Possibly the greatest club side of all-time versus probably Fergie’s weakest United.
Even if Nani and Chico play the games of their lives and Rooney remembers he is the best footballer qualified to play for England since Ryan Giggs, there is simply no way the current United team should win this game.
The thought of Vidic and Ferdinand conspiring to stop Messi is either far-fetched or unpleasant and only invites premonitions of Villa, Iniesta and Xavi rampaging through in the spaces left everywhere else.
In fact, if Barca don’t win – and by a hatful – questions – the sort that weren’t asked when England lost to Ireland in the cricket world cup – should, perhaps, be asked.
Yes I’m a Leeds fan (sort of) and yes, Leeds fans have a history of glorying in the Red’s failures but I’ve rarely laughed as long as when Solskjaer potted the 1999 winner against Bayern or had my jaw drop as far as it did when Hughes drilled that 1991 “up-yours” against his then-unappreciative former employer, Barca, so when I say this United do not have a chance, I’m pretty sure it’s not because of Champions league envy!
In my humble opinion, the only hope Manchester has of lifting the cup is if the Barcelona machine can be defeated from within by the same sort of off-field tactics Lord Triesman is accusing certain FIFA officials of having succumbed to in the recent world cup elections!
Unfortunately for United, despite Barca’s willingness to embellish fouls to the point of gamesmanship, if not actual simulation, I believe the thought of throwing a game is as far beneath Barcelona as it is beneath United even if the same has not always been true of every side in Europe.
United finds itself in the final thanks in part to almost unbelievable fluctuations in Schalke’s performances, a side which was capable of defeating Inter in both legs of the quarters (including scoring an amazing “5” at the San Siro) yet which rolled over in both legs of the semi against United (apparently forgetting, for most of the first leg in Schalke, that attack was even an option).
The result of those Jekyl and Hyde-esque performances is a showcase champions league final between the recently crowned champions of the English Premier League, supposedly, the most prestigious league in the game and the champion’s of Spain’s competing La Liga, a clash which will draw a massive global audience.
On paper it really is a genuine Champions’ final but in practice we are more likely to witness a lambs to the slaughter bloodbath with United playing the following day’s Sunday roast.
As downhearted as United and their fans are almost certain to be after their wake-up call, I predict the real losers will be the English premier league and all those who have come to rely on its worldwide tv revenues (ironically, something which I believe would only benefit English football!) whilst the winners will be the La Liga shareholders who will be hoisting Messi et al all the way to the bank.
United’s (and the premiership’s) one on-field hope?
That Barca will engage in the sort of conduct that had UEFA mount an investigation in the wake of their Real semi-final. Should Barca try anything like a repeat performance of that on Saturday, the Wembely crowd, many of whom will be there for the chance to celebrate Messi, as the best player of his generation, will turn against the Catalan giants like pee on an electric fence and if that happens its an entirely different ball game.
In short. If Barca play football as they can, they will win and win comfortably. If Barca start play-acting, even if in response to physical intimidation, we might see a match, albeit an ugly one. Given what’s at stake, both for Barca and La Liga, I would be very surprised (not to mention disappointed) if Barca are not on their very best behaviour Saturday night.
Football, though, is a funny game and so, as an incorrigible optimist, it will be the memory of goals like Solskjaer’s and Hughes’ which will ensure I’m glued to the tv Saturday, hoping for goals of the quality of Messi’s magic second against Real or as unrealistic as it is, a repeat of Rooney’s incredible Manchester-derby deciding overhead!
Here’s hoping! After all miracles do happen, even if not often at Wembley.