A few weeks ago Patrice Evra, from the top of his over-confidence, declared that the clash between Arsenal and Man Utd had been about boys playing against men. Yesterday in Rome, the men from Manchester were completely outclassed by the boys from La Masia (where Barcelona has its youth academy).
More than a match between Ronaldo and Messi, this was a clash between an old school manager that has won it all, Sir Alex Ferguson, and a rookie that was lucky enough to receive such an amazing squad to coach, Pep Guardiola.
By thinking that giving the ball to Barcelona and relying on fast counter-attacks was a good idea, the great Scottish manager got it all wrong. Such strategy might have worked in the past for Man Utd in Europe, and it largely worked with Chelsea against this Barcelona side (if it hadn't been for Iniesta's injury time goal...).
However, neither were the other teams Man Utd defeated in the near past as good as this one (no, not even last year's Barcelona...), nor is Man Utd's midfield as good as Chelsea's when it comes to defending. By choosing defence over attack, Man Utd took a huge risk against a team that loves to have the ball.
As in all clashes between managers, the match was far from being what it could have been (football only reaches its true beauty when managers lose control of the action). Barcelona played well, but not amazingly well.
It was still more than enough to beat a dysfunctional United side that thought Ronaldo could single-handily defeat a Barcelona side that belongs among the truly great teams in the history of football.
This was asking too much for the (still) best player in the world and asking too little from the rest of the Man Utd players—all among the best paid footballers in the world.
Overall, Man Utd's attitude was far from what a Champions League final demanded—could it have been some sort of trophies' overdose?
As the match developed one was left with the feeling that this was the end of the road for "this" Man United team, a team that had its peak last year, and that was still good enough to claim three trophies this season, but no longer with the same flair and easiness—the sort of thing Barcelona showed yesterday.
For someone that has seen this United team playing in the last couple of years, it was uncomfortable to watch the second half against Barcelona. There was a clear "end of party" atmosphere—and the party was not just the Champions League Final...
Destiny wanted that Ronaldo played what was probably his last official match with Man Utd in white, a potential sign of things to come. Vidic, who has a problem with rain, could as well be on his way out. Van der Sar is reaching the end of his career, just like Ryan Giggs and maybe even Paul Scholes—three great players, soon to be ex.
Berbatov never settled and it remains to be seen whether he will. Also Nani has clearly shown that he is not going to improve any time soon. Being third option after an ageing Giggs and a hard-working, but nonetheless mediocre, Park is not something you would like to put in the CV. His future must be in doubt as well.
If to this we add the doubts over Carlos Tevez and the immaturity of Anderson to take a leading role in Man Utd's midfield, it is clear that some things are going to change in Manchester. Will Ferguson be able to keep all these players together one more season? Will he undertake a major revolution within the squad? Is he willing to start a new project all over again? Is retirement an option?
These are all questions that Manchester United was left to answer. In that sense, Rome was much more than their first ever European final defeat: it was a cold shower for a team that thought it could win it all for years to come, and that suddenly realised that it was no longer the case—that they were humans, with more flaws than originally thought, now maybe in need of a change.