On first viewing, it is a piece of glorious skill. A backheel past the defender, at pace, followed by an assist on a plate for one of Europe’s greatest poachers.
On second viewing, you realise it so much more. Not only does he beat his man with a backheel, but combines it with the most classic piece of skill and ultimate show of disrespect in the game, the nutmeg.
Real Madrid’s Fernando Redondo, ‘El Principe’, displayed a perfect coalescence of speed, timing, foot-to-ball coordination, and body control. After the match, Alex Ferguson asked of him, "What does this player have in his boots? A magnet?”
The man at the butt of the skill, Manchester United’s Henning Berg, did everything right. He marshalled the wily Redondo out towards the touchline, appeared to have both sides locked up, and had Roy Keane and Gary Neville as fast approaching reinforcements.
But none of them were prepared for Redondo’s ability to read the rhythm of Henning Berg’s strides before masterfully contorting into a backheel and sprinting away. A step ahead of his opponents both mentally and physically.
It was an aesthetically perfect move, capped off by retrieving the ball just as it was going over the end line, and then nonchalantly passing into the grateful path of Raul for Real’s third goal.
A Roy Keane OG gave Real a 1-0 lead but the match will forever be remembered for one moment of genius.pic.twitter.com/7MpDp6elYU
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) March 23, 2022
Real Madrid’s centre-back Ivan Campo commented humorously on the goal that “If he had done it to me, I’d have kept running to Buenos Aires.
“That was the play of the year, it didn’t surprise me that Fernando tried it but it did surprise me that it came off so, so cleanly,” he added on a more serious note.
United, to their credit, mounted an impressive comeback to make it 3-2 after going down 3-0, but it was not enough as Madrid marched onto the semi-finals of the 1999-2000 Champions League. There they would defeat Bayern Munich, before taking down Valencia in the final.
Henning Berg would return to Blackburn Rovers on loan at the start of the next season and made it permanent soon after, but his best days. were behind him. His last season at United is remembered mostly for the legendary nutmeg.
It would also be Redondo’s last season at Madrid, although he managed to leave at the peak of his career. The same man had been banned from the 1998 World Cup by his manager for refusing to cut his hair. After captaining Madrid to the Champions League title he was named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.
A rift with Real’s new President Florentino Perez saw him sold to AC Milan against the midfielder’s wishes, and the fiercely passionate Madrid fans protested outside the Bernabeu at his departure. His sale marked the start of Perez’ Galacticos era, and saw a new generation of Los Blacos, spearheaded by Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, and Makélélé.
Redondo’s time at Milan was unfortunate, as he injured himself soon after signing and would go onto miss over two years. After a four year spell at Milan, he had only made 33 appearances for the club.
He retired a cult legend, achieving a lot in the game, but yet was capable of a lot more for both club and country.
He was undoubtedly one of the greatest players of the 90’s, a midfield juggernaut who was primarily defensive but capable of moments which showcased his creative brilliance.