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Sir Alex says it's time for repeat of '99

They may not need reminding of the past, but this Manchester United FC vintage "are good enough to shape their own history" according to their manager.

A relaxed Sir Alex Ferguson in Barcelona on Tuesday
A relaxed Sir Alex Ferguson in Barcelona on Tuesday ©Getty Images

The links between Sir Alex Ferguson and FC Barcelona are substantial ones. It was against the Spanish side that Sir Alex – then Mr Ferguson – won his first European trophy with Manchester United FC, the 1990/91 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

'Greatest lesson'
Barcelona then taught United what, the manager says, was the "greatest lesson" of all – the importance of keeping possession in Europe – during the Blaugrana's 4-0 home win in the 1994/95 UEFA Champions League group stage. A third connection came with the May night at the Camp Nou in 1999 when Sir Alex finally got his hands on the prize he covets most. Nine years on, only Barcelona stand between the Scot and a second final.

Special meetings
Sir Alex may have returned to the Catalan capital two or three times on holiday since the defeat of FC Bayern München, but never to Barcelona's famous home. As he walked on to the pitch for training on Monday, for the first time since winning the UEFA Champions League, he took a good look around the cavernous stadium. Barça's motto of 'Més que un club' (More than a Club) is emblazoned on the empty seats. Recalling past meetings, the 66-year-old agrees there is something special about Barcelona v United. "[The 4-0 defeat] was a great occasion for us in the sense that we realised what retention of the ball meant," he said. "It was a great lesson to us."

Attacking beliefs
The sides also met in the group stage in 1998/99, the year of United's treble triumph, drawing 3-3 in both legs – "a demonstration of the beliefs of both clubs" according to Ferguson, who added: "Looking back at those games, it could actually have been more than 3-3. In the Nou Camp there were periods when I thought we were going to lose by ten, and there were periods when I thought we were going to win by ten. That was how the game was played, it was so open. A marvellous, marvellous game."

Common ground
The teams have much in common. A commitment to attacking football, a global appeal and long histories built on success. Barcelona might even have had Sir Alex as manager, with the Scot apparently declining their overtures while in charge of Aberdeen FC. Both also feel they should have lifted more than two European Champion Clubs' Cups. Indeed, for Sir Alex, United's third conquest is long overdue. Last term his hopes fell apart at a rain-battered San Siro as AC Milan followed BV Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2002 in ousting United in the last four.

Were inspiration needed this time, the scene of United's glory of 1999 should provide it. The evergreen Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs played that night, while Paul Scholes was suspended. Sir Alex, however, is looking to the future. "It's almost ten years ago. I think the team of today is the team of today. They don't need to be reminded of the past – they've seen it many times on video so I don't think it's lost on anyone in our team. Even more important is what they can shape for themselves on their own – history hopefully. I think we're good enough to do that."