Manchester United's shocking inferiority exposed in Eternal City
The final parp of the whistle put Manchester United out of their misery last night, and how often do we write that of the side led by the most insanely driven pensioner in sport — a man still biting off a journalist’s head for asking a perfectly fair question about his future plans?
Not in European Cup finals, where United’s is a glorious history of extra-time heroics, incredible climaxes and late-night dramas playing havoc with television schedules.
As the red ribbons of United were untied from the European Cup last night, the lack of fuss, the lack of fight, made this a shocking performance in the Stadio Olimpico, if not a surprising result.
United looked resigned to that losing feeling long before Lionel Messi thrust in the dagger in the 70th minute. There was no wail of despair, no river of tears at the end, and no wonder. The revelation that it was all over brought merciful release.
There is no shame for any team in failing to do enough against a Barcelona side who, in recovering from a terribly shaky start, added nerve and resilience to their more breathtaking qualities. But United fell so short as to be outclassed. So short that it will be a torment for players such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, not only to lose but to be made to feel so inferior.
As he searched for an explanation, Sir Alex Ferguson could not manage any better than to bemoan a terrible first goal to concede (no argument there) and Barcelona’s unwillingness to give the ball back thereafter. The inquest will not stop there after a night when United lacked the tenaciousness and the defiant spirit we normally associate with Ferguson’s teams.
The absence of the suspended Darren Fletcher, leaving United with a midfield lacking a tackler, cannot have helped, but this was, surely, also a matter of tactics. United appeared to spend much of the night chopping and changing, chasing a magic formula. This was an occasion when those selections that some of us find infuriating — notably Rooney glued to the flank — were brought back into the debating chamber.
In his previous two European Cup finals, Ryan Giggs had played right wing and substitute. Last night a man once famed for flying down the left flank began as second striker and then ended up in central midfield. He did not look happy in any position.
Park Ji Sung and Rooney switched flanks in search of a foothold in the game, but still the ball would not come. Rooney may be an impressively selfless individual, but it was worth asking whether this really was the best use of a player who has been so impressively restored to classic No 10 playmaking status by Fabio Capello in the white of England?
Ronaldo began superbly, firing in free kicks and shots, but was reduced to ill-tempered frustration and a niggly battle with Carles Puyol by the end. Victory may have come on points rather than knockdown in Messi’s duel with Ronaldo for best-player-in-the-world status but, nevertheless, it was a convincing win.
Rio Ferdinand did not look fully fit, least of all as he was a bystander for Messi’s goal, while Michael Carrick was all too anonymous as the wonderful Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta zipped the ball around him.
United had been built to stifle Barcelona, but that was dead from the moment that Iniesta was waved past, with a troubling lack of concern, by Anderson and Carrick, and Samuel Eto’o dropped a shoulder to trick Nemanja Vidic. Suddenly United needed a plan B. They must have mislaid it in transit.
There have been European Cup finals when the stakes have seemed almost irrationally high given the fag-paper thinness of the margins. Ask the vanquished Bayern Munich players of 1999. Ask John Terry. But this was one of the most one-sided finals in memory once Eto’o had run off in that bizarre celebration, whacking his upturned forearm like a nurse trying to get a vein to stand up so she could insert a needle.
United will feel bad enough without us blaming them for failing to make this the spectacle it might have been — but Barcelona won without needing to be near their best. Thierry Henry showed some of the elusiveness of old, Xavi and Iniesta played keep-ball, Messi showed superb footwork and headed a goal that almost mocked his stature, but they must have been surprised at United’s failure to launch a second-half charge even as Ferguson threw on substitutes.
On came Carlos Tévez at half-time, followed by Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes, but this felt like a night when no combination of United’s vast resources was going to prove effective.
It is the first European Cup final they have lost and, boy, had they been value for money in the previous three. Extra time, and the genius of George Best, in 1968, the sensational scenes of the Nou Camp ten years ago and then last year’s victory over Chelsea on penalties.
But last night was an occasion they will not want to dwell upon, when they found out why no team in the modern era has managed to defend the Champions League. They can console themselves — or at least try — that they were beaten by a superb side. They can say they are champions of England and, officially, the world.
But that latter title is in name only, and not for much longer. Last night Barcelona ended any argument about the greatest side on the planet — the shock for United, for all of us, was that they did it so convincingly.
I thought I heard Andy Gray saying something about the Istanbul when the scum were down 2-0. I was laughing to myself! You got to be kidding me, Andy! They got no captain last night. I saw one manure guy wearing the captain's armband but he's no captain. He couldn't got the scum to play at all. Unlike our captain marvelous! When we were down 3-0 and hope were all but faded, Stevie gave us something to cling on and we bravely put a fight and won it in Istanbul. But the scum, after 10 minutes of attacking, suddenly fades away giving Barca too much room to roam and outclass the manure midfield area. We did get our tactic wrong at the first half but we came on fighting in the second half and got what we deserved. Manure on the other hand, got their tactic wrong and still continue to play like crap!
At the end of the day, the best team wins. The most 'anticipated' game of all proved to be wrong. It was Barca's game all along after 10 minutes. Manure didn't show them who's the boss like we did in Nou Camp. They were so much inferior than the pint sized Messi. He didn't need the world best award to be the best and he showed manure scum how good he was!
Weep on Manure because there will be no final for you again!