LONDON — Wembley’s twin towers have long gone, but the memories of European glory haven’t for Manchester United and Barcelona, who return to the scene of their first continental triumphs.
“You could feel the history at the old Wembley,” said United’s 37-year-old midfielder Ryan Giggs, who has played in the old and new stadiums. “Obviously, it’s different now but it’s Wembley, probably the most famous stadium in the world. It’s the home of football.”
The Welshman had just broken into the United team when Barcelona was winning its first European Cup at Wembley in 1992 but wasn’t even born when Matt Busby’s United 1968 side triumphed.
“Playing at Wembley provides so much history,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who was part of the 1992-winning side. “But that is mostly from the old ground.”
That United and Barcelona have each won only two further titles since lifting the cup at the London venue remains one of club football’s bewildering statistics.
Even winning the Champions League final Saturday would move United or Barcelona only level with Bayern Munich and Ajax on four titles, still trailing Liverpool (five), AC Milan (seven) and Real Madrid (nine) on Europe’s roll of honor.
“We’ve only won it three times, which is not enough for this club,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “We should have won the European Cup more times and although we’ve been in the Champions League final three times in four years, we should have done better in previous years.”
Ferguson has enjoyed two successes — in 1999 against Bayern Munich and 2008 against Chelsea — since United became the first club to win the competition under fellow Scotsman Busby in 1968.
The 4-1 victory over Benfica at Wembley came a decade after the Munich air disaster killed eight members of the team and delayed the club’s bid for European domination.