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The case for Barcelona, the best ever
by Paul Kennedy, May 28th, 2009 11:10AM



[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Is Barcelona the greatest club ever? Real Madrid, winner of its fifth straight European Cup with a 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960, is considered the greatest club ever, but that was another era. Playing without three starters and using two other starters out of position, Barcelona made Manchester United -- the defending champion and winner of the English Premier League -- look quite ordinary with a 2-0 win in Wednesday's final.

After an opening 10 minutes dominated by United, it was all Barcelona, beginning with the first goal when Andres Iniesta put through Samuel Eto'o in from the right wing. Lionel Messi finished United off with a delicate header to the far post off a perfectly flighted ball from Xavi.

Much has been made of the Barcelona attack that has scored 153 goals this season -- with one La Liga game to play. Messi and Eto'o lead the way with 38 and 33 goals, respectively. But much of the credit for Barcelona's success -- indeed, what makes it so unique -- must go to its midfield.

In the all-action modern game, never have two midfielders dominated with such skill as Iniesta and Xavi, both only 5-foot-7 and both products of the Barcelona youth system, along with 20-year-old Sergio Busquets, the third member of the Barca midfield.

The great clubs of the European Cup have been dynasties beginning with Real Madrid (winner in 1956-60) and including Ajax (1971-73), Bayern Munich (1974-76) and Liverpool (1977-78, 1981 and 1984) and AC Milan (1989-90 and 1994).

Since Milan's back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990, no team has repeated. Since the competition was changed in 1997 to the current format stacking the competition in favor of teams from Europe's big leagues, only two teams have reached the final two years in a row -- Valencia, the loser in 2000 and 2001 and now Manchester United.

Until Wednesday's game, the most dominating performance of the last 20 years was Milan's 4-0 win over Barcelona in 1994, though that Milan team was not in the class of the Milan teams of a few years earlier with Dutchmen Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard and a host of Italian internationals.

But none of the Milan teams had the season that Barcelona has had, nor did they face the competition that Barcelona beat -- German champion Bayern Munich, which it lit up in the quarterfinals, Chelsea, which was within a minute of eliminating it in the semifinals, and Manchester United, which was left to settle for three championships in 2008-09.

For year-long dominance at home and in Europe, for the competition it faced and for the manner of its success, it's hard to match Barcelona '09 as the best ever.

May 27 in Rome
Barcelona 2 Manchester United 0. Goals: Eto'o 10, Messi 70.
Barcelona -- Valdes, Puyol, Yaya Toure, Gerard Pique, Silvinho, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta (Pedro 90+3), Messi, Eto'o, Henry (Keita 72)
Manchester United -- van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Park Ji-sung (Berbatov 66), Carrick, Anderson (Tevez 46), Giggs (Scholes 75), Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney.
Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).
Att.: 62,467.


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