Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Barcelona as the strongest team he has confronted as a manager after the Catalans claimed their fourth European Cup at Manchester United’s expense, although this chastening experience has not dented the Scot’s enthusiasm to attempt to overhaul “the best team in Europe”.
The Premier League champions suffered a sobering defeat here, the scoreline deceptive, with their manager conceding his own team had been outclassed by a rampant Barça. “They do mesmerise you with the way they pass it,” Ferguson said . “I expected us to do better, particularly after half-time, but it wasn’t to be. Great teams do go in cycles and they’re at the peak of the cycle they’re in at the moment.
“They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.
“But how long it lasts ... whether they can replace that team at some point ... they certainly have the right philosophy, but it’s always difficult to find players like Xavi (Hernández), (Andrés) Iniesta and (Lionel) Messi all the time. But they’re enjoying the moment that they have just now. We never controlled Lionel Messi, but many people have had to say that over the years.”
Ferguson, even at 69, insisted he retained the enthusiasm and energy to regain the European Cup and was relishing the task ahead. “The challenge is always to improve yourselves,” he said.
“Over the years, we’ve done OK when confronted by things like this, and taking [Barcelona] on is another challenge. We’ve some very good players and, of course, where we start to find a way forward is something we’ll mull over the summer. We’re not lacking in ideas . Hopefully we’ll come up with the right ones.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of a challenge. We want to improve. Of course, next season, we must improve even more. But we have a challenge with Barcelona. We all do. It’s no consolation being the second-best team. I don’t enjoy being second-best. Any club with the history we have — Real Madrid, Milan — they’d say the same.”
The Scot offered his opposite number a warning that he should not be hasty in his desire to move on for his own fresh challenge. “If he’s really considering that, he’ll never have this experience again, that’s for sure,”Ferguson said.