Barca: On the threshold of immortality

by Kieran Pender on May 18, 2011

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They’ve pushed aside rivals Real Madrid, and now only one team stands in the way of Barcelona being crowned European Champions for the second time in three years. After sealing their third La Liga title in a row, and their fifth in seven years, the Catalan side now heads to Wembley, the traditional home of English football. And in the cauldron that has witnessed moments of heartbreak and triumph, FC Barcelona have the opportunity to anoint themselves as possibly the best side ever.

It might sound like hyperbole, but the facts speak for themselves. Under Pep Guardiola they’ve won three league titles, the Copa del Rey, Spanish Super cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup. They play an amazing version of the beautiful game, with precision passes moving rapidly around the pitch with seeming ease; true joga bonito.

With Lionel Messi, Andres Iniésta, Xavi, David Villa, Daniel Alves, Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué, Barcelona arguably have eight world class players, not to mention a host of quality deputies. Messi has been compared to Argentinean compatriot Diego Maradona, while Xavi has been labelled by some as the best ever Spanish footballer. Not to mention David Villa, who is arguably the best striker in the world.

So what stands between Barcelona and another trophy that would surely compel them into the pantheon of truly great teams? Only one of the most successful football managers in history, and his team of skilful and hard working charges.

The 2009 Champions League set the state for what could have been an epic football battle, but instead saw Barcelona dominate a passive Manchester United side and claim the trophy. Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez moved on, and the media wrote off Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. And while they narrowly missed out on last season’s Premier League title, the Red Devils surged back this term, albeit somewhat unconvincingly.

But no matter what criticisms you lay on United, their league title this season still remains. They may have been poor away from home, they may have struggled in some of the big games, and their star players may have been at times lacklustre. But they won the league, fighting off cashed-up neighbours, an Arsenal side that has been rebuilding for several years, and last year’s champions Chelsea.

Whether you attribute this to their inspiring manager or a good quality team, the Champions League final at Wembley on the 28th of May will be an opportunity for both sides to press their claims to greatness. A win for Manchester United will give them even more ammunition in their slinging match with Liverpool, as well as proving to the doubters that the current side is up there with the best, while a Barcelona victory will confirm them as an all time great.

The match will give Wayne Rooney a chance to redeem himself, after a relatively lacklustre season and a certain set of shenanigans. It could also be the last opportunity for the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to claim Champions League glory.

At the other end of the pitch, Xavi and Carles Puyol are both pushing on in years (31 and 33 respectively), and although they will probably still be around next year, the pair will be aware that they don’t have too many years left at the top level.

No matter who you support, the 2011 Champions League final will be one to watch. It pits the Spanish champions against the English champions, with two of the greatest managers of the last few years putting their wits to the test to try and outdo the other.

The 2009 incarnation had similar hype, but ended in disappointment as Barcelona convincingly swept aside Manchester United. Has Ferguson learnt his lesson? If he does, victory at Wembley will be just another defining moment in a truly sensational career, while a Barcelona triumph will force the question to be asked. Is Barcelona the best side ever?