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It was a privilege to be inside magnificent Wembley to witness Barcelona's beautiful torture

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30 May 2011 09:37:10

It was a privilege to be inside magnificent Wembley to witness Barcelona's beautiful torture

Share Mesmerising. It was the word Sir Alex Ferguson used to describe the sheer brilliance of Barcelona on Saturday night and it is hard to find a more appropriate one. They were magical, spellbinding, the look Manchester United's manager gave Pep Guardiola at the sound of the final whistle something that said he was as full of admiration for what Lionel Messi and his colleagues had just done as the rest of us. Euro stars: Eric Abidal (right) lifts the Champions League trophy after a scintillating Barcelona performance It almost feels wrong to quantify such artistry but it was one of those performances that threw up so many fascinating facts. The fact that the three best players in the world virtually beat the champions of England on their own. Passes completed by United: 301. Passes completed by Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta: 305. On closer analysis more than half of them were to each other. 153 to be exact. Xavi certainly saved his best until last, the 124 passes he delivered his highest of another sensational season. A season that has ended with a third European Cup to add to his World Cup, European Championship and six La Liga winners' medals and a season that reached another peak with the pass he delivered to Pedro Rodriguez for the opening goal. The statistics are startling. United won the Champions League from two corners in 1999 but they failed to secure one in this final; they only managed one effort on target in the form of Wayne Rooney's 34th-minute equaliser. A fine finish and just reward for the Englishman's contribution at Wembley but a goal that flattered United when the Catalans had so outclassed them. As Ferguson said, they were second best and such was the gulf in quality between the two teams you could sense how much it had hurt him when he eventually appeared for the post-match press conference. He was gracious in defeat, extremely magnanimous towards his tormentors. But the hands were visibly shaking in those final few minutes, the expression one of total resignation. It was tough on Ferguson. Giant among men: Lionel Messi dazzled in an epic Barcelona display at Wembley He recognised Barcelona as the finest team he had ever faced in more than three decades as a manager and admitted that 'no one has given us a hiding like that before'. But it must be a little difficult to swallow when the young coach he congratulated will probably now beat him to becoming only the second manager, after Bob Paisley, to win three European Cups. That said, there was a degree of pride in being the other team in this gran clasico of a final. The team who have reached three Champions League finals in the four years that mark Barcelona's period of dominance. 'I don't enjoy being second best but it's a great moment for them,' he said. 'Great teams do go in cycles and the cycle they're in at the moment is the best in Europe, no question about that. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.' The game was a 93-minute memory to savour. Against the odds: Messi plays one against five... and keeps the ball Gerard Pique left the field with one of the goal nets and, far from wanting to forget it all as soon as possible, United supporters were after souvenirs too. They didn't just want to keep their match tickets but wanted programmes too, just to prove they were there. Just to show that they had stood among the 87-odd thousand fortunate enough to witness the mastery of Messi; the game at its most beautiful inside an arena English football should be proud of. To hell with the expense. Wembley was magnificent. Even Ferguson was able to draw inspiration from the experience. His side had improved on their efforts in Rome two years earlier - Michael Carrick can certainly take a bit of comfort in that - but Barcelona raised the bar even higher and for Ferguson that is now 'the challenge'. Would he have retired had he followed United's 19th league title with his third European Cup? We may never know. Architect: Barca salute boss Guardiola But the way he was talking late on Saturday night would suggest he now wants to rebuild his team to compete with these world-beaters. That, having told friends he is prepared to work for three more years despite turning 70 this December, he wants to settle this score after losing two finals to Guardiola's men. How anyone deals with Messi when he plays like this is hard to know. 'We never controlled him,' said Ferguson, which was something of an understatement. But he clearly has the bit between his teeth. 'We have a challenge with Barcelona,' he said. 'We all do. It's not easy, but it's a challenge and you shouldn't be afraid of a challenge. I think the challenge is always to improve yourselves. This is another challenge. It's simply that. We've some very good players and, of course, where we start to find a way forward is something we'll mull over the summer. We're not lacking in ideas at the club. Hopefully we'll come up with the right ones.' This game exposed the areas where improvements are required. Young man's game: Xavi (right) and Barcelona made Ryan Giggs (left) look every one of his 37 years Ryan Giggs looked every one of his 37 years, Ferguson eventually switching him with Park Ji-sung in the vain hope the Korean could get closer to Barcelona's midfield. And while the Welshman can still reflect on an excellent season, players of the calibre of Luka Modric and Wesley Sneijder would certainly add youth and quality when Paul Scholes may have played his last game for the club too. A winger of Ashley Young's ability would also be a valuable addition, while Edwin van der Sar's failure to even get close to the shots from Messi and Pedro would suggest the 40-year-old is indeed bowing out at the right time after a marvellous career. He was not entirely at fault on Saturday. The defenders should have been quicker in trying to close down Messi and David Villa when they scored their second-half goals. But he will have his regrets and David de Gea will be a good addition. Bitter taste: Wayne Rooney (left) comforts Javier Hernandez Even then, Ferguson could probably do with some help. Perhaps the mega-rich owners at Manchester City and Chelsea can break the team up by buying Barcelona's best players and maybe even luring the manager away at some point too. 'It's always difficult to find players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all the time,' said Ferguson in a moment of wishful thinking. Barcelona are, of course, so much more than a three-man team. There is genius in Messi, Xavi and Iniesta but Villa and Pedro play some fantasy football too, while Pique again excelled in that makeshift but impressively effective defence. Raining on their parade: Rooney (left) and Giggs (right) left shell-shocked as Barcelona celebrate There is also a tremendous work ethic in all of them. Their movement when in possession is incredible, but they run their hardest when they don't have the ball. Of course, it was a game that will be remembered more for those special moments. When Messi scored his 53rd goal of the season and his first on English soil; when the courageous Eric Abidal lifted the trophy. When Messi proved, beyond any doubt, that he is worthy of comparison with Pele and Diego Maradona. On Sunday Ossie Ardiles declared him 'better than Maradona; the best ever'. United went about trying to beat Barcelona in the right way, attacking with aggression and troubling their opponents for the first 10 minutes. Better than Maradona: Messi (right) fires home a brilliant second to draw comparisons with the very best MATCH FACTS BARCELONA (4-3-3): Valdes 6; Alves 7 (Puyol 88min), Mascherano 6, Pique 8, Abidal 7; Busquets 7, Xavi 9, Iniesta 9; Pedro 8 (Afellay 90), Messi 10, Villa 8 (Keita 86). Subs not used: Olazabal, Adriano, Thiago, Bojan.  Booked: Valdes, Alves. MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar 5; Fabio 6 (Nani 69, 6), Vidic 7, Ferdinand 7, Evra 6; Valencia 5, Carrick 6 (Scholes 76), Giggs 5, Park 5; Rooney 7; Hernandez 5. Subs not used: Kuszczak, Smalling, Anderson, Fletcher, Owen. Booked: Valencia, Carrick. Man of the match: Lionel Messi. Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary). But there was a lack of cohesion and invention. Ferguson was clearly disappointed with their second-half performance and Steve McClaren said they lacked the necessary 'craft and intelligence to get behind the Barcelona defence'. Compare Rooney and Javier Hernandez to Barcelona's forwards. They passed to each other only six times, even if Rooney can stand proudly alongside Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand as a United player who did well. But the final word has to go to Barcelona, and to a coach as classy as his team. 'We did play much better than Rome,' said Guardiola before paying tribute to the 'unique' talent that is Messi. He has done a fine job in moulding this team but he was not in the mood to take too much credit. 'Any coach depends on his players,' he said. 'And these players create feelings and emotions for the people.' That they most certainly do. On this occasion even for the people of Manchester.  Nick Harris: Manchester United lay down the law to their tweeting starsAll the latest Manchester United FC news, features and opinionMessi the magician: Sir Alex hails Barcelona as 'the best we've ever played'So, how were United outgunned? Fergie gameplan torn up by BarcaBarcelona 3 Man Utd 1: Pedro, Messi and Villa crown Barca kings of EuropeFerguson admits his agony at leaving out top scorer BerbatovGuardiola rules out taking Chelsea job after second Champions League winIt's a snip for former United star Pique as he nets a Wembley mementoMan United are ?478m in debt but can still afford to spend, spend, spendSo what could United have done differently against brilliant Barcelona?  Explore more:People: Paul Scholes, Alex Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Gerard Pique, Wesley Sneijder, Xavi Hernandez, Edwin Van Der Sar, Michael Carrick, Lionel Messi, David Villa, Nemanja Vidic, Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric, Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-sung, Rio Ferdinand, Diego Maradona, Nani, Steve McClaren Places: Manchester, Rome, Hungary, United Kingdom, Europe


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