After Cruyff arrived in 1988 to revolutionise Barcelona, the much-awaited European Cup title did not arrive until four years later. The blaugranas maintained a long-term project that was the beginning of more success. We reminisce the 1991/92 season from Barça.
The 1991/92 season was one of the most glorious seasons in Barcelona’s history, as the team managed to win La Liga, Champions League, Supercopa de España and European Super Cup. These last two trophies were won in the 1992/93 season, yet are also considered as this course’s trophies. Although the titles make us believe that this season was perfect, the reality is that there were many obstacles and difficulties that, without a bit of luck, could have made the azulgranas go trophyless. Fortunately, this was not the case. Not this season.
The season started in an inconsistent way but Cruyff knew how to react in order to succeed
The blaugranas managed to overcome the obstacles that were on their way to end up winning those four titles. Titles that were won following the institution’s philosophy, and what better way than with Johan Cruyff as a mentor. In 1988 the Dutchman began to form a team based on values, restored La Masía and applied a game system that today is Barça’s identity. Cruyff was so powerful that year that the media took it upon themselves to call this side the ‘Dream Team’. This nickname was given to the squad precisely because in that year there were the Olympics Games too and the USA basketball team had never been so dominant in its history. The same thing happened with Barcelona.
The foundations of the team were already laid and settled. Therefore, to face the great challenges with full guarantee, the measures that Cruyff took were more delicate than revolutionary, but always important due to the slight movements he made. The Catalans that summer added four new faces to their squad. Cristóbal Parralo returned after having met with Johan in his first year in Barcelona already, and would add rotation in defence. Juan Carlos Rodríguez, a natural left-back, a position where, after Julio Alberto’s retirement, the team did not have a replacement. Nadal, a new card in defence capable of reaching the goal as a playmaker and of reinforcing the back as a central defender, all in the same move. And, finally, Richard Witschge, the desired number 10, since he was a much-needed left-footed and technical player.
Pep Guardiola was Cruyff’s pick from La Masía for the 1991/92 season
On the other hand, the club had to let Miguel Soler, López Rekarte and Sebastián Herrera go. Perhaps the most significant departure was the one of Soler, but Johan had an improved alternative to him with Witschge, who was undoubtedly vital to the squad’s rotation depth. Tactically, the play focused a lot on the right side, but Cruyff needed his Barça to be just as deadly on the left as on the right, thus why he recruited Richard. The young Dutch was a substitute in La Liga, but in Europe he was crucial to reach the final. Unfortunately, he was unable to play the final at Wembley due to physical problems. A player who brought explosiveness and speed in a different way to the rest.
❛ Our team is really good. The signings have served to provide details, not to the starting eleven, but to the potential of the squad ❜
on the signings for the 1991/92 season
Moreover, La Masía was still working, but this time Pep Guardiola left the academy to join his beloved first team. Despite making his debut in the previous season, it wasn’t until then that Pep earned El Flaco‘s trust and was a starter in almost every match as a pivot. His technical quality did not compare with how smart he was. Pep was Johan’s mentality on the pitch. That’s why he wanted him there, even if Guardiola was barely 20 years old. Cruyff wanted proactive footballers, and the Catalan was one of them.
The starting XI from Barcelona in the 1991/92 season constantly underwent changes. But the line-up below was one that was in action the most, along with others such as Juan Carlos, Goikoetxea and Witschge. Between the sticks stood one of the best goalkeepers in the club’s history, Andoni Zubizarreta putting his great technique and leadership on the field. Cruyff used to deploy a 3–4–3 with Koeman as a centre-back, but also being the one who started the plays with the ball and his pinpoint long distribution. At his sides, Nadal and Nando contributed both in defence and attack constantly.
Johan Cruyff applied the 3–4–3, surprising any other team with this formation
In the centre of the park, Guardiola acted as the pivot to give instructions and read the continuity of the game to ensure that the tactics of the mister were being fulfilled. Bakero above Pep was the connection with the attack. On the left side there were Guillermo Amor and Txiki Begiristain, while on the right stood Eusebio and Stoichkov. Michael Laudrup was utilised many times as some sort of false 9, being one of the pioneers of this position for Cruyff. There were times when Stoichkov played in the middle and Eusebio more in attack, others when Laudrup played a little behind. Different variations, but always with the same idea and conviction.
Besides, while in the European final to Sampdoria Chapi Ferrer and Julio Salinas would be starters, the former was just returning from a six-month-long injury, and the latter usually was a regular substitute.
Stats and competitions
As mentioned earlier, there were obstacles and, without some fortune, we would not be talking about such success. In La Liga, Barcelona had a poor start, losing 3 out of their first 8 games. However, hegemony began to turn as the azulgranas experienced a brilliant run losing only 3 out of their following 30 fixtures. Little by little, Johan’s men were getting better, but, even so, Real Madrid was still in the first place. Going into the final matchday, Barcelona were trailing Los Blancos by a solitary point. Happily, while Cruyff’s Dream Team won its final duel, Real Madrid lost to CD Tenerife by 3–2, handing the second consecutive title to the blaugranas.
Koeman scored 16 goals despite being a centre-back
In the Copa del Rey, the Catalans were knocked out from the tournament prematurely. Valencia beat them by 2–0 at home in the first leg, but in the reverse fixture Barcelona were able to force extra time with a 3–1 win at Camp Nou – there was no away goals rule in that contest. In the 99th minute, Laudrup scored the heroic goal to make it 4–1 as Barça were bound to make it to the next stage. Nonetheless, in the 119th minute Valencia pulled an equaliser in dramatic fashion. After that, the dream of the treble for Barcelona disappeared as Los Ches won on penalties by 4–5.
❛ In the end, it was two fouls that allowed us to win the first European Cup. Everyone talks about Wembley’s, but before there was Kaiserslautern’s ❜
Finally, Barcelona saved the season by winning the mentioned La Liga and, most iconically, the first European Cup in the club’s history against Sampdoria. Although, admittedly, the path to the first continental title was not easy. The Catalans were almost eliminated by Kaiserslautern in the second round of the tournament. Still, with Bakero’s 90th-minute header, the tie ended in 3–3, but the away goals rule gave the victory to Cruyff’s team. From there, Barcelona was consistent until finally reaching the Wembley final. That final was not easy either, as the Spaniards suffered a lot to get their hands on the trophy. Following the 0–0 over the first 90 minutes, in extra time Koeman dressed up as hero to score the winning goal. A strike that came in the 112th minute with a spectacular free-kick. A triumph that was proof that Barça were on the right track with the Cruyffism. This first European Cup marked the rest of the club’s history.
Barça 1996/97 season: The Bobby Robson and Ronaldo Nazário era
With Johan Cruyff’s departure, the azulgranas were beginning a transition stage. The club found his replacement, Bobby Robson, along with a new star: Ronaldo Nazário. The Barça of the 1996/97 season was lethal with the Brazilian, but they lacked a bit of luck to get most titles.
Barça entered into a stage of transition with the departure in 1996 of coach Johan Cruyff, who had spent eight years in charge of the club. As a replacement, the club decided to hire Bobby Robson, an English manager who arrived after doing great jobs with England’s national team, PSV Eindhoven and FC Porto. However, a different philosophy and external pressure made the Robson era more complicated.
Still, the English coach obtained results, in part thanks to Barça’s great signing that season: Ronaldo Nazário. In this campaign, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup and the now abolished UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. The team was also very close to winning La Liga, which was tight until the end, but two cruel afternoons against a newly promoted Hércules deprived them of six points with which the blaugranas would have been champion.
The Bobby Robson era was congruent with the spell of Ronaldo Nazário at Barcelona
Before analysing the signings, a very important point must be taken into account: the Bosman ruling. It is necessary to know that the Bosman ruling began in that summer of 1996 and increased the possibility of having multiple European players in the squad. Previously, teams could only have a maximum of three foreigners on the pitch. This ended in 1996 after former footballer Marc Bosman asked for his rights and changed the history of football. This law favoured all sides, especially the international ones, and Barcelona wasn’t an exception. More freedom was allowed in the transfer market.
One of Robson’s first tasks was expanding the squad depth that the team had been losing in the previous seasons. His first great signing was a young Ronaldo Nazário. After two seasons at PSV, where he scored 42 goals in 46 games, O Fenômeno caught the attention of many clubs, including Barça. In the end, the Dutch club and Barcelona reached an agreement to transfer him for 15 million euros. Without a doubt, one of the Catalans’ best decisions that term.
As a consequence of the Bosman ruling, the blaugranas managed to sign more players. Among them was Vítor Baía, who became the starting goalkeeper, and Giovanni Silva, a creative and skillful playmaker. In addition, the return of Hristo Stoichkov added quality on the bench. Luis Enrique, after being criticised by fans at Real Madrid, arrived to Barcelona to regain his confidence. At last, others like Laurent Blanc and Juan Antonio Pizzi joined the group too.
The Bosman ruling allowed Barcelona, and other teams, to have a deep squad
Barcelona also let several players go to recover the investments made, as was the case of Gheorghe Hagi. Moreover, Mehmed Kodro also departed as he never became the striker he was in his time at Real Sociedad. Jordi Cruyff, after a series of injury problems and, most importantly, the departure of his father Johan, signed for Manchester United, where he was a great squad player under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The La Masía Pick goes to Francesc Arnau. In this campaign there was almost no confidence in Barcelona’s reserves, and Arnau was one of the few who could get his debut. A goalkeeper who started in the background this term, but whose minutes would increase in the subsequent years.
Bobby Robson, unlike Johan Cruyff, was a very conservative coach. While Cruyff liked to risk the defence to get big opportunities in offence, Robson preferred to wait for the counter-attack and increase the defensive capabilities. Surprisingly, it worked in most cases. Well, it must be said that the Englishman had the right players at his disposal to be able to apply his game system.
Vítor Baía, who had a pretty decent first season, was the goalkeeper. As the centre-back duo there were the legendary Laurent Blanc alongside Miguel Ángel Nadal. A solid partnership at all times, with the Frenchman ready to start plays from deep. And as full-backs, the well-known Sergi Barjuán and Chapi Ferrer were the starters, despite their importance decreased as the new system did not benefit them as much as in previous courses.
Not many agreed with his methods at the start of the season, but Bobby Robson ended up being an innovative coach
Barcelona played a 4–2–3–1 formation with a double pivot. Robson had the brilliant vision to discover the versatility of Gheorghe Popescu, a natural centre-back used as a defensive midfielder. Popescu formed a brilliant connection with Pep in midfield. While the Romanian focused on defensive tasks, Pep had more stamina to distribute and attack. It worked perfectly. In front of them was Giovanni Silva, who connected the pivots’ line to the front three. On the left side was Luis Enrique, a pure finisher who could also operate in his more natural central position. And on the right there was Luís Figo, key to enhancing the Catalan attack.
Finally, the number 9 was the best player on the team: Ronaldo Nazário. A physical and mental phenomenon, the Brazilian was energetic and always went with intensity to his beloved purpose: goals. His skills, connection with teammates, finishing ability in the box, intelligence to get off his mark, initiative and ball-protection skills made of R9 an unstoppable forward in his time as a blaugrana. Although many know him for his time at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Ronaldo had his best individual season at Barça. He scored the ridiculous amount of 47 goals in 49 games. The world got to know O Fenômeno.
Stats and competitions
Barcelona had won nothing in the previous season. Still, being runners-up in the Copa del Rey allowed them to qualify for the Spanish Super Cup due to Atlético de Madrid winning the domestic double. The 1996/97 term started with Barça lifting the Super Cup trophy against Radomir Antić’s Atleti. The first leg was a 5–2 victory with a Ronaldo brace in his first official appearance with the Catalans. Robson’s team achieved a good advantage against the best team in Spain that year.
In the second leg, Barcelona did not have Ronaldo, Giovanni, Baía and Figo due to the international break. So a young Julen Lopetegui had to be the goalkeeper of that match along with other players on the bench. In the end, the clash ended in 1–3 for Los Colchoneros, but the aggregate result was of 6–5 for Barça. A title to build confidence in Robson early in the season.
Ronaldo Nazário only stayed for one season at Barcelona, but he made a legendary impact
The 22-teams dynamic in La Liga still existed for this campaign, so all sides played a total of 42 games. Barcelona was a strong candidate to win the league. However, defeats against Real Valladolid and Hércules in the final matchdays made the azulgranas drop important points. In the end, Real Madrid won La Liga with a two-point lead.
In the Copa del Rey, the culés had a brilliant tournament to remember. In the first round, they faced Real Madrid. Barcelona beat Los Blancos after a 3–2 win at the Camp Nou and a 1–1 draw on the road. In the quarter-finals, Barça faced Atlético Madrid in one of the most exciting play-offs in the club’s entire history. The first leg ended in a 2–2 tie at the rojiblancos‘ stadium after a spectacular duel.
Nevertheless, the reverse fixture was a thousand times better. At the Camp Nou, the visitors achieved a 0–3 advantage in the opening 30 minutes with a hat-trick from Milinko Pantić. Time later, in the 47th minute, Ronaldo Nazário opened the scoring for the locals, and just four minutes later he scored the second. The comeback was getting closer until, a few seconds after the 2–3, Pantić scored another goal to complete his poker and lower Barcelona’s motivation. Even so, the azulgranas continued fighting. Figo, Ronaldo, completing his hat-trick, and Pizzi turned the game around to send Barcelona to the next round after a dramatic encounter.
After that, Barcelona comfortably eliminated Las Palmas in the semi-finals and were preparing for the final against Real Betis. The final of the Copa del Rey was as exciting as the run to it. Losing by 1–2, in the final minutes the Catalans equalised the game and sent it to extra time. Here, Luís Figo dressed as a hero and gave Barça the title after a 3–2 victory through the 120 minutes.
Besides, in the 1996/97 season Barça didn’t participate in either the Champions League or the UEFA Cup, currently known as the Europa League. Rather, they took part in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. This was a European tournament that involved the Cup winners of each European country, or the runners-up in case the league and the Cup champions were the same team. The latter was the case for Barcelona, and after an extraordinary run, they reached the final to face Paris Saint-Germain. The game was won by Barça by 1–0 with a penalty goal from Ronaldo in the first half.
All in all, Barcelona managed to win three trophies, even if the minor ones, and were close to achieving La Liga. Still, Bobby Robson agreed with the club to not be the coach for the following season, but remained in a secretary position for a year and was important to the adaptation of the next coach, Louis van Gaal.
In addition to his results, the affection Robson received from culés must be highlighted. His press conferences, with a young Mourinho as a translator, are still remembered. And with the passage of time, that squad has also drawn attention for the high number of players who are coaches at present. Names like Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Laurent Blanc, Julen Lopetegui, Abelardo, Juan Antonio Pizzi or Albert Celades are among them.