Two of the most famous names in football, Manchester United and Barcelona, have underachieved in Europe’s biggest club competition with a paltry five titles between them in its 54-year history. That total only equals the five won by Liverpool and is two behind AC Milan and four behind Real Madrid.
That’s not good enough for clubs which featured players such as Bobby Charlton, George Best and David Beckham, Hristo Stoichkov, Romario and Ronaldo, and coaching greats Matt Busby and Johan Cruyff.
What makes it even more embarrassing for two powerhouse teams, considered the best in the world, is that they have reached only a combined eight finals before this year, United winning all three of their appearances and Barca two out of five.
Compare that with Madrid’s 12 finals, Milan’s 11, Liverpool’s, Bayern Munich’s, Benfica’s and Juventus’ seven and six for Dutch club Ajax.
Now that they meet in the Champions League final for the first time, they hope to put on a classic in Rome on Wednesday to make up for past failures.
“When we get a game that paints the real story of football then we are all lifted. Barcelona and Manchester United can do that,” says United manager Alex Ferguson, who is chasing his 26th trophy with the Red Devils. A little like a long-awaited heavyweight title fight between the defending champions and the popular No. 1 contenders, Man United and Barca face each other at Olympic Stadium.
The lineups show each has formidable punching power. While United have the better defence because Barca have been hit by suspensions, Ferguson can choose from Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez in attack. If Thierry Henry overcomes a knee injury, he will team up with Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o.