The start of the Premier League season sometimes brings with it the kind of serendipity usually reserved for the silver screen. For the opening fixture on August 10, 1997 the computer saw fit to pair Tottenham with Manchester United, with Spurs having just sold star striker Teddy Sheringham to the Red Devils. The match would be a memorable one for Sheringham as he struggled to fill Eric Cantona's boots at Old Trafford.
With Tottenham seemingly incapable of delivering the silverware he craved, England striker Teddy Sheringham transferred to Manchester United in June 1997 for a fee of £3.5 million.
Sheringham had made his name at Millwall after being plucked from obscurity as a 16-year-old at non-league club Leytonstone & Ilford. The striker broke all goalscoring records at the New Den and was soon on the radar of England's bigger clubs, with Nottingham Forest the quickest off the mark to bring him in for £2 million in 1991.
But after helping the club to a League Cup final (which they lost to Manchester United) and an 8th place finish in the First Division, Sheringham was sold for £0.1 million profit to Tottenham just one game into the inaugural Premiership season. It would be a move that Forest would regret as they were relegated the following year, but Sheringham flourished in his new surroundings and ended the campaign as the league's top scorer with 21 goals for Tottenham and one for his former club.
His career at Tottenham took off over the next few years, despite injury concerns hampering his development and, by 1997, Sheringham was viewed as one of the best English strikers around. He had made his international debut four years earlier but a successful Euro 1996 tournament (on a personal level) saw his partnership with Alan Shearer heralded and, having failed to win any silverware during his time in North London, Sheringham believed it was time to move on.
At the heart of his complaint lay a breakdown in his relationship with Tottenham owner Alan Sugar, which was indicative in the way in which he was told he could leave the club after being offered a new deal.
"From what I can make out the chairman has said that I can leave," Sheringham told the Independent. "I've had a letter read out to me by his secretary and it says that if the right offer comes along I will be allowed to leave. I have done what I had to do. I was still thinking about the contract when it was withdrawn. Alan Sugar told me later that was his custom but he did not tell me I had 48 hours at the time. Since it was in the build-up to England's game with South Africa, I would not have thought that was right anyway."
Also at the root of Sheringham's decision to leave was the fact that he had yet to win a domestic honour and claimed he was after a ''new challenge'' because he was ''disappointed that we have not been challenging for honours'' over the past few years.
"That was a big factor in the decision,'' he added. ''At the end of a career you want to look back on medals and the memories of how you won them. We have been close with Tottenham, but that is not good enough. There are times when we have looked good, but then fallen away. Top players want to play at the top level."
At the time, Premiership champions Manchester United were on the lookout for a new striker after the retirement of the 'King of the Old Trafford' Eric Cantona. The Frenchman's personality and stature was impossible to match, but in terms of playing style, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson believed he had found the perfect replacement.
"Teddy Sheringham is a direct replacement for Eric. He's not a replica, but there is a likeness between the two," said Ferguson upon his arrival. "Teddy himself knows that and I rate him so highly that I don't think it will be putting too much pressure on him by saying it. He's got the same kind of experience as Eric, the same kind of presence about him - and I think he'll be a brilliant signing. He's fitted in nicely during the pre-season matches, and I'm sure that the fans will soon have a new hero, although they will never forget Eric."
As fate would have it, Sheringham's first game in the 1997-98 season was against Tottenham. At White Hart Lane. The striker was subjected to boos every time he touched the ball and, despite the fact that the fans' fury at his sale was eased by the acquisition of another England striker, Les Ferdinand, and French midfielder David Ginola - both from Newcastle - Sheringham still took both barrels from the same supporters who had cheered him a few months previous.
However, after 60 goalless minutes, the debutant was given a chance to silence his critics. A dubious penalty was awarded and Sheringham stepped up (taking over the spot-kick mantle from Cantona). But, despite beating the diving Ian Walker, his shot slammed off the post and he blasted the rebound well wide of the mark.
The former Spur was saved in typical United fashion, a Nicky Butt strike and an own goal by hapless defender Ramon Vega giving them all three points in the last ten minutes.
United left White Hart Lane with a 2-0 win, while Sheringham departed with the boos of fans still ringing in his ears. Although it would not be long before he picked up the long-awaited, and well deserved, silverware he craved.
What happened next? Arsenal claimed the Double in 1997-98 leaving United trophyless and, despite his 14 goals that season, Sheringham's stock fell further with the arrival of Dwight Yorke the following summer and a public falling out with team-mate Andy Cole. However, Sheringham reached the pinnacle of his career when he helped to seal the Treble in 1998-99. At the age of 33, he scored in the FA Cup final and then repeated the feat with the first in a memorable last-gasp comeback in Barcelona against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Although he never reached the standards of Eric 'The King', Teddy's place in United history was assured. He returned to Spurs after being decorated as winner of both Football Writers' and PFA Player of the Year awards for a two-year spell in 2001.