As he prepared to take on Barcelona in Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley, Ferguson lamented a missed opportunity to link up with Guardiola while he was still a defensive midfielder rather than one of Europe’s most respected coaches.
The opportunity arose in 2001 when the then-30-year-old Guardiola was slowed by injury and ended a 17-year stay at Barcelona.
But Guardiola, a central figure in Johan Cruyff’s so-called Barcelona “Dream Team” of the early-to-mid 1990s, instead opted to join Italian club Brescia rather than test himself in the physical Premier League.
Ferguson called it “a moment lost,” but Guardiola was less romantic in his recollection.
“My experience in Brescia was wonderful,” Guardiola said Friday. “I met some wonderful people and it was great. If I had gone to Manchester United, I would have left sooner.
“Alex Ferguson made the right decision not to sign me because I was on the way down.”
Less obviously gifted than teammates Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup, Guardiola was key to Barcelona’s flowing soccer under Cruyff.
Like Claude Makelele would do a few years later for France and Real Madrid, Guardiola’s simple passing and positioning laid the platform for the stars alongside him to shine.
Nonetheless, Ferguson was unequivocal in his admiration for Guardiola as a player and thought seriously about adding him to a squad already containing midfielders David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs.
“I was quite interested in Guardiola at the time and I think I spoke to his agent when he left Barcelona,” Ferguson said. “But whatever happened, he went to Italy. Maybe it was a moment lost because I did admire him as a footballer, as a passer.”
After being outsmarted by him when Barcelona beat Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final, Ferguson was as complimentary about his opponent as a coach.
“For a young coach he’s done tremendously well,” Ferguson said. “If you look at the recent history of the club with Dutch coaches, he’s done a lot to bring Spanish coaches on.”
Rumors are rife in the Spanish press that Guardiola could be set to quit after the final, with pressure and knowledge weighing upon him that his team is as good as any team.
Guardiola said he was not thinking of his future, only the final, but Barcelona captain Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes were adamant that their coach is where he belongs.
“I can only say I hope he won’t leave and I hope he will be with Barcelona for many years to come,” Puyol said. “He’s the best trainer in the world. That’s his place: with Barcelona.”