Paul Scholes: United are a million miles behind Barcelona
Published 00:01 05/07/11 By David McDonnell
Paul Scholes admits Manchester United are “a million miles away” from catching Barcelona and reclaiming the Champions League crown.
And the former United midfielder reckons Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great challenge as a manager will be to topple the Spanish champions and lead his team back to the European summit.
United were humbled for the second final in three seasons by Barca in their 3-1 defeat at Wembley, which was Scholes’ last game before announcing his retirement.
But Scholes, who has taken up a coaching role at United, said Ferguson will do all he can to ensure his side reach Pep Guardiola’s sides’s exalted level before the end of his illustrious Old Trafford reign.
“I haven’t watched the game back,” said Scholes. “But on the night we felt we were a million miles away from them. The only thing we did differently [from 2-0 defeat in the 2009 final] was score.
“It’s a big task but I’m sure the manager has plans about how to do bridge that gap.
“There’s no doubt - that’s where you want to be. Barcelona are the benchmark for everybody to reach.
“You have to hold your hands up and say they were better, but you don’t like doing it. You don’t like admitting it, but this time they were, as they were two years ago. But you have to work to try to get to that level.”
Having overtaken arch rivals Liverpool with a 19th title last season to become the most successful side in English football, Ferguson has now set his sights on lifting the European Cup one last time before calling it quits.
“It’s going to take something special to get anywhere near Barcelona, but I think we’re the team closest to doing it,” said Scholes.
“I think it’s the manager’s biggest challenge now, definitely. He’ll set his sights on Barcelona and trying to get to that level.
“But I think it’s the biggest challenge for all of us - not just the manager but the players and coaching staff as well.
“I don’t know how long the manager will keep going, but that drive and determination is still there.
“He’ll have been thinking about the Barcelona game all summer and working out how he can avoid that sort of thing happening again.
“Some players might forget about it the day after, but I didn’t. When you’re taught a lesson like that it stays with you.
“You think about how things might have been done differently, and I’m sure that will have been going through the manager’s mind ever since the final whistle went. In fact, he’ll be thinking about that until next season’s final.
“I’m sure the manager is going to have plans about how to do it. There’s no doubt, that’s where you want to be.”
Defeat to Barca proved an unsatisfactory end to Scholes’s playing career, the pain of United’s Wembley humiliation still raw for the 35-year-old former midfielder almost six weeks on.
“It was bad, probably as bad as two years ago in Rome,” said Scholes. “You would have hoped that in that two years you would have been able to bridge the gap a bit.”
Although Nicklas Bendtner missed a glorious late chance for Arsenal in the Nou Camp that could have knocked Barca out at the last 16 stage last season, Scholes put that result into stark perspective.
“If you look over those two games, Jesus Christ, it could have been any score!” said Scholes.
“In that first game at the Emirates, Barca could have been out of sight in the first half. And you’re talking about Arsenal, supposedly the best footballing team in England. Supposedly, because they play the most attractive football don’t they?
“Have they got better or have we got worse? I don’t know. All I know is that we have to try to get to their level.
“All over Europe, people are trying to do what the best team in the world do – which is Barcelona.
“I think the biggest thing Barcelona’s players is their unselfishness. I know [Lionel] Messi is the one who scores 50 goals a season, but among the team he’s not the big star.
“As a group, they’re all stars among the team but there’s not one who stands out who wants to take the credit. They’re just an unselfish team in which not one of them is out for glory.”
Domestically, Scholes believes next season’s title race will be a three-way fight between United, Chelsea and Manchester City, with Arsenal and Liverpool trailing in their wake.
“I expect United’s main challengers to be Chelsea and Manchester City,” said Scholes. “I’d never even heard of the new manager at Chelsea [Andre Villas-Boas], but the way he’s spoken and addressed the media has been impressive.
“He comes across as someone who knows exactly what he wants from his players and he’s had a good grounding with Jose Mourinho and Bobby Robson.
“Manchester City haven’t [really] started spending yet [this summer], but once they do, they will be looking to build on the progress they made last season. Arsenal just flatter to deceive.”
* Tickets for Paul Scholes’ testimonial on August 5 can be bought by calling the Manchester United ticket office on 0161 868 8000