Ten days left and I still haven’t figured out who to put my money on in the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United. My head says Barcelona. They’re the best team, with the better players, in a better season, with referees usually more willing to be on their side come game time. Manchester United do get great treatment, usually in England, usually when Howard Webb is involved.
My head is kind of split. Barcelona have already peaked this season. It seemed that the intense April has a few of the guys there burned out. Unless I’m wrong, but there’s a feeling Xavi, Iniesta and most of all Lionel Messi have already shown us their best this season. I’m not even speaking about David Villa and Pedro who look ready for summer vacation. I’m wrong plenty of times, and Guardiola knows exactly what buttons to push regarding this team. I had a feeling they peaked before the 2009 Final, and they dominated Manchester United rather easily in that 2-0 win. I’m not making that mistake again.
Now my heart is supposed to interfere, but there’s no love anywhere in my body for Manchester United. Tons of respect, always respect. Winning a title despite not having the most talented squad deserves respect. The way Nemanja Vidic, maybe the best central defender in Europe right now held this back four together despite everyone falling to the stretchers around him, despite not having Rio Ferdinand at his side for most of the season. Nani becoming a premier player, a consistent player for a large part of the season. Watching Javier Hernandez develop into a fantastic striker and pretty soon, if all keeps running smoothly, one of the best in Europe.
Above all else, it’s Ferguson and Ryan Giggs. Wait, Alex Ferguson? Yeah, he whines a lot about the referees and the FA. Fact is, he’s right quite a few times. More than that, this life project of his, making Manchester United the greatest club in England – knocking Liverpool off their f’ing perch, it’s amazing to watch it come together. Twelve! Twelve league titles in 19 seasons. Managing dumb and egomaniac players on his team, making the best out of mega-mediocre players like Darren Fletcher, it’s incredible. I don’t thinks he’s the best manager in the world at managing a specific game, not a tremendous tactician, but the way he leads his team and handles his players more than makes up for it.
And once again, it’s Giggs. Re inventing himself, stepping up when it matters the most, playing effortlessly and so intelligently despite his body wearing down. I’ve never loved Manchester United and the club has an abundance of haters. Still, it’s impossible not to like and appreciate Giggs. He’s been through the multi-transformational periods the clubs has gone through for nearly 20 years, a generation. He’s still there, still dominant, still as important as ever.
But then I think of Lionel Messi and his second goal against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League Semi Final. All thoughts, plans, tactics and who knows what Alex Ferguson has in his notebooks and mind can be thrown out the door. The little star can do it on his own when the mood is right, when the muse is there. All this rest, physically and mentally might have done wonders for the team.
I want to see Giggs win a third Champions League final. I don’t think he’s retiring, he has a few more years to give, but a player of his magnitude, that’s never been to a World Cup because he’s Welsh, deserved a few more titles, international ones, to make up for it in his CV. On the other hand, Barcelona were the best team this year in Europe. Hate them, love them, be a Real Madrid fan or who knows which team, there’s no denying this was the most impressive side in the Champions League this year. They deserve to end up with the title just as much.
Barcelona might be the safer bet. Still, something in the air, something about the meaning of this game, some revenge notion, some thoughts about how good United’s defense really is, and one hunch about Ryan Giggs might make me forget about safety and put my money on the Red Devils.