That Barcelona more than merited the trophy - shouldn’t be questioned. That Messi emerged triumphant from his duel with Christiano Ronaldo for the unofficial title of ‘best player in the world’ - seems clear-cut. That Xavi and Iniesta dominated possession and showcased the beautiful and ruthless artistry of a passing game that cut United’s 5 man mid-field to shreds - is beyond doubt. But that 20 minutes into the game anyone would have known this would be the narrative of the Champions League Final – is shocking.

Things seemed to be heading to such a different conclusion. The early goal that United conceded seemed to knock them sideways. There was a tangible sense of shock, injustice even, having started the game so well. Until Eto’os goal, United looked every bit the champions elect, poised to make history in winning back to back Champions League Finals. United were full of verve and confidence, stretching the Catalan giant’s defence, out-working them in midfield. Ronaldo was consistently able to isolate defenders and had produced 4 shots in as many minutes. Pique looked hesitant, Anderson even managed to nutmeg Yaya Toure. It really did seem just a matter of time before United scored and continued their inevitable march towards the trophy. It seemed like that…

But then the goal changed everything. Suddenly the Barcelona passing engine clicked into gear. In a moment new confidence was breathed into the diminutive players of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. They found an extra yard of pace, an extra second of thinking time on the ball, and United seemed rocked to the core. Everyone waited for the impact of the famous hairdryer-treatment from Sir Alex Ferguson at half-time, but try as he might through motivation or substitutes he seemed as powerless on the sidelines as his team looked on the pitch.
It’s a curious quality of sport that something so important like the outcome of a game is so far beyond our control. Thankfully there were no controversial moments or dodgy refereeing decisions that turned the game, but even so; did the Barcelona players really think 20 minutes in that they were going to waltz away with the trophy? Could United have foreseen such a swift turnaround in their fortunes?

We may talk of Messi ‘pulling the strings’ of a game, or Pep Guardiola ‘master-minding’ victory, but the reality is that no matter how great any player or manager is – it’s an illusion to portray them as in control. There is only one person in control, God who reigns in heaven and does whatever he pleases. Great players may have incredible skill and drive, but do they have the great humility to acknowledge this reality about God. And if I can be so bold – do you?
[This article was written by Pete for Christians in Sport dated 28 May 2009]