Sir Alex Ferguson admitted Barcelona were the best side he had ever faced in 25 years as Manchester United manager after his dreams of a third Champions League triumph were wrecked by a sumptuous Spanish performance. United were out passed and outplayed in a 3-1 defeat by the La Liga champions who many believe are the best club side in the world. While Wayne Rooney equalised Pedro’s opener in the first half, second half strikes by Lionel Messi and David Villa gave Barcelona a deserved victory which could have been even more convincing.
Ferguson confessed that “In my time as a manager it is the best team we have faced. I think everyone acknowledges that. I accept that. It’s not easy when you have been well beaten like that to think any other way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and they enjoy their football. They mesmerise you with their passing and we never really controlled Lionel Messi. When we got the lifeline of Wayne Rooney I expected us to do better in the second half but it wasn’t to be.”
Ferguson insisted United tried to play their normal game which was good enough to win the Premier League this season but they never got to grips with the way Barcelona retained possession and dominated midfield. He also claimed he never considered man marking Messi who was voted man of the match after scoring for the first time on English soil as a Barcelona player.
Sir Alex said “We tried to play the way we normally play. It’s alien to us to man mark players but it wasn’t good enough on the night. We understand that and certainly acknowledge it and we can step forward from here. Great teams go in cycles and the cycle Barcelona are in at the moment is the best in Europe, there’s no question of that.
How long it lasts, whether they can replace that team at another point…they certainly have the philosophy. Can you find players like Xavi and Iniesta and Messi all the time? Probably not, but they are enjoying the moment that they have just now.”
Ferguson admitted he wrestled with who to name on his substitutes’ bench before preferring Michael Owen to Dimitar Berbatov “for Berbatov it was a difficult decision tonight” he admitted “picking my team I found easy, but picking my subs I found very difficult. I tended to overload the midfield positions because I thought that was the position that was most important. I gambled with just one defender on the bench to allow me to get as many options in midfield and wide positions. It was a choice between Owen and Berbatov and if you are looking for someone to nick a goal in the last few minutes you want Owen’s experience.” Ferguson went to great pains to deny that Berba had left the ground and said he was in the United dressing room after the game.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola meanwhile insisted he would be staying at the Nou Camp for one more season at least. When asked if he was interested in the vacant job at Chelsea he said “I will say it again, I have another year on my contract and I intend to work it out. You have girls falling at your feet when you win but that can change overnight. I feel privileged to have these players. Everyone has worked towards this. We are very happy. But I have to look inside of me. I am happy to be here as coach of these guys but it is not an easy job.”
He also believes it is not realistic to try to emulate the 25 years Ferguson has been at the helm at Old Trafford in Spain. “In England it can be 25 years, in Spain it is impossible” said Guardiola. “They are different ways. For him to be manager for 25 years and create new teams and new teams he has my admiration. I know it is difficult. If you play this football like Barcelona you need these players. At another club maybe I would have a problem to find these kind of players.”
Guardiola singled out the mercurial Messi for special praise “Lionel is the best player I’ve ever seen, probably the best ever, he made the difference. Messi is unique, a one off. I just hope he doesn’t get fed up. When he doesn’t play well it is because something is wrong with his environment. Let’s hope he can continue playing well.”
The humble coach was unsure however whether Barcelona were the best club team of all time “I don’t know” he said “it is impossible to say. I didn’t see the Real Madrid of Alfredo Di Stefano and the Ajax of Johan Cruyff. We try to play as well as possible. I hope in the next 10 or 15 years the people will remember them and have enjoyed them.”
Can you nominate a superior team to Barcelona in Europe?