Manchester United’s hopes of emulating their first European Cup final success here against Benfica in 1968 foundered as Barcelona deservedly repeated their win against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in Rome two years ago.
The pattern of an entertaining game bore an uncanny resemblance to events in the Stadio Olimpico in 2009 as United started with optimism and intent before being swamped by Barcelona’s brilliance.
Pedro gave Barcelona the lead from one of the many wonderful passes played by Xavi – but Wayne Rooney lifted the gloom during a torrid spell for United with a fine equaliser following a swift exchange with Ryan Giggs.
Barcelona responded by cranking up what Ferguson labelled their passing “carousel” after the break, with man-of-the match Messi at the centre of events as he tortured United.
Messi’s magical feet were decorated by luminous green boots but it was his talent that illuminated Wembley and United’s night was effectively over once he restored Barcelona’s lead with a powerful drive early in the second half.
David Villa’s spectacular third emphasised the gulf in class between the sides and United never threatened to mount the sort of dramatic recovery that has become their trademark.
Ferguson and his players were disconsolate at the final whistle as the nightmare of Rome was revisited but there was no shame in their defeat by one of the finest club sides the game has seen.
There was to be no fulfilling of the destiny United hoped was theirs and no dream conclusion to goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar’s glittering career as he was powerless to prevent Barcelona’s constant wave of beautifully crafted moves.
And as veteran Paul Scholes, who made a brief appearance as substitute, walked up to collect his losers’ medal, thoughts turned to whether this was also his final bow as he considers his future at Old Trafford.
United had hoped to add a fourth victory in Europe’s elite club tournament to a record 19th domestic title – instead they received a brutal lesson in the standards they must achieve from the Barcelona benchmark.
Ferguson insisted he had learned the lessons of defeat in Rome but the same problems swiftly resurfaced as Barcelona stamped their authority on midfield and Messi roamed free to inflict damage, adding another Champions League final goal to the one that sealed victory against United in their previous meeting.
United may dominate in England but Barcelona demonstrated once more, in front of Wembley and an estimated television audience of 300m, that they are peerless on the European stage.
Ferguson, as expected, opted to keep faith with the attacking partnership of Rooney and Javier Hernandez – but there was bitter disappointment for leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov, who failed to even make the substitutes’ bench, Michael Owen getting the nod.
United’s intentions were clear in the opening exchanges with a high-tempo approach designed to deny Barcelona time and space while pushing them back towards their own goal.
After early encouragement, however, Barcelona settled into their smooth passing style and started to give United a rough ride as they struggled to maintain any measure of authority and control was lost.
Pedro flashed the first ominous sign with a shot just wide before Van der Sar saved well low down from Villa. The goal was coming and it duly arrived after 27 minutes.
Xavi had been immaculate on the ball, dictating terms at every opportunity, and another masterly piece of creation played in Pedro, who had time to wrong-foot Van der Sar with a simple finish.
United’s thoughts were scrambled as Barcelona moved the ball around with ease. Ferguson cut an agitated figure in the technical area as he pleaded with his players to concentrate in the face of the Catalans’ domination.
It needed a moment of inspiration to lift United’s spirits and Rooney provided it with the equaliser after 34 minutes. He exchanged passes with Giggs before sweeping a right-foot finish high past Victor Valdes.
Barcelona were swift to regain their composure and almost restored their advantage seconds before the interval when Messi somehow failed to apply the final touch to Villa’s cross inside the six-yard area.
United were out early for the second half, presumably with the words of Ferguson ringing in their ears, while Barcelona waited in the players’ tunnel for the resumption.
And when it did, Barcelona simply picked up the theme that characterised the first half. Van der Sar did well to block Alves’ attempt and Patrice Evra was forced to scramble back towards his own goal to head away Messi’s follow-up.
Messi’s golden talent is unquestioned, but he had been helped by United’s failure to get close enough to halt his advances. It was a hazardous occupation and the heavy price was finally paid after 54 minutes.
The Argentine took full advantage of United’s failure to close him down 25 yards out by flashing a shot past Van der Sar with minimum backlift. The finish was central and close to the keeper but it was struck with astonishing power.
Messi was toying with United and Van der Sar was grateful to save with his legs as he threatened once more. He then played in Alves, whose shot was stopped on the line by Fabio before Xavi ripped in another finish that was held by the Dutchman.
Ferguson attempted to stem Barcelona’s tide by sending on Nani for Fabio in a positive move – but seconds later Barcelona struck again to give the scoreline a more realistic appearance.
Villa has had a mixed first season at the Nou Camp but his enduring class was evident when he curled a precise shot high past the outstretched arms of Van der Sar after 69 minutes.
The rest of the game was merely a conclusion of the formalities as Barcelona lifted the famous trophy for the fourth time and United were left to wonder how they can halt what seems to be an unstoppable force.