The Championes chant which echoed around this Roman stadium last night belonged to the followers of a different side. "Campions" is the Catalan spelling and Barcelona are unarguably the masters of the Continent.
Sir Alex Ferguson, denied his 36th trophy and one which he knew would put Manchester United on new and elevated ground, made it plain that he felt some of his players had failed him against a side managed by an individual 29 years his junior. "It was a big opportunity and with the players we have we expected better at the end of the day," said the United manager, who was indignant when asked to confirm that the 2-0 defeat had not lessened his desire to lead his club on next season. "I don't understand that question on a night like this. I don't like that stupid bloody question," he said.
Gracious in his praise for a Barcelona side he said were one of the best United have faced in Europe, Ferguson was clearly distressed about the way his side defended, with Nemanja Vidic at fault for the first goal, on 10 minutes, and Rio Ferdinand deceived by the ball's flight for Lionel Messi's second 20 minutes from time.
"In our best performances this season we've defended very well," said Ferguson. "Tonight our defending was shoddy, especially the first goal which game them a boost. It was the first goal that told, that's for sure, and it gave them the opportunity to keep possession as they do very well. We didn't plan to concede that early but it's a fact and we didn't deal with it well enough. That's the story." Ferguson also lamented his side's failure to "do anything with possession".
Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi caused both Michael Carrick and Anderson, substituted at half-time, substantial problems, and Ferguson said he felt the absence of the suspended Darren Fletcher greatly. "I thought before the game it may have been a problem, he is a big-game player, but they had players missing too."
Cristiano Ronaldo began well, shooting four times in an opening 10 minutes during which Barcelona could not gather possession, but he ended the game ignominiously, hacking twice at Carles Puyol, and was cautioned for the second offence.
Ronaldo implied afterwards, in an interview with Portuguese TV, that United's tactics had been wrong. "We only had 10 minutes and then they scored and we never found ourselves again. We didn't do well. The tactics were not good and everything went wrong," he said. Whether he will be back at Old Trafford to discuss that with Ferguson next season remains to be seen – yet again. Asked if he would be with United come August, Ronaldo replied: "I don't know."
Wayne Rooney paid tribute to Barcelona as "probably the best team in the world" – and Iniesta – "the best player in the world right now".