That’s better than Turin,” said the buddy on WhatsApp.
The enormity of that statement hadn’t sunk in when a reply landed in agreement.
This was no emotional knee-jerk. Fifteen minutes had passed since Marcus Rashford had struck the injury-time penalty that put Manchester United through at the expense of Paris St Germain on Wednesday night so the adrenaline should have begun to ebb away.
And these were no mere kids for whom anything pre-2000 would qualify as ancient history.
Sean had done his Leaving Certificate in 1993, the same year United ended their long wait for an English title. The caption under his picture on the school yearbook sneered that he “will be 44 when United win the league again”.
Derek? Old enough to remember at least some of the 70s. These are guys who had suffered the dog days so they are entitled to purr like a cat. But still. Better than Turin, lads? Really?
Even Graeme Souness claimed that, their three European Cup titles aside, this was Manchester United’s greatest night in the history of the competition. This we cannot let slide.
Forget Brexit and climate change: The conundrum as to whether United’s comeback win against Juventus in the Stadio delle Alpi 20 years ago, or this latest act of improbable escapism, makes for the more sensational comeback is the sort of stuff that keeps us all awake at night.
So, here goes the case for ‘99 and all that...
1. Roy Keane. Do we really need to say any more? Alex Ferguson described it as the single most selfless performance he had ever seen: The early booking and suspension for the final; the headed goal that started the comeback; the relentless refusal to accept defeat.
“I didn’t think I could have a higher opinion of any footballer than I already had of the Irishman,” Ferguson wrote in his autobiography, “but he rose even further in my estimation at the Stadio Delle Alpi.”
2. Turin wouldn’t hold the place it does in United folklore if Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hadn’t gone and mugged Bayern Munich in the Camp Nou.
The odds on United following Paris up with a fourth title are about the same as Donald Trump giving up golf.
A Sky Sports News poll asking if they would win it now had 80,000 responses by 10am yesterday and 72% said no.
3. The club’s rebirth under Solskjaer has been a wonderful, joyous experience but Turin was a chapter in an even more remarkable story.
No season will ever compare to United’s treble campaign — though Manchester City are making all Reds uncomfortable right now — and the Juve miracle was, lest we forget, a crucial step in claiming a first European Cup success since 1968.
Defeat there and that great team would have never lived up to its potential.
4. We’re not oblivious to the case for Paris. A makeshift side becoming the first in history to turn around a 2-0 first-leg deficit away from home is up there with those daffodils that bloomed in mid-winter in terms of the unexpected.But let’s not deny that PSG gifted United two goals and VAR made a present of the winner. Compare that to ‘99: 2-0 down inside 11 minutes after the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, Keane and United turned it around the hard way with three sensational goals.
5. All of which brings us to the respective opponents. PSG19 had already shown themselves to be chokers in Europe in coughing up that 4-0 first leg against Barcelona two years ago.
Juve99 weren’t the sort of flaky lot who could have been sponsored by Cadbury’s. Peruzzi, Conte, Deschamps, Inzaghi, and Zidane are names that still ring out and they were a step away from claiming a place in a fourth consecutive Champions League final. Oh, and that win was United’s first in eight attempts on Italian soil, too.
6. Sensational and all as United’s win on Wednesday was, it wasn’t even close to being the best away performance in Europe this week. That honour goes to Ajax for their demolition job on Real Madrid the evening before when a side long on talent but short on experience and expectation retailored Sergio Ramos’ documentary into a horror movie.
7. The shirts. Yep, really starting to pick some nits now. Barcelona wore a horrible hue of orange that, as Jarvis Cocker might have put it, should have never been seen outside of an acid party in a rural field in Hampshire when they claimed their first European Cup in 1992 but swapped for their traditional blue and red in time for the ceremony. These things matter. United have had sartorial disasters of their own but they were resplendent in red in Turin while future generations will shake their heads at those hideous pink shirts every bit as much as some of the PSG defending in years to come.
8. We missed it. Yep. All of it. Every second. One of the biggest results in the history of a club whose results we have followed more than any other for close to 40 years (a brief and naive affair with Ipswich Town in the early 80s aside) and the best we could do on Wednesday was follow it on Twitter and WhatsApp.
Yeah, not bitter. Not bitter at all.