Manchester United were sick of the sight of Barcelona during Pep Guardiola’s reign.
If there’s one area you can possibly criticise Sir Alex Ferguson for across his time at Old Trafford it’s performances in the Champions League, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth between 2008 and 2011.
That’s because the Red Devils enjoyed their greatest run of form in Europe’s premier competition, threatening to add to their historic 1999 triumph with a remarkable three finals in just four years.
Man Utd’s Champions League finals
However, if there was any consolation from Ferguson’s men, the Blaugrana side they were facing just happened to be one of the greatest of all time with star players in nearly every position.
But there was scope for United to beat them because they had done exactly that during the semi-finals en route to Moscow, albeit with a very different approach to the subsequent finals.
Man Utd’s tactics vs Barcelona
And that’s why we’re here because, not for the first time, United legend Wayne Rooney has publicly criticised Ferguson for his tactics in both Champions League final defeats to Barcelona.
Speaking in Jamie Carragher’s new book The Greatest Games, featuring in the Telegraph, Rooney opined that United dug their own grave by not playing a defensive approach during the two defeats.
Rooney said: “In my opinion that was the only way you could beat them. I think it made a difference that the assistant, Carlos Queiroz, was still there then. Carlos was brilliant with Fergie.
Ferguson’s attacking approach
“Whenever the manager was following his instincts and thinking ‘we’re going to attack’, Carlos would make him rethink. He was the one who gave us the tactics in 2008 and was the cautious one we needed.
“Ferguson hated playing defensive. Really hated it.
“When we got to the final in 2009, he said to us he knew we could beat them playing that way, but then he said, ‘We are Manchester United and we are not going into the Champions League final to sit back all game. We are going to attack them and do it the right way.’
“We were all sitting there in the team meeting thinking, ‘Oh f***.’
“Sir Alex went through their side, saying, ‘Let’s go at them.’ Then you saw the names like Messi, Eto’o and Henry! I was like, ‘F***ing ’ell, how much pace do you want in one team?’”
Same problems two years later
Rooney then spoke about the 2011 final at Wembley Stadium, remarkably admitting: “I did not think we had any chance of beating them.
“Even when we made it 1-1 before half-time, there was no other game I played for Manchester United where I was on the pitch thinking, ‘There is no way we can win the game.’
“We were playing the team which, in my opinion, is the best there has been.”
What could have been?
Pretty candid stuff from Rooney, it goes without saying and it shows that even Ferguson, arguably the greatest manager in history, didn’t get it right all of the time.
Then again, you’ve got to commend the legendary United coach for sticking by the philosophy of the club even when everything pointed towards a defensive approach being their only hope of victory.
But at the end of the day, regardless of the tactical approach, I think both Ferguson and Rooney would agree that the best team, both on the night and perhaps of all time, won on both occasions.
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