James Lawton: Barça beware: It's deep in the Old Trafford psyche to attack and entertain

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The Independent Online

Like almost everybody, Brian Kidd is not impervious to the skills of Barcelona or the belief of many that they are the best thing to happen since the invention of the ball. He does, however, have a question that might serve as the theme of Manchester United's team talk before they walk out at Wembley tonight.

Roberto Mancini's No 2 at Manchester City – which gives him the official designation of noisy neighbour 43 years after his heroic contribution to United's first European Cup final victory on his 19th birthday – asks: "If you're Pep Guardiola, who did you least want to face in the Champions League final? If you got him in a corner I know he would say Manchester United.

"There are many reasons to believe this but the greatest one should be obvious to those who are saying that Barça only have to turn up to collect the trophy. United know about football at this level – and it is something they have confirmed with great timing. Just ask Chelsea. United are the Premier League champions because they were the best, most consistent team and don't you think this knowledge is going to give them a little confidence – and also make Barça think?"

Inevitably, some of Kidd's own thinking is coloured by that sultry London night in 1968 when he replaced Denis Law and stepped coolly into the axis the great Scottish striker formed with Bobby Charlton and George Best. "It should be remembered," he says, "that Benfica came to Wembley with a terrific aura and wonderful players in Eusebio – a huge hero of mine – Coluna, Torres, Simoes and Augusto.

"Two years earlier I'd watched the Portuguese in World Cup training in south Manchester. They were wonderfully skilled and, of course, when we met them they were double European Cup winners [having beaten Barcelona and Real Madrid] and were appearing in their fifth final in eight years. Yet Matt Busby just told us what I'm sure Alex Ferguson will be telling his players. He said that basic thing: that we had to play the game, not the occasion, and that we had to have complete focus."

But then, if Kidd concedes that 43 years is a long time, so too in football is two years – and the night Barcelona ran away with a comfortable victory in Rome. "So much can change so quickly in the modern game," says Kidd, "and this is true of both teams. We don't know what would have happened if Cristiano Ronaldo had scored early when United came out very strongly – but do know what changed the game. When Lionel Messi was pulled back into midfield and Samuel Eto'o operated along the right, Ferdinand and Vidic found themselves marking space. I know Alex Ferguson, I know how hard he will have been looking at Barcelona – and how, whatever he does to counter them, [United] will still have plenty of attacking options.

"I played for Busby and I worked under Ferguson and the strength of United down the years has always been the insistence that, whatever they do, they retain the ability to attack. You can be sure that this factor will not go missing at Wembley – nor the demand that United do not let their concentration slide as it did in Rome. The reality that Alex will hammer home is that one goal separates the teams over three Champions League games in the last three years... when Paul Scholes scored that great goal in the semi-final in 2008, Messi played brilliantly but United held out and there is no reason to believe that this cannot happen again."

Is Kidd giving aid and comfort to the enemy? He laughs at the idea and then talks about the new battleground shared by City and United next season. "I may be a bit of a traditionalist and certainly I believe City winning the FA Cup was something very tangible in the development of the team, very important as we head into Europe but nobody needs to tell me what winning the Champions League means. When I was a kid, Busby told us all that this was the future, this was where the game was going, and he was so far ahead of his time it is unbelievable. The Football League told him he couldn't play in Europe but he just marched on and then when we won 10 years after Munich everybody could see the point. English football had moved on to another level.

"We've got a huge job at City and a big part of it is getting the better of United, but only an idiot wouldn't recognise what they are continuing to achieve – and what they are capable of doing against Barcelona. Yes, Barça will set so many problems. They have tremendous technique and brilliant players. But they have their weaknesses too – every team has – and when some workmen who came to my house this morning asked me who was going to win, I had to say: 'You tell me'. When I sit down in my seat at Wembley I'm sure I will still see it as too close to call."

Such memories there will be in the new Wembley, not least of the embrace of his Collyhurst neighbour of his youth, Nobby Stiles, at the moment of victory. "If you grew up in Manchester you knew this went beyond football. This was a big part of your life, something you knew you would always have, and I know it will be with me as vividly as ever tomorrow night."

If he had anything to say to any United player now it would be to Ryan Giggs (below) and it would go back to something he said, as the man in charge of United's wave of new players, to him more than 20 years ago, when the currently besieged veteran was a precocious member of an Under-19 squad competing in a tournament in Italy.

"Giggsy was showing us that he had a tremendous future. I spoke to him and the other lads in a dressing room just across the corridor from the AC Milan team. I said that no one should be overawed by the fact that we were going against the club who had just won the European Cup with such players as Maldini, Baresi, Gullit and Van Basten.

"I said to them what I'm saying now, that if you're part of a certain tradition, if you've been considered good enough to play for a team like United, you don't have to fear anyone. I said: 'Those kids across the corridor know about Manchester United, know what you represent and you have to play up to that'. I'm pleased to say we won the tournament against the strongest clubs in Europe. Giggsy played a big part. He was 15 at the time."

None of this will directly assist United if Messi and Xavi and Iniesta reach out and find the best of their creative urges but maybe it is something to remember when a tempo and a mood has to be set. In the matter of tempo, United may also draw some benefit from this week's visit to the West End to see the red-suited stars of Jersey Boys, the hit recreation of the lives of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons.

Did their feet tap to the rhythm of "Walk Like a Man" and "Oh, What A Night"? Maybe, maybe not, but they would be unwise to discount the theory of another hero of the Sixties. It is the one of Brian Kidd which insists that some of the old tunes can indeed carry the years – especially when they are filled with glory. Barça, however you quite grade it, are undeniably great but then surely they know they are playing a team of maybe something more than the past.

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