Losing in finals are never easy, but for Manchester United back in the 2011, their defeat to Barcelona at Wembley in the Champions League is surely one that causes heartbreak.
The Red Devils arguably came up against one of the greatest club sides in the history of the game, and despite putting up a valiant effort, saw them go down to a 3-1 defeat.
Speaking after United’s loss, Sir Alex Ferguson was gracious in admitting that they were as good as anything he had seen in his illustrious managerial career.
He said: “They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.”
United’s back-line was as strong as it could have been with the likes of Edwin van der Sar in between the sticks, and Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in front of him. But at right-back, a very inexperienced, Fabio, aged just 20 at the time, was given the improbable task of trying to help shackle an awe-inspiring Barcelona attack.
And the Brazilian could not manage to do so, with left-winger Pedro opening the scoring and putting the writing on the wall. It would have been a difficult job for anyone, let alone a player still trying to make his name.
But in this world of trying to imagine ‘what if?’, could an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signing from last summer made any difference back in that game?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was signed by the Red Devils for big-money from Crystal Palace, and has only enhanced his reputation in his debut campaign at Old Trafford. Despite missing a couple of games in the Premier League – the full-back nicknamed ‘The Spider‘ for his ability to use his long legs when challenging for the ball – has made an impressive 99 tackles, which puts him second amongst all players in the top-flight.
It’s little surprise that Jamie Carragher even lauded him as “one of the best one-on-one defenders in the world. I don’t think anybody would be able to get the better of him”.
Had Wan-Bissaka played instead of Fabio in 2011, would things have turned out differently? What it certainly could have done is changed the dynamics of Barcelona’s attack. The £36m-rated ace would have been far more aggressive in trying to win the 50/50s with Pedro, and if that was a duel he ended up winning in the early part of the game, then United could look to offer more protection to the other side of the pitch where Lionel Messi was wreaking havoc.
Simply by dominating his own one-on-one match-up, Wan-Bissaka would have allowed Ferguson’s side to have more bodies on the left-hand side, knowing full well they could rely on their right-back to deal with his own problems by himself.
It is certainly a stretch to say the former Palace man would absolutely have changed the outcome of the game, but it does raise an intriguing debate about whether he could have save United from their Champions League heartbreak.