Football: Gullit salutes the true United

Manchester United 2 Sheringham 11, Scholes 53 Newcastle United 0 Attendance: 79,101; FA Cup final: Togetherness is key for Manchester's dream team as they attempt to raise themselves one more time
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The Independent Online
IT STARTED with a cluster of players, maybe four or five, then rapidly expanded as, from goalmouth to substitutes' bench, their team- mates rushed to join in. Each time the circle opened joyously until the entire Manchester United squad were engaged in a celebratory dancing huddle. Then it unfurled until they were jigging in a line facing the Royal Box.

The movement could not have been smoother if it had been choreographed but this spontaneous reaction to Saturday's FA Cup win encapsulated a core theme behind Manchester United's success. Togetherness.

"We do everything together," said Roy Keane, their limping captain afterwards. Injury permitting he, like Paul Scholes, will train with the squad before Wednesday's European Champions' Cup final in Barcelona despite their both being suspended from the match with Bayern Munich. "I've played them twice, I might be able to pass something on, every little bit helps," added Keane.

That could be seen in the way Paul Scholes flung himself in front of Temuri Ketsbaia seconds before the Georgian, his view of the goal reduced by Scholes' body, struck the post. The game, with Manchester 2-0 up, seemed over but Scholes, who had scored the second five minutes earlier, and was suffering from a cold virus, was as committed as ever.

Newcastle United in name only, had no such sense of togetherness. With a similar spirit they might have matched Manchester, without it they had no chance.

"Their defending starts with the strikers, their attacking starts with the defenders," said Ruud Gullit in admiration afterwards. He did not need the stress the comparison between Manchester's team and Newcastle's collection of individuals, it was obvious. Not that Gullit's clear lack of respect for his players, all but three of them inherited, helped. He went on to speak, with relief, of making changes, of bringing in new players.

The ones he has began aggressively, perhaps hoping Manchester, with Barcelona in mind, would allow themselves to be hustled out of their stride. Though Gary Speed put Roy Keane out of the game in the fourth minute - Peter Jones' only error was not booking the Welshman - it failed. On came Teddy Sheringham and, almost immediately, he scored.

The ball was worked to Andy Cole halfway inside the Newcastle half then on to Sheringham, who drifted past a couple of defenders before finding Scholes. He earned space by shaping to shoot then rolled the ball into the path of Sheringham, who had continued his run and now slipped the ball under the advancing Steve Harper.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Sheringham put headers wide and Cole had a chip cleared off the line before, in the 36th minute, Dietmar Hamann finally brought a save from Schmeichel.

Sheringham, again unmarked, almost made it two with a header from Gary Neville's cross but Newcastle held on to the break and came out with renewed vigour. With Duncan Ferguson causing problems they briefly inspired thoughts of an equaliser, but Manchester broke away though Ryan Giggs. Nikos Dabizas halted him by the corner flag but played a risky ball inside, Solskjaer won it from Rob Lee, played the ball in to Sheringham, who laid it back for Scholes to drive in.

Though Ketsbaia hit the post soon after, that was game over. Alex Ferguson took the chance to give Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke a run but, even at half-pace, Manchester opened up Newcastle at will. They spurned a string of chances - Sheringham going closest with a delightful chip onto the bar - but, with Silvio Maric missing a sitter with eight minutes left, it mattered not. Keane duly hobbled up the 39 steps to complete Manchester United's third Double in six seasons.

There may be only three teams that could have stretched Manchester United on Saturday - Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - but they had all been narrowly beaten en route. Leeds, with a bit more experience, may join that group but Newcastle are miles away. Their play was as monochrome as their supporters' colours but not nearly as worthy. While the Toon Army cheered them on in hope rather than belief, the team appeared little better than it was one year and pounds 28m ago when losing to Arsenal.

Half of that money has been spent by Gullit and, though he has still to sign his contract - the lawyers are negotiating - the board have sanctioned another pounds 8m this week to be spent, probably, on Alain Goma, of Paris St Germain, and Marcelino, of Real Mallorca. Both are defenders, while further spending on a squad which has already cost a staggering pounds 62m is expected. The next priority is the midfield but the attack also has problems.

Newcastle's last Wembley goal came from Jackie Milburn in the 1955 final and there seemed little prospect of Alan Shearer or Ferguson adding to it on Saturday. Shearer, again starved of service and no longer capable of making chances for himself, looked a disillusioned figure. How he must regret twice turning Manchester United down.

There will not be a third chance. Shearer is no longer desired by the major clubs and this presents a problem for him and Gullit. The Dutchman may prefer a more technical player but cannot sell Shearer for a cut-price fee without alienating the Newcastle support. Shearer, meanwhile, is running out of options to expand a medal collection which contains just one winners' bauble (the 1995 Premiership). Maybe, if Kenny Dalglish does assume an influential role at Celtic, he will be able to add a few Tartan trinkets.

Like last year the only good Magpie memories came from their supporters. Having given the team better backing than they deserved, many stayed to applaud the winners with the much-abused David Beckham getting a special cheer.

It may be little consolation but, should Manchester beat Bayern Munich, who received the German championship on Saturday, Newcastle's Wembley support will at least be able to say: "I saw the great Manchester United team of 1999." If only that stardust would rub off on their own.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, May, Johnsen, P Neville; Beckham, Keane (Sheringham, 9), Scholes (Stam, 77), Giggs; Cole (Yorke, 60), Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Blomqvist.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Griffin, Charvet, Dabizas, Domi; Lee, Hamann (Ferguson, h-t), Speed, Solano (Maric, 68); Ketsbaia (Glass, 78), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Barton.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Booked: Newcastle United: Hamann.

Man of the match: Sheringham.

FERGUSON'S UNITED HONOURS

1990 FA Cup winners: Lee Martin scores the only goal as United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the replay at Wembley after a 3-3 draw.

1991 Cup-Winners' Cup winners: Mark Hughes scores twice against his old club Barcelona as United win 2-1 in Rotterdam.

1992 League Cup winners: Brian McClair scores the only goal against Nottingham Forest to win the trophy for the first time in the club's history.

1993 Premier League winners: Ferguson ends United's 26-year wait to be crowned champions as they finish 10 points clear of Aston Villa.

1994 Double winners: United retain the title by eights over Blackburn, while Eric Cantona scores two penalties in their 4-0 FA Cup final win over Chelsea.

1996 Double winners: United overhaul runaway leaders Newcastle to seal the title on the final day of the season, while Cantona scores a late winner in their 1-0 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool.

1997 Premier League winners: United keep their nerve to retain their title by a seven-point margin from Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool.

1999 Premier League winners: United relieve Arsenal of the title on the final day of the season to complete the first leg of a potential Treble then go on to beat Newcastle United 2-0 in the FA Cup final.

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