In a press conference this morning, former Barcelona goalkeeper and manager Juan Carlos Unzué has announced that he has ALS. Ánimo Unzué.
“I am signing for a modest, but committed, team: that of the ALS patients. I will have many teammates, we are around 4,000 in this country. The transfer market unfortunately has a lot of movement, as every day we have three new faces, and we lose three people”.
With these words, together with a commendable courage and character, former goalkeeper and manager Juan Carlos Unzué has announce that he suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, MND or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A progressive neurodegenerative disease for which currently there hasn’t been found a cure.
A horrible motor neurone disease. But still, Unzué presented himself at FC Barcelona’s Auditori 1899 on Thursday morning to expose such news, always with a smile in his face and speaking with bravery and optimism. He talked about how this upcoming journey will certainly produce him satisfaction as he wants to play a part in the investigation for such terrible illness. “You would be surprised about the adaptability and strength of human beings”, Juan Carlos Unzué said. “Other patients have shown me a great desire to wanting to continue to live, despite the difficulties, because life is worth it”.
Juan Carlos Unzué was Luis Enrique’s assistant at Barcelona | Photo by Imago
The ALS is a debilitating and fatal disease. Since the beginning of the disease, half of its patients die within the first three years, 80% after less than five years, and 95% after less than ten years. In Spain it is still considered a rare disease, with many unknowns and still much room for investigation, which results in the death of neurones controlling voluntary muscles. In the case of Unzué, the ALS is “affecting my extremities, my arms, hands and legs”.
But in this morning’s press conference in front of the media, with Quique Setién, Gerard Piqué, Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol attending it too, Juan Carlos has set an example in spite of facing a “disease without treatment or cure except for some pills that the majority of patients take to help slow the progression of the illness”. As he announced it, he expressed: “I assure everyone that knows me that I am dealing with it well, that I am strong mentally to live with this difficult illness and I feel privileged for all that life has given me until this moment”. With a strong message, he said: “I am not sad and I will never fear what will happen soon. I will face my disease with full force”.
In football, one day you win, one day you lose. One day you play for a team, and another day you play for another team. Juan Carlos Unzué, having devoted his entire career to football, wants to transmit such lessons to people’s lives too. From 1988 to 1990 he played as a goalkeeper for Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona, even if he was the back-up to Andoni Zubizarreta. Later he joined Sevilla, where he met with Diego Armando Maradona. After retiring in 2003, Unzué immediately returned to Barcelona as a manager.
He first was the goalkeeping coach of Frank Rijkaard’s Barça, and retained his position after Pep Guardiola was appointed in 2008. In 2010 he departed to be a coach on his own in the Spanish second division, but later joined Luis Enrique as his assistant at RC Celta de Vigo for the 2013/14 season. As Luis Enrique was named Barcelona’s first team manager in 2014, Unzué returned to Catalonia again as he continued to be his assistant. After Lucho‘s exit in 2017, Juan Carlos had been the main coach at Celta and Girona.
As Barcelona fans, it is a privilege and honour to have had a person with such personality, joy, professionalism and strength at the club. We would like to wish him to stay strong during such difficult times, but we are sure he already will. “Today is a great day because all of us who are present here have been able to wake up. Life is really worth it”.
An example to everyone. Muchos ánimos, Juan Carlos Unzué.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.