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Life at FC Barcelona before Cruyff

Javier Giorgetti



Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

There is a before and after Johan. The blaugranas weren’t always a dominant and consistent team. Barça was missing the consistency and philosophy that Johan injected. Barcelona life before Cruyff.

Johan Cruyff is the most iconic and important character in the history of Barcelona. First as a player, then as a coach. Cruyff has contributed significantly to the Catalan club to achieve the greatness it currently holds. 1973 was the year that marked the beginning of succeeding, with the arrival of the then attacker of the Dutch national team. A man who has become an icon on and off the field and who has helped instill the philosophy that has been taught to young people in La Masía for several years, it is difficult to speak about Barcelona’s history without naming him.

However, before Cruyff there were great memories in Barcelona, the difference was that there was a lack of consistency. Before, Barça was an inconsistent team. It was important in Spain but it did not have a hegemonic dominance in Europe as it has in recent years. That identity was missing that allowed us to excel and go from being an inconsistent team to being dominant. We needed Cruyff in Barcelona.

The beginning

Since FC Barcelona’s foundation in 1899, there was no predetermined style of play in Barcelona. The azulgranas were one of the most influential teams in Spain but not for their technical quality, but for their fight for the culture of Catalonia, where the club played a fundamental role in the movement. But in terms of talent in the team, Barcelona, before Cruyff, was not so bad. In fact, they achieved great success.

FC Barcelona has gone a long way since its foundation in 1899

After being one of the pioneers of this sport in Spain, the culés soon had a great roster conformed of players like Joan Gamper and Carles Commala. Only in the first decade, they managed to obtain 8 trophies. Gamper, the founder of the club, spent 4 seasons as a player and in that time he managed to score the ridiculous amount of 123 goals in 54 games. An unthinkable scoring record in today’s football.

Paulino Alcántara: The first superstar

Paulino Alcantará arrived in the 1911/12 season becoming the first Asian player in the club’s history and the first superstar. Alcantará was a Philippine and played as a centre-forward. He was with the club until 1916 but returned in 1918 to play until his retirement. Paulino was one of the best players at that time and managed to dominate Catalonia. At that time the team had just built the stadium ‘El camp de la Indústria’, which lasted from 1909 to 1922. The stadium’s capacity was 6,000 people. It’s said that people went to the stadium just to watch Paulino.

The Philippine was recognized as the net-breaker. Since one of his qualities was that he had an extremely powerful shot and in one match his shot went so hard that he broke the goal net. From that day on, the goalkeepers were terrified of Paulino. He always wore a white scarf around his waist as a symbol of his elegance when playing. He was a skinny and small player, he was 1.70 meters tall. Even some of the media curiously named him La Pulga, a nickname that currently is given to Messi. He scored 134 goals but just one year after his retirement (1927) the goals in La Liga began to be officially counted. It’s said that Paulino scored more than 400 goals in the club.

The Golden Decade: 1919–1929

This is when Paulino’s influence and the success of the club attracted big names such as Samitier, Zamora, Sagi, Piera, and Sancho. This legendary team grew the fans and in 1922 caused the construction of the Les Corts field, the first stadium owned by the Club. The stadium had a capacity of 25,000 people but over the years it was expanded to reach 60,000 spectators. From there, a rivalry began that to date still stands. Catalunya’s Derby, RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona. Les Corts was full when there was one of these Derbys.

In 1919, Ricardo Zamora debuted, the best goalkeeper at that time. He came from Espanyol and lasted just 3 seasons at the club. Later on, he returned to Espanyol. Zamora left Barça because our Board didn’t give him a salary increase that he requested. Technically, Zamora had agility and confidence under all 3 posts. His talent was so unique that there is currently an award with his name. The Zamora award that is given to the goalkeeper with the fewest goals received in a La Liga’s season.

The blaugranas back then played with a 3–4–3. With Samitier as the main reference, he could play as a winger or as a center-forward. The Spanish player arrived at the club in 1919 at the age of 17. He was Paulino’s successor and became more popular than the Philippine. Samitier was a man who was very influential on social issues with Barcelona’s culture. The club dominated the Copa Del Rey winning 5 tournaments that decade, more than any other team. The Copa del Rey was the most important championship of that time until La Liga appeared in 1929.

As a result of the great collective game, the team won the first Spanish league in history with a 2-point advantage over Real Madrid and managed to close the decade in the best way. With 8 Catalonian championships, 5 Copas del Rey and the first League. Undoubtedly, the culés began to be one of the favourite teams in Spain and the destination that every player wanted to reach. Samitier managed to score 184 official goals for the club, but he had scored more than 400 that were not counted. The culé’s star, who was one of the figures adored by fans for his support for Barcelona’s culture, left the club in 1932 to move to Real Madrid.

The Dark Decade: 1930–39

After the golden decade came a dark time for the club. This darkness began in 1930 with the death of Joan Gamper, who committed suicide for personal reasons. It was a hard blow that would mark the rest of the decade. In these years the fans lived with more passion for political presses than football games. Football became a background that no one was interested in anymore.

In this decade, the Spanish Civil War began along with the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Where they wanted to extinguish the Catalan culture. Nonetheless, the club did its best to defend Barcelona. Les Corts become the only place where Catalans could be free to enforce their rights. In July 1935, Josep Suñol, a person with strong Catalan ideals and who was the leader of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, an anti-Franco movement, became the president of the team. Suñol was the hope of the club and Catalonia until in 1936 he was murdered by Franco’s troops.

It hasn’t always been rosy for Barcelona

As a result, Barça failed to win any titles that decade. Many players left the club and nobody wanted to tarnish their image for playing in a club that was against the authorities. From the 1936/37 season, the Spanish championships were canceled due to the war. Barcelona was about to disappear since the economy was fatal and they lived under the pressure of Franco’s troops. Until a tour was organized in America, which was what saved the club. As a consequence, the blaugranas reached such a point of despair that they considered establishing themselves in America as a new franchise.

A new beginning

Cesár Rodríguez and Mariano Martín arrived at the club and became popular with the fans, especially Cesár. The arrival of the Spanish attacker helped to attract again more weapons for the club. Undoubtedly, the team had more weapons with the arrival of Estanislau Basora, one of the best wingers Barça has ever had, and Antonio Ramallets, one of the best goalkeepers in the club’s history. The team was ready for new footballing challenges and regaining its prestige from the golden decade.

In the 1944/45 season, Josep Samitier returned to the club, this time as a coach. Samitier used in that season the 3–3–4 formation and with the help of César as a reference, he managed to win La Liga after more than 10 years without winning it. César was a technical forward, noted for his speed, his ability to shoot with both feet, his lethality and for his powerful header. He’s considered one of the best in the history of the club and in the Spanish national team.

The Samitier era ended in the 1946/47 season and in the 1947/48 season would arrive his successor. The new coach was Enrique Fernández, who ended up winning two leagues consecutively. A coach who used the 4–3–3 and his tactics were very offensive and had some ideas similar to Cruyff at Barcelona. The team in 1949 won its first European tournament. The Copa Latino, which was later the European Cup. The Copa Latino was a small competition with just 4 teams participating.

The Ladislao Kubala era

In 1950, Ladislao Kubala arrived in Barcelona, ​​a player who was a mythical figure of the club. The Hungarian player incorporated technical innovations never seen before, such as shooting with effect. The spectacular game of a team that dominated Spanish football and shone in Europe. Kubala was a revolutionary and charismatic player that no player in the last century has been as adored as him. Moreover, he was innovative, creative, fast and dynamic. Kubala was responsible for the blaugranas success in that era. In the 1951/52 season, the team won all 5 possible titles and won important titles in Kubala’s era.

While he would later move to Espanyol, the arrival of Kubala to FC Barcelona supposed a revolution for the club and fanbase

Back then, Les Corts with the capacity of 60.000 spectators was always full to watch Kubala. Neither Paulino, nor Samitier, nor even Cruyff managed to have the influence on the fans as Kubala did with Barcelona fans. To such an extent that Barça had no choice but to build the Camp Nou. Without Kubala, there is no Camp Nou. They needed a stadium big enough for all the people who were going to watch Kubala. Camp Nou’s construction began in 1955 and was completed in 1957 with a ridiculous capacity of approximately 99,000 spectators.

In 1953, Barcelona signed Alfredo Di Stéfano after an agreement with River Plate, a club that had legal rights over the player. At the same time, Real Madrid negotiated with Millonarios, the team that Di Stéfano was playing illegally at the time. As a consequence, FIFA along with Franco’s government decided that Di Stéfano would alternately play one season in each club. To favor Real Madrid, they negotiated a corrupt deal with the Argentine star. In disagreement with the verdict, Barça resigned from the player rights. Kubala’s Barça and Di Stéfano’s Madrid competed for many years for the hegemony of Spain. El Clásico became historical in politics and sports. It was the ideology of the right against the ideology of the left. The values against corruption. Kubala against Di Stefáno.

Luis Suárez Miramontes still is the only Spanish player to have ever won a Ballon d’Or

Following, in 1954, Luis Suárez arrived to be a lethal weapon in one of the best teams of the moment and to accompany Kubala. He was an exceptional player. In 1960, as a Barcelona’s player, Luis Suárez won the Ballon d’Or. Currently, the Spaniard is the only Spanish footballer to have received this distinction. Suárez was an unselfish player who played as a midfielder. He could play as a pivot, on the left or on the right. An all-rounder. He was a vital organiser for Barça.

Més que un club

The end of the 1960/61 season was the end of a dominant era. Kubala’s retirement and the transfer of Luis Suárez to Inter were proof of that. After glory in sports, Barcelona became more than a club. It was already beginning to be a team formally full of values ​​and discipline. More than it already was. In addition, there was growth in the city of Catalunya and the TV’s Boom. The first football matches beginning to be broadcasted.

In the inauguration speech on January 17, 1968, president Carreras said: Barcelona is more than just a football club. The phrase became the club’s slogan and one of the best-known mottos around the world. A phrase that marked all Catalans and the history of the team to be recognized as an example to follow for many people and institutions.

‘Més que un club’ has become more than a slogan for Barcelona. It is a symbol and way of doing things

The team collectively suffered in the 1960s. There were no big names, very few stars like Carles Rexach but a player was missing who was the soul of the team and the fans. A Paulino, a Samitier, another Kubala or even a Luis Suárez was missing. Furthermore, the team didn’t have a pure goalscorer as a reference. The scoring records fell considerably and the azulgranas lost many titles.

Finally, in search of a star and the next big player, Barcelona hired Rinus Michel after he accomplished a great job with Ajax, in the early 1970s. The arrival of Michels influenced and attracted his former ward and the considered best player of the moment. Johan Cruyff. Cruyff came to Barcelona in 1973 to become the club’s next big star, and unknowingly, become the man who changed Barcelona’s history. Johan Cruyff is the turning point in the history of Barcelona.

The love I feel for this club is as great as the desire to share my admiration for it. Being a fan of Barcelona since when I was 8 years old and growing up watching games week after week. It makes no sense to feel so much love for this club. Being able to transmit all that love with more lovers of this sport is priceless.



Ricardo Zamora: The greatest between the posts




Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

Guest Author: Amal Ghosh

Ricardo Zamora has a rollercoaster of a footballing career, flooded with controversies. Despite that, he is said to be arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time.

“He is alone, condemned to watch the match from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the two posts and the crossbar, he awaits his own execution by firing squad.” Eduardo Galeano perhaps wrote the most melancholic description of a goalkeeper’s life of solitude.

The memoir of a goalkeeper lies between the thin line of glorious feats and eternal damnation. There were not many of them in the yesteryears of world football that we still reminisce. In fact, many of those who survived the rushing cavalries of the opposition attack were shot, shun, or shaded by that one slip or misplaced dive.

At the beginning of the 1900s, when the game was a far cry from the sophisticated version of the present day, the football pitch was a grant arena to celebrate the sparring between the defence and offence. Stars and idols were born and illustrated for the knack to score goals or the flamboyant display on the pitch.

In 1916, a skinny sixteen years old from Barcelona, who had a fortuitous debut for Espanyol against Real Madrid, went on to become the first superstar in the history of Spanish football. Moreover, the first goalkeeper to make a name for his style and to become an inspiration for the generations to come. Ricardo Zamora Martinez was one of the greatest goalkeepers both in the history of FC Barcelona and La Roja. He was the first and finest of his kind and left a gargantuan legacy behind.       

Zamora could do things never seen before. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Born on 14th February 1901 in Barcelona, Zamora grew up and learned his craft in goalkeeping on the backstreets of the Catalan city. What started as a leisure activity in the neighborhood, it maneuvered Zamora’s interest in the game and transformed him into a guardian in between the sticks. Challenging and extreme measures to prevent the opposition from scoring often would end up in frayed clothes and bleeding elbows. His parents were unhappy about his pursuit to become a professional footballer as his father wanted him to inherit his field of medicine.

In 1913, Zamora was sent to attend university, which was a turning point in his life. Along with picking up nicotine addiction, he also joined a local team, Universitari SC, and started playing full-time football.

At the same time, the founder of Barcelona, Joan Gamper (Hans Kamper) was scouting for young and fresh talents across Catalonia to bolster the transitioning Blaugrana outfit. Gamper inadvertently encountered a young Zamora who was delivering a staggering performance in front of the goal. Enthralled by his astounding shot-stopping technique and anticipation along with the aplomb character on the pitch, Gamper encouraged him to pursue professional football. Despite acknowledging his talent, Gamper was unsure about recruiting him due to his age, which would make it difficult for him to serve as an immediate replacement at the club. However, at the age of fifteen in 1916, Zamora signed for the rivals Espanyol and made his debut at sixteen. 

Pere Gibert, the starting goalkeeper for Espanyol was absent and the club approached young Zamora to accompany them on their trip to face Real Madrid. Zamora delivered an impressive performance against a Los Blancos led by Santiago Bernabeu. The match against Madrid announced the teenage sensational in the Spanish football and promised the starting spot ahead of Gibert. He safeguarded the Espanyol goal till 1919 and inspired them to lift the Campionat de Catalunya in 1918.

However, a dispute with one of the Blanquiazul directors resulted in him leaving the club and signing for the cross-town rivals Barcelona. Zamora dawned the garnet and the blue for the first time on 31st May 1919 in a friendly match against an international eleven consisting of players from the allied nations that had succeeded in the First World War (France, Belgium, and England).

The mere friendly match at the old Carrer Industria ground was in fact much more. It was a monumental instance for its symbolic representation of diplomacy and the introduction of two of the greatest players in the history of Blaugrana — Zamora and Josep Samitier. Both the players became the Blaugrana legends and defined the history of both Barcelona and Spanish football.

Zamora (R) captained Spain through a revolution. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The 1920s witnessed the first footballing revolution in Spain. It was the dormant period for the political insurgencies in Catalonia, where the proletarian uprisings and anti-anarchist movements ceased temporarily. Instead, the populace was witnessing another revolution, the rise of the first golden generation at the Les Cortes. Moreover, it was the inception of the Spanish National Team as a major footballing power in world football. Zamora along with Samitier and Paulinho Alcantara were the three pivots responsible for the transformation of Barcelona in the 1920s. Zamora was selected to represent the Spanish national team in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

It was the first-ever Spanish team to compete in an international tournament. He made his debut in La Roja’s first international match with a 1-0 victory over Denmark. Though the rampant Spaniards defeated in the final against Belgium, Zamora’s performance throughout the tournament established him as the best shot-stopper in the world.

It was an eventful tournament for Zamora in some other ways as well, who also grabbed some unwanted attention on and off the pitch. He was sent off in the match against Italy for punching and breaking the jaw of an opposing player. Another time, airport customs officials caught him smuggling Havana cigars across the Belgian border which caused the entire team to get detained and searched before leaving for Spain.                                        

At Barcelona, he earned the nickname El Divino (The Divine One) and his road to stardom surviving the assaults from opposition attacks bagged massive applause from the Culés. He possessed an immense threat in anticipation to charge down attackers in his own box and had all the physical attributes that modern-day football demands from a player. Enormous, build stature, and nonchalant character, Zamora wore the iconic high-necked polo jumper and a hard cap and stood in front of the goal to wait for the unleashing thunderbolts and storm. His style was imitated by many of his contemporaries, who could mirror all but that nerve-wracking stare at your soul.

Calm, composed, yet aggressive. (Photo by A. Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

At Barca, he moulded into one of the athletic goalkeepers of the time. His agility and quick reflexes along with the physical superiority often perplexed the attack. Zamora helped Barcelona to lift two Copa del Rey titles and three Campionats de Catalunya. He led a lavish and celebrity life; in fact, he was the first one to explore the scope of marketing the sporting stardom in Spanish football. The Spaniard spent his time with Tango singer Carlos Gardel, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and drowning in his favorite cognac tipple. Zamora and Samitier had famous night outs in the 1920s, at the time when Barcelona was becoming one of the fashionable cities in Europe. There were poems and songs flattering his honor, cocktails were named after him. Zamora even acted in a film called ‘Zamora Weds At Last’.        

Zamora’s three-year-long stint at Barcelona came to an end under some controversial circumstances. It was reported that in June 1922, Zamora allegedly asked the Barca board for a wage of 50,000 pesetas. He wanted a move back to Espanyol and Barca was reluctant to approve of the transfer. Even though he managed to convince them for the transfer; in 1922, a yearlong ban from the association for deceiving the tax authorities about the transfer fee resulted in delaying his return. Zamora stayed at Espanyol until 1930, guiding them to win their maiden Copa del Rey title, and also played the first La Liga season in 1929.

In 1930, Zamora’s performance with a broken sternum in an international friendly against England at Estadio Metropolitano de Madrid was enough for Madrid to pick him up for an astounding 150,000 pesetas, of which he personally received an enormous 40,000 pesetas, making him the highest-earning player in Europe of the time. Zamora’s eventual move to Madrid resulted in a downfall with his once admired Barça fans, who suspected him of having allegiance with anti-Catalan institutions.

At Madrid, Zamora partnered with the stopper-backs Ciriaco and Quincoces to form one of the best defenses by conceding just 15 goals from 18 matches in the league and lifted the first LaLiga title with an unbeaten record. The following season Los Blancos signed his compadre and Barca teammate Samitier and retained the league title by conceding only 17 goals. In spite of the disappointments in the league in 1934 and 1936, he guided them to lift the 1936 Copa del Rey trophy by playing a crucial role in the final against Barcelona. It was inarguably one of the best and crucial performances of his career.

The Cup final tie played at Valencia between Barcelona and Madrid was the last competitive match before the Civil war. The match was going into the final minutes with Madrid leading 2-1 and Barca was pressing high and surrounded Zamora alone in the box. After receiving the ball in the final third, an inform Jose Escola who already scored one back, fired the ball hard and low aiming for the inside post. The dry pitch was covered with blinding dust and it was obscuring the view. The crowd was already screaming and started celebrating the goal. When the dust was cleared, Zamora stood there indifferently holding the ball in his hand. A photograph that was taken near the post, the dive he pulled off seconds before the stupendous save remains one of the iconic images of a goalkeeper in the world of football. A photograph that broke the heart and soul of cules.

The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936. Zamora who had a sound relationship with the Franco regiment was captured by the left-wing militia and imprisoned at the Modelo prison. However ABC, a pro-nationalistic paper reported the execution of Zamora and finding his lifeless body in a canal-side in Moncloa district. Nationalistic forces used this as an opportunity to strengthen their propaganda.

Zamora hailed as a gallant victim of the radical left violence. Nationalists were able to exploit the commotion caused by the alleged death of Zamora and in 1934 he was awarded a medal of the Order of the Republic by his namesake by then president of the second Spanish republic, Niceto Zamora. Whilst all this was happening, Zamora was in fact living his life with his regular three-pack cigarettes and cognac in the town of Nice in France. He was partnered with Josep Samitier who fled the country for the same cause, for the third time to play for the local club OG Nice.

Always in the public eye. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Zamora returned to his native in December 1938 to participate in a benefit match between Spain and Real Sociedad, for the Francoist militia. He was later honored by the Franco regiment by the Great Cross of the Order of Cisneros in the 1950s, an evident validation for the great services to the regime. Zamora died in 1978, leaving behind a rather complicated and memorable career. La Liga honoured his majestic contributions by naming the award (Ricardo Zamora Trophy) for the best goalkeeper in the league after him. 

“As with so many figures from the dark ages of football, it is difficult to separate the truth from the misty-eyed recollections, but everyone seems to insist that Zamora was the greatest, better than Yashin, Zoff, Banks, Arconada, and any others you care to mention”.    

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He remains one of the most important figures in the history of Barcelona and in Spanish football. He might have left on bad terms, but the Blaugrana still adorns the impact and legacy that Zamora left behind. The golden generation of the 1920s was the foundation that established Barça as one of the best sporting entities in Spanish football. His magnetic presence in front of the goal not only won them trophies but inspired the generations of talents to pursue the keeping role. The times when goalkeepers were overlooked for their contributions and presence on the pitch, It was the ‘the divine one’ sent by the heavens to finally write a new testament for those who guard the goal post.   

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