Former Manchester United defender Fabio Da Silva has lifted the lid on the 2011 Champions League defeat to Barcelona, insisting that his team could have won – if they had scored the first goal on the night.
The match has been one of the most heavily debated in United’s history. Coming two years after the defeat to the same team in Rome, manager Sir Alex Ferguson suggested he had learned from what went wrong – but at Wembley, one of the best Barcelona sides put on one of their best ever performances to win 3-1.
It led to criticism over the manager’s tactics, with Wayne Rooney revealing in the Times last year that he felt they had been ‘suicidal’; in the final, Ferguson had wanted United to be on the front foot, and Rooney felt that played into the hands of the opponent.
Fabio, however, can understand why Ferguson decided to go with the plan. Speaking in the new book The Sunshine Kids, Fabio’s joint autobiography with twin Rafael, he has gone into detail to explain what happened in the final, and we have a short extract from it here exclusively for TalkOfTheDevils readers.
Fabio was enjoying his best ever season at the club, playing fantastic football and establishing himself as first-choice. His performances in Europe had been outstanding, and he earned his final selection.
“Wayne’s understanding was better than mine, but I can definitely agree that the gaffer said he didn’t want to sit back,” Fabio says. “He felt that in Rome, the team hadn’t played aggressively enough or pressed them enough. You can understand where the manager is coming from. It’s a matter of pride on the big occasions and he didn’t want it to be as difficult as it had been in 2009.”
“From the outside it looks as if you’re not getting close enough. That’s the problem when you play against a team who are so capable in possession and have the maturity and experience to be patient. Every time you go to press them, they break the lines. So the idea was to press them early, to be in their faces, even if it would lead to mistakes. Unfortunately, it did.”
United’s team was not the same as it had been in 2009. Cristiano Ronaldo was in Madrid and Carlos Tevez was at Manchester City. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were two years older – Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, seemingly destined to provide so much of the engine room in 2008, had suffered with injuries which effected their career. Darren Fletcher, whose absence in the 2009 final was seen as key, was in the early stages of his long-term illness issue.
Even with this taken into account, United had won the Premier League title again in 2011, and had performed with professional quality in the Champions League. Their defeats of Chelsea and Schalke had proven their brilliance.
“We had similar qualities,” Fabio says. “We had shown them against every other team. Against any other team, our experience, patience and quality was superior and made the difference.”
In the book, Fabio details how he perceives tika-taka as a tactic.
“The Barcelona style is nice on the eye and it is effective,” he says. “We were not the only good team they defeated. But, honestly, I do find it a little boring to just keep the ball. My preference is for a game plan with more excitement, more tackling. More fun. The principle purpose for keeping the ball in that approach is that by you having it, you are preventing the opposition from scoring. That isn’t what football is supposed to be about for me.”
And he still believes that Ferguson’s tactics would have been victorious – if only United had scored the first goal. Against Chelsea and Schalke, as well as against Barcelona in 2008, the approach had paid dividends.
“I am convinced that if we’d scored the first goal at Wembley – and in Rome, for that matter – we would have beaten them,” Fabio said. “If Wayne’s goal had been the first goal of the game. If. I don’t think they would have been able to score past us if we had played in that sort of compact way we did in the 2008 semi-final.”
The Sunshine Kids is published on Monday. You can order your copy now on Amazon for just £13.09 – a saving of 33%.
If you are based outside of the UK, Book Depository are also offering the book at a discount, with FREE international delivery. The links are in the comments below.