against Leicester City to snatch a 2-2 draw on the opening day. When Arsenal beat them 3-0 again, this time in the league. It appeared that United had too many issues, particularly in defence, to keep up with the Gunners.
However, it was to prove to be a title race where all the challengers were susceptible and it led to a thrilling battle. Arsenal had a dismal period before Christmas, failing to win in five matches, including throwing away a two-goal lead to lose at Aston Villa.
Indeed Villa were the surprise package of the season, with Dion Dublin and new arrival Paul Merson more than making up for the goals lost by Dwight Yorke’s departure and at the mid-way point they were top of the Premiership and looking good.
Chelsea, too, were a force. After an opening-day loss to Coventry Gianluca Vialli’s men went 21 games unbeaten, drawing twice with United in games where they were much the better side.
United improved significantly when Yorke and Andy Cole formed a superb partnership. Going into the new year they struck four past West Ham, six against Leicester and eight were taken from a hapless Forest side, with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scoring four goals from the substitutes bench.
With United competing on three fronts (their Champions League bid looking as strong as it had ever done previously) their options in attack began to set them apart. With Teddy Sheringham a more than able stand-in, they had four forwards who could be rotated to keep the team fresh.
I always knew when I came here that one day we would win the championship but to do it again and here at Old Trafford is brilliant. It has been a privilege to follow Sir Matt Busby. He is the bedrock of Manchester United.Sir Alex Ferguson
But Arsenal were equally relentless. As the season drew on, Wimbledon, and, notably, Middlesbrough were handed thrashings and, as Villa completely capitulated a three-way battle emerged, with Chelsea very much in the hunt. With six games remaining just a point separated the three, though the Blues were first to blink. A late Steve Guppy goal stole a point for Leicester at Stamford Bridge when the home side had been 2-0 up, and when they stumbled again a week later, failing to score against Sheffield Wednesday, their destiny was no longer in their own hands.
In fact, it looked increasingly like Arsenal’s title. In a season theme of surrendering leads, United had been cruising at Liverpool before Paul Ince scrambled home an equaliser to earn a 2-2 draw. At the same time Arsenal were producing a peerless display in the North London derby, scoring a series of superb goals in a 3-1 win.
After United nervously won their game in hand at Middlesbrough, 1-0, both sides were level on points and goal difference with two left each to play. Arsenal went to Elland Road to face Leeds on the Tuesday evening, and after both sides squandered a host of chances, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s diving header won the match and gave United the initiative.
United played the following night and, in a twist of fate, they faced Brian Kidd’s Blackburn Rovers, Ferguson’s assistant who had left to take over mid-season. Rovers needed to win to stay up. The sides played out a tentative 0-0 draw, one that condemned Kidd’s side to the drop and meant that the title would go down to the final day.
United, already in the FA Cup and Champions League finals, had three games in 10 days to win it all and, though Les Ferdinand scored early to shock the Old Trafford crowd, David Beckham and Andy Cole struck and secured the league. What happened next? The Treble.
Joining Blackburn Rovers in the second tier were Nottingham Forest, their season defined by Pierre Van Hooijdonk’s refusal to play, and Charlton Athletic, who would be back before too long.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The Frenchman had a superb campaign for Tottenham, scoring a series of marvellous individual goals.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
SIR ALEX FERGUSON
After winning the treble, how could it be anyone else?
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The young Frenchman was an absolute revelation in the Premier League, scoring 17 times at the age of just 18.
DWIGHT YORKE, JIMMY FLOYD HASSELBAINK, MICHAEL OWEN - 18 GOALS
Three of the most famous scorers in Premier League history shared the crown, scoring 18 goals each.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
RYAN GIGGS' once-in-a-generation goal against Arsenal is more goal of the century…
But as it was an FA Cup strike, another brilliant individual goal, from MICHAEL OWEN in a resounding win at Newcastle, is worth remembering.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Aston Villa to MANCHESTER UNITED
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s diving header against Arsenal tends to be forgotten about, but in that moment the Dutchman made the prospect of the treble a distinct possibility for Leeds' greatest rivals, United.