When he moved from Argentina to Catalonia as a 13 year old boy, all he wanted was to one day play with the Barcelona first team in the Camp Nou. No one would have predicted that he would make his official debut with the first team at the tender age of 17. Today he is viewed as the greatest player of his generation, and arguably one of the best players to ever play the beautiful game.
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).
Cruyff laid the foundations for what you see now. He was responsible for the major turnaround of the club. – Ronald Koeman
Since this month we play against Levante we will introduce a well known figure of both clubs and 3 time winner of the Ballon d’Or (1971, 1973, 1974): Johan Cruyff. Famous 3 times over: as a player, as a coach and as a soccer guru. He is the father of Barcelona’s modern soccer success and nothing explains his influence in our club better than the cover of France Football Magazine with three Barcelona shirts: the Father being Cruyff, the Son being Guardiola and the Holy Spirit being Messi.
Cruyff, Guardiola and Messi’s jerseys
Johan Cruyff joined Ajax of Amsterdam youth teams when he was 10 years old and he was there in the beginning of the 70s when a Dutch coach, Rinus Mitchels, conceived of total football: offensive playing, preassure everywhere in the field, changes of position, and fast passing. After winning 3 consecutive European Cups (the old Champions League) he left Amsterdam and landed in Barcelona the year 1973 to play for a team that had won its last league in 1960. Back then culés thought of themselves as part of an oppressed institution that didn’t win due to external interests, the number one of those being the fascist regime that ruled Spain and controlled all the referees, so when Barcelona won the league that season Cruyff was pleased to find himself turned into a hero: “I was used to being congratulated, but here people said thank you“. That season also left a game for history: 0-5 in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. After that game -according to writer Jimmy Burns- a New York Times journalist wrote that Cruyff had done more for the spirit of the Catalan people in 90 minutes than many politicians had done with years of struggle. Cruyff also blended with Catalan society and chose a Catalan name, Jordi, for his son. He probably blended too much and started talking more than doing (“You are only a better player than the rest when you take care of your body”, said the man who smoked at the half time in the changing room) and complaining more than playing (“The Barcelona coach always did the opposite of what I told him to do”), so he did not win anything else besides a Copa del Rey and left in 1978. He then moved to US where he played for the Washington Diplomats in DC. Then he played 10 games for Levante and finished his careeer in Netherlands.
Cruyff became a coach with the mission of improving total football and he brought his tactical revolution to Barcelona in 1988. He also had a request that would be key in the future of Barcelona’s soccer success: the tactical revolution and the training methods had to be applied to the young teams as well. What was that revolution? Every Barcelona fan has a different aphorism of the master that summarizes it: “If you have the ball, the other team doesn’t have it”; “The most important thing is the rhythm of the ball”; “I rather win 5-4 than 1-0”; “The ball is an essential part of the game”; “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”; “To win a game you have to score one more goal than your opponent”. Like the best oracles some of them seem very obvious but we must understand that before him most of the training was physical exercise and the ball was used often as a balloon that had to be played with the head. He also transformed a position known as the 4 in something like a quarterback whose main job was to distribute the ball and has been executed at its best by Pep Guardiola and Xavi. Cruyff changed not only the way FC Barcelona played, also the way Catalan people played. If you’re in an amateur game and you see a player scanning around like a giraffe instead of running, he/she must be Catalan.
With Cruyff, Barcelona won our first European Cup in 1992 and became known worldwide as The Dream Team. His last words to the players in the changing room of The Wembley Stadium before the final against Sampdoria was “go out there and enjoy”. But all stories have an end and he parted on bad terms with the president when, it is said, he asked him to spend money on two then unknown young french players: Zidane and Thierry Henry (“money must be on the pitch, not in the bank”, he told him). At least a different president years later accepted his advice of hiring Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola as coaches.
These days he plays golf and sometimes he appears on Dutch TV analyzing games where he says things like “British football has improve since they have foreign players” or ” Italy can’t win; you can lose against Italy” or “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but he’s still a one-eyed man.” Who knows why he said that, but as he confessed once: “When I get home after doing analysis for TV, my wife asks: What did you say? I respond: No clue whatsoever.”
Luís was a good example as a captain. Those were difficult times. I have learned many things from him and I will always be grateful. I think he was a great captain. One of the things I regret the most is that the season after he left we won and he could not lift any trophy, and he deserved it.
In the beginning of the 90s, the almost hundred-year-old Sporting de Gijón, a team from Asturias and well known in Spain for its soccer “school” had a pretty good squad of young players. As it always happens, the big teams wanted to fish there, and Barcelona signed up a midfielder named Iván Iglesias, whose most famous performance in his brief stay in Camp Nou was to be passing by when Romario sent him the ball to score the 5th goal against Real Madrid in the 93-94 season. But everyone in Catalunya knew the good Asturian midfielder was Luis Enrique who had signed with Real Madrid 2 years before. He was skilled but above all fearless. You will realize this if you see a photo of him with a Spanish national team shirt and his face stained with blood during the US World Cup when Italian Mauro Tassotti broke his nose in a corner kick.
His first years in Madrid were not good though, specially because he was used as a left-back, but with Jorge Valdano as Madrid coach he won the Liga the season 94-95 and scored one of the 5 goals against Barcelona in Bernabeu Stadium. That and his character -he was one of those players hated by everyone but their team supporters- made him kind of persona non grata in Barcelona. However, season 95-96 was one of the worst in Madrid history and Luis Enrique, refusing to renew his contract maybe because he wanted to live by the ocean, became one of the scapegoats of the merengues, and since the enemies of our enemies are our friends, Luis Enrique was more than welcomed when he landed in Barcelona the following season. In case you were wondering, by then Iván Iglesias had already gone back to Gijón and he ended up his career in the New York MetroStars (now Red Bulls).
In his first season in Barcelona, Luis Enrique scored more goals in la Liga (17) than he had scored in all his previous years in Madrid combined. This is not a strange fact, since that squad, under the command of 63 years old sir Bobby Robson (who brought an interpreter with him called Mourinho), was so chaotic and unpredictable that an overwhelmed Guardiola spent most of the time in the pitch trying to put the players in order, starting his career as a coach. Next season, with Louis Van Gaal, he scored 18 goals and won the first of the 2 consecutive Ligas he helped us earn.
After that, well, FC Barcelona wandered the wilderness for six painful years or as they call it in Catalunya: the crossing of the desert or the years of the drought in which we won nothing but 2 Catalunya Cups and had 6 different coaches. Those were the times when Barcelona supporters paid more attention to the basketball team and it is fair to say we finally won the longed Euroleague. Luis Enrique, always a favourite of the crowd, was the captain of the team from 2002 to 2004, before passing the armband to Carles Puyol. He retired at the age of 34 under the orders of Frank Rijkaard the year before Barcelona won La Liga again.
After that he moved to Australia where he surfed and ran marathons around the world before he came back to replace Guardiola as the coach of FC Barcelona B team. He coached for one season AS Roma and Celta de Vigo before landing again in Barcelona. With him we can be assure: whoever does not run, does not play.