Paul Scholes has hailed Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona as the best team he ever faced, lamenting that his Manchester United side could have been more dominant were it not for them and the Real Madrid sides of the time.
“We were quite unlucky really. In any other era we might have won four, five, or six European Cups,” Scholes told the A Goal In One Podcast.
“But the teams that were about… you look at Guardiola’s Barcelona team – Jesus, how good were they?”
“You could go right through the team. In midfield you had Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi. [Thierry] Henry on the left. Centre halves of Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol. Just unreal. They’re without doubt the best team I’ve played against. They’re one of the best teams that’s ever been.”
Guardiola’s Barcelona defeated United twice in the UEFA Champions League Final: 2-0 in 2009, and 3-1 in 2011.
Scholes won the UEFA Champions League twice, in 1999 and 2008, meaning their first loss at the hands of Guardiola came when they were on the verge of retaining the trophy.
“But If I go a bit further back and think of the Real Madrid side that we played against... They had the Brazilian Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, [Fernando] Redondo was unreal, Raúl, Roberto Carlos, [Fernando] Hierro, Iker Casillas in goal, that was a team that was just ridiculous,” the English midfielder said.
In 2000, United’s defense of the title collapsed in the quarterfinal stage after losing out to eventual champions Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate, thanks to a loss at Old Trafford after a 0-0 draw in Spain.
Three years later, United were eliminated by the same team.
“We got absolutely battered in the Bernabéu one year. 3-1 it was in the first game.”
In the return leg, United put up a fight but were ultimately undone.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick at Old Trafford within an hour, with United trailing 6-3 on aggregate with just a half an hour left in the tie.
A David Beckham free-kick goal, followed by a 1-yard tap-in by the same man, made it interesting with five minutes left on the clock. The score was 6-5 on aggregate, although United would have needed another two goals as they would have lost on the away goals rule even if they had scored one more goal.
That Madrid side would later be eliminated by Juventus, who themselves would lose the final to AC Milan.
“We came up against some ridiculous teams. We did alright against them, but Barcelona just had that edge over that great Real Madrid team.”