Barcelona’s ruthless dismantling of Manchester United in the Champions League final evokes the worldwide debate over how good the La Liga champions are compared to great teams of the past.
Barca beat United 3-1 in a glorious game of open, attractive football at Wembley on Saturday. All four goals were superbly taken by the two top teams in Europe and the highest praise, as expected, is going to that little maestro Lionel Messi who scored Barca’s second.
United’s hopes of emulating their first European Cup final success at Wembley against Benfica in 1968 evaporated as Barcelona repeated their win against Alex Ferguson’s side in Rome two years ago.
Curiously, Fergie stunned United’s faithful by leaving the Premier League’s top scorer out of the season’s biggest game. Dimitar Berbatov finished the season with 22 league strikes – joint top with Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez. But there wasn’t even a place for him on the bench and Fergie’s decision has left the Bulgarian’s future uncertain. It may rank as one of the few poor decisions the United boss has made in his 26 years at Old Trafford.
Pedro opened the scoring for Barca in the 27th minute, finishing off a fabulous move. Wayne Rooney gave United fans some cheer as Barca took total control when he played a one-two with Ryan Giggs and hammered in seven minutes later.
After the break, United defended resolutely, hoping to catch Barca on the counter-attack, but Messi was allowed a little too much time and his darting run followed by a lightning low shot wrong-footed Edwin Van der Sar and Barca were ahead again.
David Villa was relatively quiet but he stamped his mark on the game with a curling shot that even the elongated Van der Sar could not reach in his final game for the Red Devils.
It was a fitting finale and fully deserved victory for Barca who played with the fluidity and flair that has become their trademark and attracted admirers in all quarters.
One of them is local coach Ernie ‘Gillie’ Seymour, who is technical director of the successful Cayman Athletic senior and youth sides that have done so well this season. The senior side gained promotion to the Premier League after winning Division One and they got to the FA Cup final after beating three Premier League teams en route. The youth sides were equally as successful.
“They say that the Brazil side of 1970 was the team of the century and I think this present Barcelona team is the best assembled group since then,” Gillie said. “They share the ball around like a piece of candy.
“Their coach Pep Guardiola has made them a tight collective unit and kept the ‘evolution football’ theme going over the years. They play like a team and not a bunch of talented individuals. Messi is the best player in the world but he shares the ball about.
“It is all about teamwork. This is what I constantly tell my players. My youths listen and they could be the nucleus of the national team in the future. United in the second half didn’t move forward fast enough and didn’t pick up the second ball. For Messi’s goal, United could have covered more but they were aware that he would pass it off. He moved Van der Sar in one direction then hit it the other way and made a tall keeper look like a short man! It was a brilliant goal.”
Gillie certainly rates this Barcelona side as good as the great one of the early 90s which included Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romário and Hristo Stoichkov.
“Today’s Barcelona is up there with the supreme Real Madrid teams of the early 60s and 2000s when Zidane and Raul were at the best and before they started buying the superstars and losing.
“My favourite Manchester United side was from the mid-90s when Eric Cantona was in full flow and just as Beckham, the Nevilles and Scholes were coming in to join Giggs.”
Sports bars across Cayman were inevitably packed, especially Dog House that was heaving with mostly United fans. The Barca-shirt wearing fans included national team captain Ian Lindo and internationals Leighton ‘Rumpe’ Elliott, Theron Wood and Nicolas Ebanks.
At PD’s Barca supporter Austin McLean wore his shirt with ‘Messi 10’ emblazoned on the back. “I knew they would win because they are simply the best,” he beamed.