Ian Herbert: Guardiola's brilliant creation is enough to make the heart weep
Thursday 28 May 2009
Pep Guardiola's words had sounded a little too ornate to be football language when he took a seat up on a stage in this stadium on Tuesday evening and spoke of how he wanted his side to be "beautiful" and to feel they were playing in front of the whole world. But that is how it was when their moment came. When all the analysis had spun out and it came down to the football it really was 10 individuals creating geometry so astoundingly satisfying to see that the words for Manchester United were ones which so rarely apply. Predictable, staid, ordinary.
Guardiola had his players interchange, so that Patrice Evra, presumably expecting Lionel Messi for company, landed Samuel Eto'o instead and Rio Ferdinand was face to face with Messi. Andres Iniesta's story will be well told this morning and so too Messi's but a single minute – the 27th – in the Stadio Olimpico encapsulated the Argentine's story. Messi runs, arms pumping back and forth in that way of his, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and Park Ji-Sung arrive in unison, blowing heavily, and collectively dispatch him to the turf – from which he leaps, in space and with the ball still at his feet. If only the well-earned free-kick had not destroyed the sporting narrative flow.
Some of the many TV replays fed around the stadium screens focused on the players' feet – a blur of grey boots, jabbed tentatively in the general direction of the bright blue pair, Messi's – which wove throughout them all. But it was not only he whose momentum carried the new European champions past Anderson and Carrick again and again and made you wonder how it might have been were Owen Hargreaves here (it was for wars of attrition on European nights like this that Sir Alex Ferguson bought him). Yaya Touré stepped through that midfield too. Not a single, misplaced pass from Barcelona until Xavi's 40th-minute ball – thumped for Eto'o to run on to – was overhit.
Yes, this was beautiful football and also because it was delivered with the minimum effort. The run-up for Xavi's 51st-minute free-kick, arced around a United wall after Carlos Tevez had clipped Messi to the ground, required a couple of short steps but it slammed against Edwin van der Sar's left-hand post.
There were threats in places where none of the analysing had offered the prospect of any. Sylvinho had never really featured in all the talk. He is 35, after all. But his was a wing-back's performance last night – no doubt – and it contributed in large amount to Wayne Rooney's anonymity. Gerard Pique left Old Trafford because he despaired of dislodging Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and his moment came when Rooney advanced in one of United's rare sorties. Pique blocked his way.
When the goal came which confirmed Barcelona as masters of the Continent, one of Messi's blue boots slipped off – a result, it seemed as we watched it, of the momentum of a 5ft 7in player crashing back to earth after climbing to head the ball in. There seemed a symbolism in that: a player who had defied the laws of gravity not even needing those boots.
Looking to this match, Ferguson had his own memorable way of defining the special characteristic, which defies too much rationale and marks out the winners in football and life. "Whether a toolmaker or a baker, they have something in them, that little spark that they want to be successful, want to be winners."
To a man, that summed up Guardiola's men last night. What unfolded here blew fresh air into a hot summer's night. It was an object of beauty.
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