Two Men To Make Football History
When asked if he could feel the weight of history on his shoulders as he seeks to emulate Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup victory on the same ground, the Glaswegian quipped: “Well, it’s certainly not Hampden Park.” OK, so it wasn’t much of a gag.
For the most part, Ferguson’s demeanour was typical of the obvious joy he derives from big European nights. He could not resist indulging in a bit of unnecessary hyperbole as he faced the world’s media, flanked by henchmen Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
“This could be best final of the decade. The attraction of these two teams is obvious,” he said. “Anything could happen tomorrow. There could be lots of goals, a lot of excitement. There’ll be a lot of good football.”
One question from a Chinese journalist asking if the match will be enough to keep those watching in Shanghai and Beijing awake was politely given short shrift. Another delivered in Catalan got a more terse “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, but on the whole Ferguson looked like a man right where he wanted to be, going into a big match with a point to prove.
And they simply do not come any bigger than a Champions League final against Barcelona. The point that needs proving is that Barcelona are not as superior as their 2-0 win n Rome in 2009 suggests. But then, you already knew that.
For his part, Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola is also committed to making this final a truly great one.
He said: “We have to play for the audience and we have to show why we are so good. We will try to play the best final possible.”
Unlike Ferguson, who came out with his players, Guardiola only took the stage after Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes had faced the media together, just as the pair did before their victorious 2006 and 2009 final appearances. Even the best team in the world is entitled to a little superstition.
For all the world class talent at his disposal, Pep made constant reference not only to Johan Cruyff’s famed Barca ‘Dream Team’ of the early 1990s, but also to Ferguson and his players.
“United have bought an enormous young player. I am convinced that he will be an important player for the next years in United,” he said of Javier Hernandez, who will surely partner Wayne Rooney up front, leaving Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench mentally replaying his last European goal, getting on for three years ago.
It is, of course, easy to marvel over the statistics incurred by Barca as a whole and Lionel Messi and Xavi in particular. But it never gets old.
By way of scratching the surface, here are just a couple:
Messi has scored at a rate quicker than a goal a game in this season’s competition, and is on course to become the first player to finish as top scorer in three consecutive European Cup campaigns.
Xavi has touched the ball, on average, more than 120 times per match so far in this season’s cmpetition, and of the 1,167 passes he has made, he has completed 94 per cent of them.
But more than enough has been said about the players. It is the two coaches who are both deserve praise as they stand on the verge of their respective historic achievements.
After knocking rivals Liverpool off their perch by claiming a record 19th league title, Ferguson is now looking to strike another major blow in the name of all Mancunia by equalling Bob Paisley’s haul of three European Cups.
It took Paisley just four years of his nine-year reign at Anfield to complete that treble, but in this day and age to do the same in 12 years with what almost amounts to three different teams should certainly be seen as a comparable feat.
Guardiola, on the other hand, is looking to win his second Champions League crown in only his third year as a first-team coach. That is something unheard of since Jose Villalonga did the same by leading Real Madrid to the first two ever European Cups in the 1950s.
To barge your way to the top table of international club managers in such a short space of time is incredible. Having a clutch of the best players in the world helps, of course, then so does the wealth and name which went with Ferguson’s job when he took it 25 years ago and began building his own fearsome dynasty.
Whichever comes out on top tonight, they will thoroughly deserve their exalted place among the true greats, and would probably be joined by the other sooner rather than later anyway.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Harry is one of those managers that has the skills to do well everywhere. I don’t know if Harry Redknapp is the type of manager Chelsea is looking for but, with his quality, nobody can doubt him.” – Former Chelsea great Gianfranco Zola reckons Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp is the man to be let loose with Roman Abramovich’s billions.
FOREIGN VIEW: “To accuse Blatter of corruption is complete rubbish. If I was voting I would vote for Blatter.” – FIFA president Sepp Blatter may be facing an ethics investigation alongside election rival Mohamed bin Hammam after football’s governing body widened its inquiry into bribes-for-votes allegations, but he has found one ardent supporter – Vladimir Putin.
COMING UP: Well, do we really have to tell you? Follow live coverage of Barcelona v Manchester United from 14:00, with kick-off at 19:45, plus live tweets from @tony_mabert from the ground.
Before that, however, you can also find out what happens in the League Two play-off final – Stevenage v Torquay United. Any money there are more goals at Old Trafford than at Wembley this evening.