Manchester United’s players and staff haven't dwelled too much on the defeats to Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals. While Barca named areas of Camp Nou after Rome and Wembley, the defeats elicited headshakes from those at Old Trafford.
They still do, but the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and his coaches has brought more analysis of those disappointments recently.
Eric Steele was Ferguson’s goalkeeping coach. Asked about Rome in 2009, Steele, who is now working at Derby County, said: “Heartbreaking. We all know that we didn’t give a good account. Edwin was disappointed with his performance in both finals against Barca, which is a shame because of the work that he put in.
"But reaching those two finals was an achievement. I’ll never forget Ronaldo’s goal at Porto in the quarter-final. That was one of the great goals in my time at the club. A huge amount of preparation went into that game – and the Inter Milan game.
"For Porto, the manager decided to leave Ronaldo up front on his own. That was the beauty with Cristiano. You could play him wide left midweek and then put him up top three days later. Or you could play him wide right and put him up against a weaker full back. He gave the manager so many options.
"So it was frustrating to play as we did in Rome. Barca performed better individually and as a team. Our players didn’t follow their game plan. We knew how to play against Barcelona and we did that for the first 10 minutes, but you need to do it for 90 minutes. You have to press them high. If you allow them to play, you may as well throw a second ball on."
Ferguson dedicates a chapter of his new book to the two finals, entitled: 'Barcelona (2009-11) – Small Is Beautiful’.
"A major inhibiting factor in Rome, I will say now, was the choice of hotel," says Ferguson. "It was a shambles. For meals we were in a room with no light; the food was late, it was cold."
"At Barcelona they had these wonderful mites, 5 feet 6 inches tall with the courage of lions, to take the ball all the time and never allow themselves to be bullied," said Ferguson. "The accomplishments of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were amazing to me.
"The group of world-beaters who formed around Messi were formidable. I felt no envy towards these great sides. What I could never quite understand is how their players were able to play that number of games. They fielded almost the same side every time."
The pair met at Wembley two years later.
"Again, we didn’t follow our game plan," said Steele. "The full XI need to be committed, but certain players got into pockets and you could see others getting disillusioned. You need to deny Barcelona the ball. If you have the ball, you can use it. When Barcelona get on top, you spend a lot of time chasing. Then it starts to affect you mentally. Did we have anyone who could lift us that day? No. Everyone was devastated.
"The last 20 minutes were a blur. There was no way back. We couldn’t get the ball. You can’t get back into a game if you can’t get the ball. We gave poor goals away, before we got a great one back. We were dying before that. Who scored it? Wayne Rooney. Just remember that fans when you’re screaming for him to leave. I’m a big supporter of Wayne."
Ferguson views it slightly differently.
"Sometimes players play the occasion, not the game," he explains in the book which comes out tomorrow. "Wayne Rooney, for example, was disappointing. For some reason, Antonio Valencia froze on the night. He was nervous as hell. We never really attacked their left-back, who had just come back from an illness and hadn’t played a lot of games."
Valencia and Rooney weren’t the only culprits for Ferguson, who added: "Michael Carrick was below his best too. In the days after that loss I began taking a serious look at the coaching in our academy.”
United haven’t been beyond the last 16 in the two years since, with Ferguson clearly distraught at the manner in which they exited his last Champions League campaign against Real Madrid. United were leading 1-0 when Nani was controversially sent off. Madrid equalised and then former United player Ronaldo got a winner.
"Cristiano declined to celebrate his goal," said Ferguson. "Which is just as well, because I would have strangled him. There were no issues with him at all. He’s a very nice boy."
The defeated floored Ferguson.
"It was an absolute disaster," he said. "I was particularly upset that night and gave the post-match press conference a miss. If we had beaten Real Madrid, there would have been every reason to imagine we'd win the competition."
United play Real Sociedad in Group A tonight. They don’t look like potential European Cup winners on the form shown so far this season, but stranger things have happened in football.