After the historic 91/92 campaign that ended with the first European Cup, the Catalans sought to be just as dominant in this new period. Although there was not the expected success, it was not such a bad term. A look back at the 1992/93 season from Barça.
In the 1992/93 season, Barcelona came from reaching the top of the mountain where the Dream Team believed themselves untouchable. They had reason to believe it. Cruyff kept the same core of players that made the Catalans lift their first European trophy, and thus expectations were high from all fans and the same team. The blaugranas started with determination and with their feet on the ground, but a couple of games made the possible golden season fall into the abyss. A fall that was not so painful thanks to the fact that the La Liga trophy cushioned the strength of that collapse. That was the reality of Barça in the 1992/93 season.
Barcelona missed the opportunity to be back-to-back Champions League winners
Despite not getting the Champions League or the Copa del Rey, Cruyff’s side managed to win their third consecutive league and make history in the Spanish championship. In addition, they managed to win the Spanish Super Cup and the European Super Cup earlier in the season, yet these were trophies considered from the previous course. There was one more title that the azulgranas could get, which was the Intercontinental Cup, today known as the Club World Cup. Barça faced Sao Paulo with their gala XI in an even match. Stoichkov opened the scoring early in the game, but the Brazilians were able to make a comeback to win the world championship with a 2–1 result, thus preventing Barcelona from winning 5 out of 6 possible titles in the 1991/92 term.
The Dream Team that won the Champions League the previous season already had the knowledge and the adaptation required to continue operating. Versatile players with the right profiles. A combination between La Masía and players that Cruyff had already formed. However, Nando’s controversial departure to Real Madrid forced Barcelona to make a signing to rotate in defence. It was controversial because Sevilla, the footballer’s previous club, had a clause to re-purchase him, leaving Johan without power to avoid his transfer. Nando had to move to Sevilla, but he refused to play and forced his departure to Los Blancos paying his clause from his own pocket. With all the drama, Cruyff signed the young Pablo Alfaro, who had a hard time adapting since he was a purely defensive profile. Alfaro didn’t know how to touch the ball nor how to control it. It was certainly not the best replacement.
Pablo Alfaro was far from reaching Nando’s level
Furthermore, Johan was observing an international talent: Goran Vučević. The Dutch coach requested this prospect as a second option in the event that any star of the squad left the club. Vučević played as a midfielder and became the first Croatian in the club’s history. He barely played 2 fixtures in his first season with the blaugranas, but was more concentrated with the second team. In the end, he had an undisciplined behaviour with Cruyff, which is why he was no longer called regularly for the games. Barça also brought Miguel Soler back, as he had left the club in the previous season but returned in Soler’s last term as a Catalan. In this last dance, Soler was a wildcard to rest the already specialised Ferrer, Nadal and Juan Carlos.
Just as the first team worked, La Masía factory also kept making promises. This time it was Óscar García who played 4 games in the 1992/93 season, but the manager of Barça could already see flashes of his talent. A youngster with the ability to finish at first touch which Cruyff decided to work even harder on so that, in the coming years, he was ready to be a lethal product from the academy.
The starting XI of Barcelona in the 1992/93 season didn’t change much from the previous period. The only inclusion was Albert Ferrer who, after a successful recovery of a 6-mont injury in his knee, was able to perform at the highest level. Moreover, there were more rotations, it was difficult to predict which XI would Johan surprise us with. Weapons like Goikoetxea, Witschge, Julio Salinas and Juan Carlos were crucial for the team to always function in the same way regardless of rotation. Fewer minutes for Eusebio and Amor, and in spite of not winning the same titles as in the previous season, the team was collectively more lethal with the wingers opening more and more spaces with unique width.
Goikoetxea became an important man that Cruyff started to consider and to put in competition with Eusebio
Perhaps the only factor of change was Chapi Ferrer, who became a nightmare for the rivals. Albert was the first man to come out to press on the defensive line. He had a commendable tactical awareness to be able to read the plays of the opponents, such as in which location a long pass would be directed or the talent to predict with great ease the movements of his mark. If we talk about statistics, when Ferrer was on the field in the league, Barcelona received 21% fewer goals compared to when Ferrer was on the bench. In the same way, the team received 9% fewer league goals compared to last season, a season in which Ferrer did not play many minutes.
Stats and competitions
Barça won La Liga in the 1992/93 season, curiously with the same level of drama as in the previous campaign. It was a déjà vu. The azulgranas arrived to the final matchday with Barcelona trailing Real Madrid by a solitary point – also, let’s not forget that by that time a victory was valued in two points, rather than three. Exactly the same situation as in 1992. It seemed as though Real Madrid were poised to lift the title, having a slight advantage ahead their final duel. Ironically it was against Tenerife, who denied them the title on the final day of the previous season. To the surprise of the whole country, Tenerife beat Los Blancos by 2–0. The Catalans didn’t disappoint and beat Real Zaragoza by 1–0, winning the third consecutive championship.
Barcelona won their third-consecutive league in the same dramatic fashion as in the previous course
In the Copa del Rey, Barcelona reached the semi-finals against Real Madrid. The first leg ended in a 1–1 at the Santiago Bernabéu. Everything was to be decided at the Camp Nou, where los merengues got the lead in the first half. Subsequently, Zamorano extended the advantage with 8 minutes remaining. The goal from Laudrup in the 87th minute was not enough to get a draw and force extra time – as there was still no away goal rule.
The reigning champions of the European Cup had hopes of repeating the feat. This time, the competition has changed its name and format to become the Champions League. In the second round, Barcelona faced CSKA Moscow, a team with a challenging stadium. The first clash ended in 1–1, a relief for the Catalans who managed to get an away goal in that tie. Barça came to the Camp Nou motivated to ensure the ticket to the next phase and to continue fighting for the big trophy. They were clear favourites to win it again.
❛ Fatal, I’m fatal. Now, nothing of what we have done is worth anything ❜
after the elimination in the Champions League
Later on, at the Camp Nou, two goals from Nadal and Begiristain in the first 30 minutes seemed decisive for Cruyff’s men. However, this is football and it’s a sport where anything can happen, something that at that time the players had not contemplated. At half-time, Cruyff pulled Pep out of the game in an inexplicable decision, as Guardiola was among the best on the pitch. The Russians managed to overcome the 2–0 deficit in less than 20 minutes to eliminate the defending European champion, paralysing the televisions of the old continent. After the second goal, Johan played with only two centre-backs for the remained of the match in Koeman and Ferrer. Barcelona became blocked in their own half and stadium, and, what is much worse, eliminated from the competition of which they were the current champions. It was a very painful blow for the culés, but Barça clearly knew how to learn from it to return stronger from this disappointment. From that moment, though, the relationship between president Nuñez and Cruyff began to be very delicate.
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.