For Alex Ferguson, it was the moment that the future opened up and an opportunity to make history arose again.
And, if it leads to Manchester United lifting the European Cup again, it will be appropriate given how many themes and narratives come together at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Because, although the great Real Madrid of 1960 might have fired his fascination with the European Cup, it was their modern successors at Barcelona that seemed set to define his lasting legacy in it.
Had history taken a different turn and Pep Guardiola not taken control at Camp Nou in 2008, after all, Manchester United might currently hold five European Cups and Ferguson himself a record four. To only add to the sense that we were witnessing the coronation of the greatest ever manager, the 2009 Champions League final might even have seen his team become the first in two decades to retain the competition.
Instead, Ferguson was left talking about one of the greatest ever teams - and it wasn’t his own.
There were a couple of incidents around the 2011 final at Wembley that seemed to give an insight into just how searing a reality check that 3-1 defeat was for the Scot. One was the infamous footage of him silently sat, shaking on the bench. Another was a post-game press conference that verged on purging.
“In my time as a manager I would say, yes, this is the best team I’ve faced,” Ferguson conceded. “I think everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think in any other way. No one’s given us a hiding like that.”
Whatever about a hiding, very few teams even came close to competing with that Barcelona when it mattered most. In three years, the only side that had eliminated them from the Champions League was Internazionale and that was down to a match that went to extremes of emotion and effort, an exceptional tactical and defensive masterclass from Jose Mourinho's team and - not exaggeratedly - mountains moving due to the Icelandic volcano disrupting preparation.
Even more startlingly for Ferguson, he had spoken before that Wembley final of how he knew what went wrong in 2009 and wouldn’t make the same mistakes. He didn’t need to. Barca were on another level.
In short, Ferguson seemed to realise he couldn’t figure out how to defeat them.
Those close to the upper echelons of Old Trafford say that, privately, he had accepted that a 20th league title for United might be his last landmark target. While this Barcelona were around, his team could only ever be second best in Europe.
It was just after watching Chelsea’s dramatic elimination of the Catalans last May that Ferguson turned to a high-ranking United official at a dinner and declared that he would win the Champions League again.
Around that time, and especially after the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad that finally tilted last season’s title race and denied him that 20th trophy, Ferguson also instructed David Gill to work on bringing in players of truly prime quality in preparation for a genuine resurgence. At that point, Eden Hazard was the number-one target but it is understood Robin van Persie’s name was also floated due to his circumstances.
Ferguson was fully fired again.
Chelsea’s defiance in the Camp Nou didn’t just give Roman Abramovich his dream but also the United manager new drive. By so impressively shutting Pep Guardiola’s side out, the Stamford Bridge team had also opened up the Champions League again.
Barca were beatable and the benchmark had been moved.
And, with Ferguson apparently genuinely believing that a treble is on this season and not just using it as motivation for his players, a trio of recent results will have only deepened that feeling.
First, there was Milan’s commanding 2-0 win over Barca. It may well ensure that this is the most unpredictable Champions League quarter-final draw since 2006-07.
Following that, then, there were Real Madrid’s successive - and supreme - Clasico victories. Even if United were to end up facing Barcelona again, they are a team a world away from the wonder of 2008-11.
The other side of those Clasicos, though, is that it might just shift the dynamics another way and merely ensure Real assume the Catalans’ status as the team to beat. That certainly seemed to be the case at the start of the season after the manner in which Mourinho’s team dethroned Barca and may well be again. Most notably, many Real players seemed to be purring with belief again and are talking about how those Clasico victories renewed the side's vigour following a dreadful four months.
“This will spur us on for the clash with Manchester United,” Pepe said. “We have won two very important matches against a tough rival by playing well, and this has boosted our confidence for the game against United.”
Sergio Ramos struck a similar chord.
“This is a great moment for us and we have to make the most of that. Psychologically, the team has been strengthened by the Clasicos and we will go to Manchester convinced we can go through. We know we can.
“Things change - football is about runs, cycles, fashions.”
Ramos’s last statement, though, is one Ferguson might well spin as a positive himself.
For a start, good as Real look again, last season’s utterly devastating displays aren’t quite so readily picked up. It takes rhythm developing and long-term planning coming together beyond a simple run of form.
And, even if they have, the defensive rigour utilised by Chelsea to defeat Barca last season - and that United themselves applied to full effect against the Catalans in 2007-08 - could well do for the other side of the Clasico duo here.
Because, as overwhelming as Real often were in terms of scoring last season, it was usually in games in which they were already ahead. The fact opposition teams had to come out and equalise themselves meant Mourinho’s side could maximise their most potent weapon: cut-throat counter-attacking and Cristiano Ronaldo’s sheer power.
As Leo Messi said, “Madrid kill you on the break.”
Indeed, Barca almost illustrated the worst way to approach them in the last two Clasicos. The Catalans attempted to take the game to Real but without the essential pressing that also pins down their counter-attacks. Again, it was a world away from Barca’s 3-1 win at the Bernabeu in December 2011, let alone the 5-0 a year before.
It is also that contrast, though, which illustrates why this Real will never quite be as good as Guardiola’s Barcelona and why United’s away goal in the first leg may well prove so crucial.
Because, to a degree, the dominant tactical debate of that 2008-11 period still stands.
At their best, Barcelona’s pressing-possession approach ensured virtually every match was played on their terms. By contrast, the exact effectiveness - and perception - of Mourinho’s counter-attacking game is almost always dependent on how the opposition sets up.
In those games against Chelsea, United and so many others, Guardiola’s Barca forced every time to play a defensive game they weren’t necessarily comfortable with, as well as rely on fortune.
At Old Trafford, though, Ferguson can choose to apply a more restrained approach that thereby forces Real into a more proactive game they themselvs are not necessarily comfortable with.
Certainly, it’s difficult to see United offering up Ronaldo the space behind in which to tear into.
Ferguson himself mentioned this as he ruminated on Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat.
“We’ll be okay because it will be a different game. That was the issue on Tuesday, their counter-attacking was terrific. We’re aware of that and our preparation has to include that but I think we’ll score, I really do.”
As to whether Real will score that key away goal of their own, they still have Ronaldo’s heading and long-distance shooting as well as the creativity of Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria.
United, however, have themselves developed the kind of run or “fashion” that Ramos spoke of.
With the return of all their key centre-halves, it is now 447 minutes since they have conceded a league goal. That is their second longest run, by a matter of minutes, since the impermeability of the 2008-09 season.
In that campaign, the manner in which United’s defence managed a record 14 successive clean sheets emphasised how their last truly great team was built primarily on resilience, before the departure of Ronaldo and defeat to Barcelona ended a cycle.
Ferguson will feel that all is finally coming together for the beginning of another.