Romário didn’t play for many years at Barcelona, but 16 months were enough to consider him a legend. One of the best talents in history, he was lethal, agile, gifted…and a samba lover. Although he didn’t have the best discipline, his impact was so great at the Camp Nou that Johan Cruyff had to reject his principles on several occasions. This is the story of Romário at Barça.
Before his arrival to Barcelona, Romário da Souza had conquered the hearts of lovers of good football. Of those who prefer a nice dribble before a run on the wing. Those who enjoyed a technical game before a physical one. In short, lovers of the Jogo Bonito. Romário had everything to succeed in any team. Technical quality, goals and a perfect game, something that wasn’t seen since his compatriot Pelé.
However, as a good Brazilian, he was a person who adored his country very much. He was faithful to his culture and had other interests, in an attitude which, at the time he came to Barcelona and Johan Cruyff was the coach, was not allowed. Or at least, not often. Even so, the signing of the great Romário, who was 27 at the time, was made official in the summer of the 1993/94 season. He came from PSV Eindhoven, where he had a brilliant spell, but at Barça, he reached the status of a legend.
Romário’s first season as culé
The piece Barça was missing
After Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team managed to win the first European Cup in the club’s history in the 1991/92 season, Barça suffered a painful elimination against CSKA Moscow in the quarter-finals of the continental tournament in the 1992/93. The team was still one of the best in the world, but an alternative in attack was missing. The Catalans lacked a pure 9.
At that time it was decided to position Hristo Stoichkov in the middle of the attacking trio, but better results were obtained when he was located as a winger. There was also the successful option of playing Laudrup as false 9, though that tactic increasingly lost effectiveness and consistency.
Fortunately for the Catalans, in the following transfer market a player ticked all the boxes with all the characteristics and technical skills that were needed at the club. That was Romário da Souza. Contemporary with the problems of Barcelona, the Brazilian also had difficulties. He was tired of the cold Netherlands and no longer had passion in football. He no longer saw anything magical in this sport. In the same way, Romário was also lucky for the needs of Barça, since Barcelona was a friendlier city for him and that could remind him of his nation. Furthermore, O Baixinho liked Cruyff’s style and was confident that he would adapt quickly. He was not mistaken.
Romário, the man Johan Cruyff needed | Photo by Imago
The arrival of Romário in Barça was the missing piece in Cruyff’s machine. As a ring to the finger. In his first official match, the team faced Real Sociedad. Romário took the pitch with confidence, and as if it was plain sailing he scored a hat-trick. When the game ended, fans already had a new idol.
The obstacles that crossed Romário’s path
As the games went by, Romário kept doing his job at Barça. He scored a brace in one game, the following week he scored three goals, then he scored two again. Nevertheless, there were also fixtures in which he was non-existent or extremely fatigued, perhaps because he loved attending parties. Even so, that was the Brazilian’s thing: goals and samba.
One of the obstacles Romário went through was a streak of more than eight games in a row without finding the net. That was when fans and the press began to doubt him. The footballer answered to the criticism with a famous phrase saying that the fans better judge him at the end of the season. Johan Cruyff on many occasions defended the South American for the strong confidence he had in him. He was the only player that the Dutch coach respected and allowed his indiscipline actions to pass, of course, as long as Romário scored goals.
❛ Don’t ask me to run like Sergi Barjuán, shoot like Koeman or fight like Stoichkov. I’m just asking you to be judged at the end of the season ❜
Romário da Souza
Romário was Professor Cruyff’s favourite student. The Dutchman once had an episode with the striker in a match against Osasuna. Before it, Romário asked Johan if he could miss two days of training in order to go to Brazil to the Rio de Janeiro carnival. The manager replied: “If you score two goals tomorrow, I will give you two more days of celebration compared to the other players on the squad”. The next day, Romário scored two goals and immediately asked to be subbed out. He said to Cruyff: “Coach, my plane leaves in an hour”. Johan had no choice but to keep his promise.
Top goalscorer in La Liga in his first campaign
Romário finished his first season at Barcelona scoring a brilliant number of 30 goals in 33 league games. An impressive average of almost one goal per game. He was awarded with the Pichichi trophy for the top scorer in La Liga. In addition, Barça were able to win their fourth consecutive league with Cruyff, but, without the contributions of the Brazilian, this achievement would have hardly been accomplished.
Tactical analysis of Romário at Barcelona
More than a party character and a pure goalscorer, Romário was a unique talent at Barça. O Baixinho was an opportunist who always took advantage of every occasion he had. How? With his acceleration and change of rhythm between the lines, and his dribbling to leave defenders behind in short spaces. With exquisite ball control and the ability to link up with teammates, he was the king of feints, making unpredictable movements for any rival, and was very creative when setting up his own shot. He was like a box of surprises: you never knew what he was going to surprise you with, but you knew that was going to be magnificent.
One of his most memorable matches was in a 5–0 victory in the 1994 Clásico. Romário scored a hat-trick and created a work of art in that duel. In the 24th minute he opened the scoring by dragging the ball on its own axis on the side of the defender, Rafael Alkorta. He made such a fine and perfect move that he was left in a position to finish in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. In the second half, the Brazilian star scored his second of the night with an easy tap-in. With nine minutes to go, Romário ended his magical performance by completing a hat-trick with an unstoppable shot for the keeper inside the area. Legendary performances for legendary players.
The end as a Barça player
Every beautiful story has an end. Unfortunately, this ending was very premature and somewhat controversial. After being crowned world champion with the Brazilian team in the summer of 1994 and being considered the best player in that tournament, problems began.
Romário never completely adapted in Catalonia
Romário spent his first ten months at the Camp Nou combining success with the doubts raised by his introvert temperament. No one said anything in his favour, nor did they recognise merits in his playing attitude despite having his father kidnapped. But yes, on the other hand, he was criticised when he went to Brazil on vacation and didn’t return in time to restart training.
Neither did he allow himself to be loved much. The only gestures of affection that he sent to culés were made on the field when he scored goals. Notwithstanding, off the pitch, Romário didn’t maintain the same love for the club. Only at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He publicly thanked Barcelona and Cruyff for the opportunity they had given him to regain enthusiasm for football.
Pep Guardiola and Romário, during a later friendly between Barcelona and Brazil in 1999 at the Camp Nou | Photo by Imago
Romário gave the impression that he loved Barcelona and the city very much, but he was not identified with anything. Because he wasn’t, and he didn’t even own a home. He said he wanted to end his contract with Barcelona and then go to Brazil, but in 16 months in the Catalan capital Romário never found a house to live in. There was no real estate agency that put the house he was asking for in his hands. Romário always lived in a hotel. First the Princesa Sofía hotel, where he had two of the best rooms. But, according to the porters of the hotel, he didn’t even say goodbye when he decided to move to the Hilton hotel.
1994 World Cup
Contributing decisively to winning the World Cup title put Romário in heaven. He thought he had the license to do and undo. And he really unmade more than he did. Already during several training sessions, Romário did inexplicable things. Having the residence next to the Barcelona facilities, he arrived more than a couple of times late. But everything was forgotten when he went out onto the field and scored goals. What he would never forget and would mark the beginning of his goodbye to Barcelona was his return from Brazil after the summer holidays. He was a godlike figure, like almost all the stars of the team that conquered the World Cup.
❛ I’m happy because I won’t have to train again, or travel or sit in team hotels ❜
Romário da Souza
after being sold to Fluminense
The world champions received so much affection from their fans that the desire to return was non-existent. Romário wasn’t in the presentation of the team, nor did he travel for preseason. He appeared after more than twenty days. And while his teammates were preparing to aim at their fifth consecutive league, from Brazil came photos of Romário dancing samba, playing friendlies and partying – as tired as he was from having participated in the World Cup.
The end of Romário da Souza as a blaugrana
So much indiscipline ended up breaking the appreciation that his teammates felt for him. Even Hristo Stoichkov, his best friend, criticised his attitude. Romário was acting on his own side, and cared little for friendship. He was a time bomb, and at any moment it could explode. The dressing room couldn’t help him anymore. His partners felt mistreated by his character. But he came back and spoke to the captain, José Mari Bakero. He made excuses for having extended his vacation and then spoke to the squad in general. Cruyff saw a gesture of humility there and maintained his theory: if he scores goals, I care little about what he has done in Brazil. But the only thing that kept him alive disappeared: the goals.
It was then that Cruyff saw clearly that he had already made too many exceptions with Romário and gave him the greenlight to negotiate his transfer. With his decision, Johan was being faithful to his theory that in Barcelona no one is essential. Not even the first world champion Barcelona had in its history. Not even the player who once said that football is seen through Cruyff’s eyes.
❛ Football looks at itself with Cruyff’s eyes ❜
Romário da Souza
In the end, Romário was sold to Fluminense, in his native Brazil, in January 1995 for a good amount of money. And that’s how Romário’s 16-month career at Barcelona ended. Success in the first 10 months, controversy in the remaining ones. The only player who was able to dominate Cruyff. He made the Dutchman greatly reject his philosophy for his gift to score goals in almost every game. Even so, O Baixinho will always be remembered as a Barça legend. For his goals, attributes, samba and for that fourth league title. Culés shouldn’t have been sad because it was over, but happy because they had lived with Romário.
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.