Danny Sonner on beating Manchester United’s treble heroes and his NI adventure
Manchester United’s treble-winning side of 1998/99 are still considered one of the best teams to have played in the Premier League era, but Danny Sonner will always remember the day he got one over on them.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad arrived at Hillsborough on November 20 sitting third in the league while Wednesday occupied 15th position, and not many expected the home side to be in with a chance.
Sonner was playing in midfield against Roy Keane and Paul Scholes while the likes of David Beckham, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were all on the pitch.
Wednesday went on to record a 3-1 victory thanks to a Niclas Alexandersson brace and second-half Wim Jonk strike, which handed United what turned out to be one of only three league defeats as they finished one point clear of Arsenal.
The former Northern Ireland international played 26 times in Sheffield Wednesday’s midfield during that campaign under manager Danny Wilson – who earned 24 Northern Ireland caps – and scored three goals.
“The best team ever is a big statement but they were definitely the best side of that time without a doubt,” reflects Sonner.
“They only lost three games that season and one of them was to us! They had some great players.”
Sonner, who was born in Wigan, didn’t take the traditional route to the Premier League after leaving Burnley – a Third Division side at the time – following a loan spell at Bury to sign for FC Erzgebirge Aue in the third tier of German football before moving to FC Viktoria Koln.
Upon returning to England with Ipswich Town, his performances made Sheffield Wednesday take notice, bringing everything full circle and fulfilling a childhood dream of playing at the highest level.
“I wasn’t sure about it but was leaving Burnley at the time and took the plunge,” he said.
“I could have gone to a few other English clubs but ended up in Germany and enjoyed the experience.
“The standard was good. The Germans are technically very good and even in the second and third tier there are good players. It was a little bit slower than the English game.
“It was great and I enjoyed every second of it (playing in the Premier League).
“It was everything I wanted to do as a kid – I wanted to play at the highest level.
“You watch Match of the Day as a kid and you think you’re going to play at the top level, but you have teachers saying that no one makes it and questions what you are doing.
“It was a dream of mine and I was lucky enough to fulfil it.”
Sonner played in a golden generation of midfielders with the likes of Keane, Scholes and Patrick Vieira all considered some of the greatest of their era, but who does he class as his toughest opponent?
“At the time, it was probably Paul Scholes,” he adds.
“I played against Marcel Desailly at Chelsea a few times and he was very strong and a great athlete in midfield.
“I would go with one of Vieira, Scholes or Desailly as the most difficult opponent.
“There were some absolutely fantastic midfield players and some of the best in history played at that time.
“Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea all had great players but even the lower teams that weren’t challenging for the title had great midfielders. It was a good time to be around then.”
Alongside an impressive club career, Sonner earned 13 international caps between 1997 and 2004 – three years of which were spent out of the fold - after making his debut as a substitute in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Albania.
“There were a lot of good midfield players in the Northern Ireland team at that time with the likes of Jim Magilton, Steve Lomas, Keith Gillespie and Michael Hughes,” he said.
“When I look back, I think maybe we should have done more as a group.
“We had a lot of talented footballers and arguably we should have done a lot more with the talent that was available.
“I would have liked to do a bit more if I’m being honest because I thought I had the ability.
“I look back and think it was absolutely fantastic to represent the country. Even if I had just got one cap it would have been brilliant.
“I wish I had have done more but I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity.”
Sonner spent 10 years in America coaching – most recently at Savannah United in Georgia – before returning 12 months ago but hasn’t ruled out going back to continue working in football.
“I love football but I never really wanted to go into management or coaching, but it just happened for me in America,” he added.
“I haven’t ruled out going back to the United States because I enjoyed my time with Gary Wright at Savannah.
“It’s all up in the air with coronavirus and then here in England I don’t see any real coaching opportunities for myself.
“Anything is open for me and I will be open to taking anything that comes my way.”
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