As Barça B celebrates its 50th birthday, we remember the key yet often overlooked figure of former player and academy coach Quique Costas.
On 12 June 1970, Barça B was founded. Following the advise of coach Vic Buckingham, president Agustí Montal decided to merge Club Esportiu Comtal and Atlètic Catalunya, which had previously been acting as Barcelona’s second teams. This was 50 years ago today. Since then, Barça B, initially called Barça Atlètic, has produced an endless list of talents, all shaped in accordance with a unique philosophy. Throughout its history, Barça B has played in three different stadiums, Fabra i Coats, Miniestadi and Estadi Johan Cruyff, while it has competed in all categories from the Third Division B to the Second Division.
At present it finds itself in the Second Division B, or the third tier of Spanish football, but it hopes to achieve promotion to Segunda through next months’ play-offs. Still, it really isn’t results what have determined the importance and quality of Barcelona B. Instead, its greatest impact lies in the countless gems produced and the exemplary methodology followed through all these years.
José Maria Loredo was the first Barça Atlètic player to make his debut in the first team, but many more have followed him. The likes of Guillermo Amor, Josep Guardiola, Chapi Ferrer, Sergi Barjuán, Iván de la Peña, Carles Puyol, Víctor Valdés, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodríguez, Thiago Alcântara or Sergi Roberto are some of the many honourable products to have gone through Barça B in the past half a century. Meanwhile, Carles Aleñá, Riqui Puig, Álex Collado, Monchu Rodríguez or Ansu Fati all hope to join the list of Barcelona icons after having developed and shown glimpses of their quality at the B.
To shape and teach these innumerable youngsters, though, Barça B has had many other historic coaches that have guided such gifted teenagers. In total, the B has had 18 different managers, which include true professors like Laureano Ruiz, Joan Segarra, Toni Torres, Martínez Vilaseca, Josep Maria Gonzalvo, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique or Eusebio Sacristán. Or the latest one, Xavier García Pimienta, who reunites all the knowledge and capacities to be the perfect heir to all of them.
Quique Costas, during his time at Barcelona as a player
Still, one of, if not the, best managers to have ever coached Barça B is none other than Quique Costas. For his humanity, expertise and generosity, Quique is highly regarded at Barcelona. He first was a player, signing for the Catalans from Celta de Vigo in 1971. He was part of Johan Cruyff’s era at the club as a footballer, and together they won the league in 1974 with a famous 0–5 victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. Cruyff already was a very demanding teammate, and Costas learned a lot from him.
A team player, Quique Costas later became a magnificent servant for the club as a coach. Not only does he hold the record with 418 games as Barça B’s manager but, especially, he has left his mark on endless young footballers or “nanus”, as he called them in Catalan. Quique never wanted to attract too much attention, as he was always willing to help the club from the background of the B. An extraordinary pedagogue, he sheltered his teenage students under his wings while giving them freedom to fly on their own when they had to.
He perfectly knew what did each of his players needed, since each required a different treatment or guidance. Andrés Iniesta, for example, was very self-sufficient, and was like a sponge in acquiring all the concepts he transmitted him. Shared by El País, Quique expressed: “Iniesta was a delight as a kid. I remember fondly a game in the Second Division B against Zaragoza’s reserves. He played as the holding midfielder and delivered an exhibition that La Romareda [Zaragoza’s stadium] will never forget. Andrés is very loveable for his footballing and human quality: he’s close, humble, affectionate”.
❛ The people currently in charge of Barça want immediate results and I think that patience is needed. They wanted the B team to be in the Second Division A instead of the Second Division B, but why? Now they think of signing players aged 25 or 28, but that’s worth nothing. It’s bread for today, hunger for tomorrow ❜
Mentor for Pep Guardiola, Iván de la Peña or Iniesta himself, among many others, Costas would say: “It is not the same to coach a professional than a boy. There are some ages which are particularly difficult; you must always be conscious that you can hurt and ruin the teenager, and thus you must be fair and honest with the decisions you make”.
Generous and caring, Quique Costas always thought about others first, and about himself second. He was the B boss on three separate, from 1989 to 1996, from 2001 to 2003 and from 2005 to 2007, but when he was not a manager he also supervised and helped in trainings. He always waited for his contract to be renewed at the end of each season, and in 2014 he thought the same would happen again.
Nevertheless, when he returned from vacations, he found out that the board had decided to retire him. He was first told that he would continue, but, in the end, president Josep Maria Bartomeu informed him that, at the age of 67, it was time to retire. Not a pleasant way to say goodbye to a man that had given a lot to Barcelona while always asking for nothing in return through 43 uninterrupted years. Continuously away from the spotlight of the first team, the values, modesty and unselfishness of people like Quique Costas are what make a colossal institution like FC Barcelona more human and gentle.
Josep Samitier, the artist and hero of Barcelona’s first golden age
Josep Samitier was a surrealist artist on and off the pitch and a legendary midfielder that brought Barcelona its first successful era in the 1920s, as well as some controversy throughout his career.
Surrealism, a deceptive interrogation of reality that transcends the human subconscious to manipulate or alter the coherent understanding of existence. Josep Samitier Vilalta, or “L’home llagosta” (The lobster man) was the most surreal portrait in the history of FC Barcelona. He was called the ‘surrealista’, because his genius produced the illusions on the pitch that were perplexing to fathom as reality.
History is constructed up on the interdependency of figures and events. Samitier was one of those figures who created a rift in the annals of world football to produce the first reverberation of football in the streets of Barcelona. The footballing revolution in Catalonia peaked in the early 1920s, especially in Barcelona, as it was the beginning of the first golden age.
With the construction of the Les Corts stadium, the club assembled a group of talented, young players. Josep Samitier, along with Paulino Alcántara, Ricardo Zamora, Emili Sagi-Barba, Vicenç Piera and Agustín Sancho became the first generation of the club idols. Samitier, among others, was an integral part of Barcelona’s rebuilding of character and went on to become one of the most significant personalities both in terms of sporting and cultural relevance.
Samitier was born on 2nd February 1902 in a Catalan working-class family. As a young boy in the streets of Barcelona where the roads of passion and dreams lead to the grant Les Corts, ‘El Sami’ would kick the ball around waving at the passing commons.
After the club’s establishment, FC Barcelona had quite an attachment with the proletarian class. Especially at the time of industrial unrest, the institution always kept them close and the stadium was always packed with the same working-class populace. Young minds like Samitier who would grow up in the streets of Barcelona always had the ball on their feet and club in their heart.
Samitier started playing for FC Internacional before making his debut for Barcelona at the age of 17 in 1919. The club museum still preserves and cherishes his signing bonuses, a shimmering watch and a three-piece suit. By 1925, Samitier became the highest-paid player at the club and thus became the highest-earning player in the country.
The division of labour was evident in the early years of European football. Whilst the backline remained static to protect the goal, the forward line had to pick and fight the battle on their own. Samitier was among the key figures who created a paradigm shift from this prevailing ‘Basque style’, where the attackers held the sole responsibility to win the ball and navigate their own way to find a goal. Samitier was among the first players to orchestrate the game from the back. He was like a master of the opera performance where he controlled and navigated the rhythm and flow of the game.
Josep Samitier (middle), alongside teammates Emili Sagi-Barba (left) and Vicenç Piera (right) from the successful Barcelona team of the 1920s | Photo by FC Barcelona
Samitier was an exceptional player who could manipulate the ball like a wizard, and he dribbled the ball around the pitch like a ballet dancer. He was the first midfielder general in the history of Spanish football, whose role was the hybrid between a Pivote (central midfielder) and the Leñero (chopper) or sweeper. Samitier was the harbinger of the modern-day box-to-box role. Despite being positioned in a deep-lying role, Samitier was an outstanding goalscorer. It was rather unusual for a midfielder of that time to score an astonishing 184 goals for any club in Europe.
Even though Barcelona was graced with many prolific players, Samitier was the core of the magnificent Barça team of the 1920s. He would hack the ball from the opposition to carry the ball from the midfield to provide a line-breaking pass in the final third. His glorious days at Les Corts were filled with thrilling langosta (lobster) kicks which would eventually evolve into the modern ‘chilena’ or bicycle-kick. Samitier was an entertainer on the pitch. His ostentatious performance attracted the Catalans into the stadium.
His glittering thirteen years in a blaugrana shirt were decorated with 11 Catalan Championships, 5 Spanish Championships and the first Spanish league that began in 1928. Moreover, his time with Barça was embellished with title-winning goals in the Copa del Rey finals of 1922, 1925, 1926 and 1928.
Pepe Samitier’s momentous career at Barcelona transformed him from a sporting figure to a cultural icon in Catalan society. His reputation at the club produced a strong political outline for himself among the intellectuals in the society. It was an unprecedented period in the socio-cultural scenario of Europe. The entrée of subjective art and understanding by Salvador Dalí, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh among other artistic prominence overtook the existing concepts of impressionism and naturalism.
Samitier aligned with surrealism, indulging the spirit of subjectivity. He reflected this both in the game and in his outside loyalties. His acquaintances mostly consist of radical artists and political figures of the time, including the tango maestro Carlos Gardel, Mauricio Chevalier, Salvador Dalí and, in contrast to his idol figure in Catalonia, he also had a close relationship with the dictator Franco.
In 1933, after a dramatic feud with the Barcelona management, an ageing El Sami dropped from the first team. Real Madrid, then called Madrid CF, took advantage of this dispute and were able to convince him to join the club. However, it was his secret allegiance with General Franco that helped Madrid to accomplish the operation.
Even though his short stint at Madrid wasn’t really celebrated, Samitier did guide them to win the La Liga title in 1932/33 and the Copa de España in 1934. But he played a significant role for Madrid, not as a player but as a super-agent in a decade-defining transfer of Alfredo Di Stéfano, whose intended destination was Barcelona. This signing was the inflexion point for Madrid in the 1960s, as Di Stéfano would go on to score 216 goals and play an important role in their European domination. Although Samitier’s allegiance with General Franco was visible, this transfer saga threw the relationship open into society.
Real Madrid’s signing of Alfredo Di Stéfano (right) changed Real Madrid’s history forever | Photo by Staff / AFP via Getty Images
Before the Spanish civil war burst out in 1936, Samitier spent a brief time in managing Atlético de Madrid, succeeding Fred Pentland in the middle of the season, but failed to keep them in the first division. Nonetheless, the season was scrapped as soon as the civil war started and Samitier, who had strong ties with the nationalist side, found himself blacklisted and arrested by the anarchist militia.
Eventually, he was released by the militia and fled to France. His exile to France was later utilized by the Franco regiment to spread the anti-communist propaganda by portraying this event in a film titled ‘The Stars Search for Peace’, where Samitier enacted himself. During his time in France, Samitier joined OGC Nice as a player, where he would unite with his old teammate Zamora. He went onto score 47 goals in 82 matches. In 1939, he retired as a footballer and briefly managed OGC Nice in 1942.
After two years and 8 months, the civil war ended and the nationalists alliance under General Franco demolished the second Spanish republic to establish the new Spanish state. Josep Samitier returned to Spain in 1944, and he took charge of Barcelona. His homecoming was celebrated as he guided Barcelona to win their second-ever La Liga title in 1945 and lifted the Copa de Oro Argentina by beating the Copa del Generalísimo winners Athletic Club de Bilbao.
Subsequently, Samitier became the chief scout of the club and his keen vision in recognising the talent resulted in the discovery and recruitment of Ladislao Kubala, a player who went on to become a legend at Barcelona. The recruitment of Kubala was the status redemption for Samitier, who had lost its shine after the Di Stéfano transfer saga.
In 1972, Samitier rested his soul and left his showmanship and sorcery to cherish in the memories of Catalans. Despite serving Madrid and his close relationship with General Franco, he was given an honourable state funeral as a Catalan hero. Samitier was the most symbolic player in the history of the club. His close affiliation with both the cultural and sporting context of Barcelona formed an irrevocable stature of him in the Catalan society.
Samitier, as a footballing visionary, is a reference to the modern-day midfielders and, on the other hand, he was an imperative cultural icon who embraced a revolutionary socio-cultural movement in his life. Samitier’s journey from being an ambitious boy in the streets of Barcelona to a footballing legend remains one of the inspiring and reviving narrative in the history of the game. Even today, walking down the Josep Samitier Street, one could still gather an enigmatic chanting celebrating the greatest artist in the history of Barcelona.