With memories of Rome two years ago still fresh, Sir Alex Ferguson comes face to face with Barcelona once more.
Together, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have conquered England and Europe several times over. Since his appointment in 1986, he’s come good on his promise and has well and truly knocked Liverpool from their perch on the domestic front. Into the bargain, he’s turned Manchester United into a worldwide household brand synonymous with entertaining, successful, inspiring football. The classic United teams built-in recent years around stars like Cantona, Beckham, Keane, Ronaldo and Rooney seem a far cry from the dismal side that were comfortably beaten at Old Trafford 2-0 by Oxford United in Sir Alex’ first match in charge. But two Champions League trophies, an eye watering twelve league titles, five FA Cups, four league cups and two Club World Cup trophies later and something still feels somewhat incomplete. It seems ludicrous to say it but in order to truly enter the pantheon of the greats; Manchester United must overcome a Barcelona side heralded as perhaps the most formidable we’ve ever seen.
Let’s be honest, in a game in which United were strong favourites, Barcelona handed down a footballing lesson in the 2009 final. After a cautious opening ten minutes, Xavi and Iniesta placed United on a carousel and spun them round and round until the English side were positively sick. Moreover, Eto’o and Messi were simply too clinical for Vidic and Ferdinand to handle. It was all too easy. Sir Alex and his side were sent back to Manchester and back to the training ground; a new master plan was needed. With the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez coming in the weeks after that defeat, many pundits and ex players questioned when and how Manchester United would be back in a Champions League final and yet here they are. Shrew signings like Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez have proved to be adequate enough and United have reached this year’s final becoming the only team to do so without conceding an away goal.
Indeed, to win at Wembley on Saturday evening, they will have to show the character and tenacity that has been evident throughout this year’s campaign in places like Ibrox, The Mestella, Stade Velodrome and Stamford Bridge. Truth being told, even with all the work rate and desire in the world, it’s hard to see how any team can stop this juggernaut like Barcelona side when their in the mood. Their movement, pace and telepathic passes left their bitter rivals Real Madrid in pieces in the semi finals and Wembley Stadium is the setting in which Johann Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ won Barcelona’s first ever European Cup in 1992 against Sampdoria. On the face of it, it seems as though Barcelona’s name is already etched onto the trophy.
But we shouldn’t under estimate what United have achieved in recent years. This is their third final in four years and by drawing at Blackburn secured their fourth premiership title in five years. It seems astonishing to consider that and label this United side as ordinary or less glamorous than others, as many pundits have. Furthermore, whilst Barca have their own piece of rousing history to refer to going into the final, so do United. Man United rolled over Benfica in the 1968 final at Wembley to become the first ever English side to win the competition. Both sides can point to an illustrious history of playing mesmerising and attacking football but it just feels as though there is a sense of romance and a coming full circle going into this game for United: One last hurrah for Giggs, Scholes and Van Der Sar, the place where it all started and up against the best club side on earth; the side that they owe a certain amount of payback. It would be so incredibly fitting if Sir Alex could put the tin lid on his career by avenging that 2009 defeat and, in doing so, one final time proving that he is the greatest manager that the modern game has ever seen.
Only one manager, Bob Paisley, has won three European Cups whilst sixteen have won two. By beating Barcelona on Saturday, Sir Alex Ferguson would without question erase the nightmares of 2009 and cement his status as a living managerial legend.
Written by Daniel Caw