ROME -- The Eternal City was the most appropriate of backdrops for what we witnessed on Wednesday. It was supposed to be a case of the true believers: Barcelona and its quasi-fundamentalist, possession-oriented credo thrown to the lions of Manchester United's top-to-bottom combination of strength, athleticism and quality. It was dogmatism versus pragmatism.
And this time, it was the lions who emerged bruised and battered (
Logic and form pointed to victory for Manchester United. After all, Barça was missing three-quarters of its starting back four, and its best midfielder (
United, on the other hand, looked like a team that always had an extra gear. It was a chameleon side that could beat you in so many ways: It could out-pass you, overrun you, out-muscle you, out-think you and, if needed, shut up shop, defend en masse and outlast you. But all that was before kickoff. Once inside the green rectangle, it's 11 men in shirts, shorts and cleats taking on 11 other men. And if the underdogs have the guile and intelligence to do so, they can rewrite the script.
Manchester United stormed out of the box with a furious 10-minute spell which could have seen it score two goals.
Yet by the 15th minute, Barça had found its rhythm, and the twin creative geniuses of
Here, you have to give credit to Guardiola for winning the tactical battle hands down.
Stopping Xavi and Iniesta with a full complement of midfielders is difficult enough -- doing so with just two guys (one of whom, Anderson, seemed to sleepwalk through the first half) was always going to be a recipe for disaster.
Out wide, Sir Alex was counting on
It didn't help, of course, that
It was one of the most lop-sided 2-0 victories you will ever see and, perhaps, the most one-sided final of the last 15 years (with the exception of FC Porto vs. AS Monaco in 2004). You don't have to be a Barcelona fan to celebrate the fact that, on the night, quality and tactics triumphed. It's too early to say whether this is the beginning of a new era at the Camp Nou. But it's undeniable that what Guardiola has achieved -- winning the treble in his first year of management -- is not just monumental, it's unprecedented.
As for United, it paid the price for some really bad decisions. Had Ferguson made different choices, Barça may still have won of course, but there is no doubt that on Wednesday, United's tactics didn't help.
Blame the manager? Not at all. He got United here, guided the team to three important trophies this season and he remains one of the all-time greats. It's just that on a night when two equally gifted teams took the pitch, the one who was far superior tactically emerged as the victor. This is one final which will go down in history.