London: Alex Ferguson is pondering the most daunting rebuilding task of his 25-year reign at Manchester United after seeing his side destroyed by Barcelona in the Champions League final.
For the second time in three years, Ferguson`s men were comprehensively outplayed by Barcelona on the biggest stage of all, losing a one-sided final 3-1 on an electrifying night at Wembley here Saturday.
Majestic goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa emphatically snuffed out United`s dreams of a fourth Champions League title -- and left Ferguson pondering what he will have to do to conquer Europe once more.
While Ferguson has built a succession of championship-winning sides since joining United in 1986, the scale of the latest construction job -- finding a team capable of dethroning Barcelona -- must be his biggest challenge.
Ferguson, 69, sounded a defiant note as he spoke to reporters in the bowels of Wembley late on Saturday, comparing the final defeat to the mauling United received against Barcelona in 1994, when they lost 4-0 at the Nou Camp.
"This may be the same kind of stepping stone that we had some years ago when they beat us 4-0," Ferguson said.
"We`re improved from that and we want to improve next season."
That defeat 17 years ago marked the beginning of the end for many players at United, with Ferguson putting his faith in the products of the club`s youth system the following season.
A TV pundit disparaged the move, famously remarking that "you win nothing with kids" but United`s new-look team built around the likes of David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes went on to win a league and cup double.
The nucleus of that side ultimately conquered Europe three years later in the 1999 treble-winning season.
Ferguson is all too aware however that the challenge of finding a team capable of toppling Pep Guardiola`s Barcelona is going to be a task unlike any other. The bare statistics from Saturday told their own story.
Barcelona, who enjoyed 67 percent possession, had 19 attempts at goal; United four. United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was forced to make eight saves during the match; Barcelona counterpart Victor Valdes none.
Barcelona won six corners; United none.
"In my time as a manager it is the best team we have faced. I think everyone acknowledges that. I accept that. It`s not easy when you have been well beaten like that to think any other way," Ferguson said.
"No one has given us a hiding like that."
"It`s not going to be easy but that`s the challenge, we shouldn`t be afraid of that," Ferguson said when asked about United`s rebuilding plans.
"The challenge is always to improve yourselves, to build your team, I think we have some very good players, we`ll mull it over in the summer."
It looks increasingly likely that some members of the United squad have played their last games for the club.
Bulgarian record signing Dimitar Berbatov did not even find it onto United`s bench, raising the possibility he will be sold over the summer, while Saturday was the final curtain call for goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
While midfielder Ryan Giggs, 37, has signed for another season, fellow veteran Scholes has yet to confirm his plans for next year.
Ferguson may also feel it is time his midfield were given an overhaul. The limitations of the energetic Park Ji-Sung were laid bare by Barcelona on Saturday while Michael Carrick failed to gain any sort of a foothold.
United have been strongly linked with Inter Milan`s Wesley Sneijder as a like-for-like replacement for Scholes, while Aston Villa`s Ashley Young is also firmly in the frame.
Tottenham`s Gareth Bale, viewed as the solution to Giggs` looming retirement, is also on United`s radar but the Spurs winger will not come cheap if he is to be prised away from White Hart Lane.