By Isaac Moreno
Given current events, we should focus a new Barcelona Legend on the figure of Andoni Zubizarreta, FC Barcelona General Manager until few days ago. Many of us know him only for holding this position, but he is indeed a Legend of Barcelona. He was a goalkeeper and for almost 10 years, until Victor Valdés appeared, he was strongly missed by the supporters. To get an idea, in the ten years between these two legends we had in goal Busquets (a proto-Neuer and father of Sergio Busquets), Vitor Baia (Portuguese, supposedly then the best in the world and a fiasco in our team), Hesp (a very decent Dutch keeper), Reina (former Liverpool player), Dutruel (a French keeper barely remembered), Bonano (nice Argentinean dude) and Rustu Reçber (a Turkish goalie currently in Beşiktaş).
Zubizarreta, or Zubi as he was called, made his debut in the First Division of Spain with Athletic de Bilbao in 1981, when he was only 20 years old, and he would win 2 Ligas with the Basque team in 82/83 and 83/84. Already considered the best goalkeeper in Spain he signed for Barcelona in 1986 where he received the warm Catalan hostility because he came to move from the goal another legend and beloved player: Urruti. It took him a year of whistles and boos in Camp Nou but finally supporters understood the goal was well covered with him and so it was for 8 years in which he was part of the “Dream Team”. In Barcelona, he won 4 Ligas, 2 Copas del Rey, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 European Cup (the first one ever in 1992).
His style was defined as sobri, which in Catalan is used for objects that lack superfluous ornaments, like an old wooden table, and it is certainly hard to remember Zubi flying in for a diving save. He was mostly praised for his positioning, the ball seemed often to go where he was, and for the control of the long ball, something not that common in goalkeepers today. This same sobriety in his character made him an important element among his teammates, being part of the vaques sagrades (the sacred cows), a group formed by the most prominent players. He was also named captain of FC Barcelona.
He came to Barcelona when we had a British coach, Terry Venables, and left when Johann Cruyff blamed him for what is called in Catalunya as La desfeta d’Atenas (The destruction in Athens) when Barcelona lost the Champions League Final (then European Cup) 4-0 against AC Milan. The story is well-known: in the flight back from Athens, Zubizarreta was told he was out of the team for good. He complained he could not even say goodbye to the supporters in a proper way. Such is life, they told him and without a proper good-bye he left to Valencia where he played for 4 years before retiring. This tactless farewell was not due to Zubi’s performance in the final game (awful like the rest of the players), but with Johann Cruyff’s revolutionary ideas. The Dream Team played a very offensive game that often left the defense unprotected (Koeman, who played as the last man, was often sent off with a red car for trying to stop counter-attacks), and that forced the keeper to step ahead and play with his feet, which was the worst skill Zubizarreta had. So Cruyff’s vision was a goalkeeper who could play like a defender. In those times there were none to be found, so he substituted Zubizarreta with his own creation, Carles Busquets, a goalkeeper bred in La Masia, who was good with his feet and terrible with his hands.
After hanging up his cleats he worked with Jorge Valdano to create a sports consulting group called Make a Team, which is part of Ernst&Young and started his career as General Manager in Athletic de Bilbao in 2001 where he lasted 3 years. In 2010 he was part of the candidacy that won the elections for Barcelona presidency and became his friend Pep Guardiola’s boss (some people say now ex-friend). A year later he appointed Tito Vilanova as Pep’s substitute. A year after that, president Rosell appointed Tata Martino. A year after that it seems Zubizarreta appointed Luís Enrique. Half a year later substitute president Bartomeu fired Zubizarreta. And that’s where we are now.