Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola made only one false move before his team snatched the Champions League trophy with a dominating 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Saturday.
Guardiola’s preparation and execution for the biggest soccer game of the year were perfect, and the performance of his superstars was enough to blow away English Premier League champion United at Wembley Stadium in London.
Indeed, Guardiola’s only mistake was etched in humility. When asked before the game if his team was the greatest ever, he insisted it was not, reeling off a list of historic sides he said have a greater claim to that mantle.
Not so fast.
Barca’s Champions League victory was the latest confirmation of its greatness and Guardiola’s men fully deserve a place not just in the argument as to the best of all time, but at the top of it.
In an era of extreme competitiveness among Europe’s top clubs, Barca has separated itself from the pack and done it with the optimum of style.
Three goals, one from each of its forwards, was more than enough to get past a United team that has every right to consider itself the second best in Europe but could barely get a touch of the ball for long periods in this game.
Lionel Messi flexed his muscles with the critical strike, a curling effort that put his team back in front after Wayne Rooney had canceled out Pedro’s opener in the first half. Messi’s effort was worthy of his status as the world’s best player, but this Barcelona club is about much more than one man.
David Villa rounded out the scoring, but in reality the Catalans’ best performer on the night was Xavi, the midfield maestro who pulled all the strings and picked United apart.
It is that midfield core of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets that allows Messi the freedom to work his magic and its ability to continually control possession of the ball facilitates the beautiful passing style that has won fans across the globe.
The silverware Barcelona claims continues to mount but that does not even begin to tell the full story of the club ethos and Guardiola’s blueprint. What makes Barca truly special is that its glory comes at a time when it was thought soccer had developed so much that huge technical or stylistic strides were no longer possible.
But over the past three seasons the Blaugrana has done things at a different level, way higher than anyone else, and blown away the opposition. Even for a battle-hardened United squad and its wily old manager Sir Alex Ferguson, it was a puzzle they could not get close to solving.
Barca has taken the game onto a new plane, but it is a style that may not be able to be copied. What they do is no secret, it is there for everyone to see, but other teams simply don’t have the manpower to be able to implement a copycat version.
That clinical passing that looks so simple is, in reality, anything but, performed at a ferocious pace and to utter perfection.
Any chance United had of getting a foothold in the game revolved around gaining possession of the ball in midfield, but the Barca machine was simply too well-oiled.
By the end, there was time for Guardiola to bring on club captain Carles Puyol, who had been left out of the starting lineup due to injury, in a symbolic gesture. Following a semifinal against archrival Real Madrid that had degenerated into a war, everything about Barca’s display on the night when it really mattered simply oozed class.
That is why they are best right now, perhaps the greatest ever and why this era of success could carry on for a long time yet.