Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United: Fergie given a lesson by brilliant Barca
Published 20:40 28/05/11 By Simon Mullock
No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson finds football so addictive. Even in his 70th year the Manchester United manager isn’t too old to learn something new.
A season which saw United become the most successful club in English football courtesy of a record nineteenth league title, ended with Ferguson once again powerless to resist Pep Guardiola’s claim to be coach of the greatest side of this or any other era.
Ferguson will be back again for more next season, of course. And probably the one after that.
But as he walked out onto the Wembley turf after 90 magical minutes last night, he wore the look of a man suffering from shock.
Wayne Rooney had briefly offered United a glimmer of hope when his wonderful strike cancelled out Pedro’s opening goal to send United in level at the interval.
But just as in Rome two years ago, Ferguson’s men were to discover that they are playing a different ball game to the one mastered by the Catalans.
Lionel Messi scored the goal that his performance deserved to put Barca back in front before David Villa sealed his club’s fourth European Cup triumph with a sublime finish.
It’s more than 50 years ago that Ferguson experienced his first footballing epiphany when he stood alongside 135,000 other Glaswegians packed into Hampden Park.
That evening in 1961, he bore witness as Puskas and Di Stefano won the European Cup for Real Madrid by taking football to new heights.
Messi, like Di Stefano, is a genius made in Argentina.
Last night, the way he escaped opposition tackles with such dexterity made it seem like a trick of the London light.
There was no disgrace in the Premier League champions losing last night.
Barcelona aren’t just from another country, they are on a different planet when it comes to playing the beautiful game.
Guardiola has players who appear as though they were born with a football at their feet.
Catalonia banned bull fighting during the week. It’s clear that these days the locals get their thrills from watching opposition football teams suffer a death of a thousand passes.
After extracting United’s early sting, the Spanish champions produced an exhibition that will go down in Wembley folklore.
At times, you could only feel sorry for Ferguson’s men as they attempted to come to terms with the slick passing of Andreas Iniesta and Xavi.
As in 2009, the Premier League champions began on the front foot.
But Barca flickered to life when Pedro volleyed wide from Xavi’s low cross from the left.
After Messi had left Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Fabio utterly mesmerised, it needed a ruthless Nemanja Vidic tackle from preventing Pedro from making ammends.
David Villa flashed one shot just wide before forcing Van der Sar into a smart save with an angled drive.
Ferguson’s growing frustration saw him leap from his bench to offer advice, but as soon as he returned to his seat on the bench, the Catalans were ahead.
In the 27th minute, Busquets and Iniesta teased and tormented United in the centre-circle before springing Xavi through the middle.
The little midfielder picked out the perfect pass to free Pedro and he sent a brilliantly disguised shot low past Van der Sar.
Yet within seven minutes United had conjured up a response.
Rooney’s exchange of passes with Carrick wide on the right gave him time and space to charge towards goal.
And after swapping passes with Giggs on the edge of the box, he was able to clip a glorious finish high past Victor Valdes’ right hand.
Messi was just inches away from restoring Barcelona’s lead on the stroke of half time.
And after the break, Van der Sar excelled to deny Daniel Alves.
The reprieve was shot lived.
Patrice Evra’s decision to back off Messi as he collected Alves’ pass 25 yards out was a dereliction of duty - and the Argentine’s swerving left-foot shot was just too good for Van der Sar.
It was Messi’s 53rd goal of the season and 11th in the Champions League.
This time, United could not resist.
Messi was denied by Van der Sar before seeing his close-range flick blocked on the line by Fabio.
But in the 69th minute it really was all over.
Another slaloming Messi run was halted by Evra, but Busquets clipped the loose ball to David Villa 25 yards out and he controlled with the sole of his boot before lifting a glorious shot high past Van der Sar.
Thankfully for United and their manager, here endeth the lesson.