David Seaman's Recollections of the Champions League
Our third Champions League campaign began in 2000–01, but we already had a goalkeeper with a wealth of European football experience in David Seaman.
When our great goalkeeper joined in 1990, English teams were still barred from playing in Europe. However, he played for us in the previous European Cup that year. As we won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, he was one of our best players, giving up just three goals the whole season. Thus, Seaman's acumen was priceless when it came to Champions League play in 1998.
In 2000–01, he made ten appearances throughout our journey to the quarterfinals, with four clean sheets against the most dangerous forwards on the continent. After we arrived back to the Champions League, we spoke with 'Safe Hands' again to inquire about his memories from Europe.
How do you remember that Champions League season in 2000–01?
During that season, we resumed our Highbury games, which were consistently memorable evenings regardless of the European competition. We were therefore delighted to play Champions League matches there following a few years at Wembley. Obviously, winning the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994 was a major accomplishment for us. Over the years, we had experienced some fantastic moments in Europe.
The best two teams from each nation competed in the Champions League when it first began, so we knew it would be a very difficult match. I believe the teams competing were the league winners and runners-up. It was amazing to hear the theme song played on the field prior to the games, and it remains so to this day. That made you more excited for the games and made you realize how important these were.
Did we win our first game back at Highbury, a thrilling 3-2 victory over Shakhtar Donestk?
Wasn't that the time when Martin Keown scored two goals? Given how infrequently that occurred, I should be able to recall that one better than I did back then! Though to be honest, he doesn't remember it all that much, so my memory of it isn't that great. Still, I'm surprised he doesn't bring that one up often. That being said, there's no denying that returning to Highbury was a huge assist. We sold out every game at Wembley, so it was fantastic to have so many fans there to watch us, but it also seemed to strengthen the opposition. The atmosphere was incredible and it was a pleasure to return to Highbury.
For those early Champions League games, was there a discernible change in style or a significant improvement in quality?
Controlling our hostility was, I believe, the most difficult style issue we had to deal with. We had to control our aggression because teams enjoyed utilizing all kinds of cunning tactics against us, including screaming anytime they were touched and employing dark arts. We were a tall, strong, and physically fit side. We had to teach them about that aspect of it and force our football style upon them. You then realize how good teams like Bayern Munich are when you play against them. We played Lazio as well that season; they had Nedved, Inzaghi, Veron, and Simeone, among other great, all over the field.
But did that also demonstrate our superiority at the moment, given that we defeated Lazio by four points in that group stage?
The only reason our early results weren't outstanding was probably because we were playing at Wembley, but we had a magnificent side. Even though I wasn't playing in that Lazio away game, I actually recall it quite well. Since Alex Manninger was supposed to play because I was injured, he got hurt during the warm-up, so my good friend John Lukic had to substitute in at the last minute. I had known John for a very long time; when we were at Leeds, he would take me to training, where we would constantly warm each other up and collaborate. When I arrived at Arsenal, I replaced him, and he went on to win the league with Leeds!
By this point, we had reunited at Arsenal, and I recall how anxious he had been before of the game. At the very end, he produced an incredible save, but by then he was almost forty. Pires scored late to tie the game at one, but John saved a great penalty kick to put us ahead 1-0. We needed that save to earn a point and advance to the next group stage.
Did you think that at the time, we were not doing well enough in Europe?
We had never advanced past the knockout stages before, so this was a huge accomplishment. Winning a trophy in Europe, or any trophy, for that matter, is something truly unique and noteworthy. I will never forget that we won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, even though we had advanced to the UEFA Cup final the previous year. One of the reasons it holds such a particular place in my heart is that we spotted the trophy presentation pedestal covered at the side of the field upon our arrival at the stadium for the final, and it said, "Winners: Parma." That provided us with a lot of motivation. In addition, I had seven or eight injections in my ribs, which I had broken a few days prior to the game, when I participated. I therefore value that trophy greatly.
Since our style of play under Arsène was ideal for Europe, I honestly don't know why we didn't have the same level of success. We were discussing how he altered the look when he initially arrived when I recently chatted with him for my podcast. He claimed he had seen in training that we were able to play that European style, which is to play out from the back, as he had desired. I was startled to see Tony Adams, Steve Bould, and Martin Keown all passing it like Beckenbauer at that point! For this reason, it is difficult to comprehend why we did not perform better in the Champions League. But the margins are narrow. We drew 2-2 and only lost 1-0 away from home against Bayern Munich, who went on to win the title that year.