ROME // Three years on from the agony of a Champions League final defeat, Thierry Henry relished being able to watch the trophy celebration as a winner. Henry was part of Arsenal's losing team against Barcelona at Paris in 2006. The France striker traded north London for Camp Nou one year later and that switch paid off yesterday as Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 for its third European crown.
"Finally, I've been waiting for so long to get this title and now finally today," Henry said. "The last five minutes were the longest of my life. You never know what can happen." The Stadio Olimpico has always been kind to Henry, with the 31-year-old scoring a hat-trick for Arsenal against Roma in November 2002 and a pair for Juventus against Lazio 10 years ago. He didn't get on the scoresheet this time but Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi provided the goals for Barcelona's stylish attack. Henry, Messi and Eto'o combined for 71 goals in Spanish league play this season, the most ever by a trio. "We were playing against the best team in the world. We wanted to play football," Henry said. "It is the birthday of my daughter today, so it is a great day."
Meanwhile, the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola surprisingly dedicated the Spanish club's 2-0 Champions League victory to the recently retired AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini. "Because he deserves it," Guardiola answered. "He's probably the best European player of the last 20 years." Maldini won four European Cups in a glittering career. Guardiola was given an ovation by Italian journalists at the Stadio Olimpico after his comments, which he also spread around closer to home, too.
Guardiola said that without the former coach Johan Cruyff - who along with Guardiola is one of six men to have won the European Cup as player and coach - Barcelona's style of play would never have evolved. Cruyff guided Guardiola and Barcelona's "Dream Team" of the 1990s to victory at Wembley in 1992, and Guardiola showed he had absorbed what he learnt. "I've been lucky to inherit it," he said. "But there are a lot of people I remember right now."