It was early May 1986. Barcelona prepared for history. After the loss in 1961, the club searched for its first European Cup in history as they faced Steaua București on familiar ground, Sevilla’s Estadio Sánchez Pizjuán. However, several hours before the final, waters had begun to agitate at the Catalan camp.
English coach Terry Venables had announced to established first-team player José Vicente Sánchez, or Tente Sánchez as an abbreviation, that he would not play.
“He argued that [Steaua’s legendary forward Marius] Lăcătuș was strong in the air and he preferred other players to counteract it. I told him that I did not agree, but that I accepted it”.Tente Sanchez | Sport
But then he was shocked. Tente later found out that not only would he not be a starter; he had been left out of the squad list altogether.
Things got heated between player and coach. Very heated. Tente was furious and went straight to the manager.
“I did not mince words. I called him disgraceful and liar and told him that I refused to travel to Seville just to participate in a party. After leaving the pitch I came across [president Josep Lluís] Núñez and said to him that I was not going to travel; that’s where I knew that my career at Barça was over”.Tente Sanchez
Therefore, Tente’s last game for Barcelona was one he did not play. He stayed in Catalonia, also because his son Gerard was born on 6 May. One day later, Barça lost the European Cup final. 0–0 after 120 minutes, and a fateful penalty shootout that ended in drama for the thousands of Culés that had travelled to Seville, and in glory for champions Steaua.
Tente, at 29 years of age, had only played 9 league games in his eleventh and final season with Barcelona’s senior team and would leave that summer of 1986 to Murcia, by then in the First Division.
Early Years and the ‘shift’
Tente Sánchez, born in Badalona in 1956, developed at La Masía and was one of the products of the man who was shaping Barcelona’s academy: Laureano Ruiz. Ruiz had been laying the foundations for Barcelona’s system and helping it be implemented across all its different levels.
He was also the first-team coach for a concise period of time, towards the end of the 1975/76 campaign. It was him who handed Tente his official debut, first in the Cup against Real Oviedo and then in the league in a derby with Espanyol. Unfortunately, that would be an encounter to forget for the Blaugranas, as they lost by 3–0 to their local rivals.
Back then, once an academy product debuted in the senior side he could not return to the B team – at the time called Barça Atlètic, so once he got his first appearance, Tente was permanently promoted to the main squad. From the very first moment, though, he proved that he would be an indispensable addition in the midfield for any coach.
After Laureano Ruiz, the iconic and revolutionary tactician Rinus Michels, even if less strict and fundamentalist than in yesteryears, returned to Barcelona. In the 1976/77 term, Tente already featured in 26 league matches, with the Spanish competition by then including 18 rather than 20 clubs.
His tactical discernment, capacity to cover a lot of ground, and reliability – he only got two red cards throughout his career – was forever appreciated by whichever manager he had, making him a regular starter until his final season at the Camp Nou and also earning 14 appearances and a call-up to the 1982 World Cup with the Spanish national team.
Barcelona captain Tente Sánchez holding coach Udo Lattek after winning the 1982 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup title against Standard de Liège | Photo by Imago
Nevertheless, another defining moment in his career occurred with the arrival of German coach Udo Lattek, who replaced Helenio Herrera. Lattek used to transform his interiors or central midfielders into full-backs to favour the ball circulation in build-ups, and Tente Sánchez was one of those affected.
He was initially used in that system by Lattek and went on to perfect it under César Luis Menotti, Tente transitioned into right-back and he injected intelligence and rhythm to the position.
The comparison with Sergi Roberto seems accurate. Not a ten out of ten in any facet, but his spatial awareness and smartness made him key every year.
As Barça TV journalist Jaume Marcet expressed, Tente was “A right interior that ended up performing better as a full-back as, without being an academic number 2, he added to the position the knowledge of the game that was more common in a midfielder”.
Tente ‘Casta‘ Sanchez
What attributes must a captain have? These depend a lot on the era and the player. There is not a list of attributes a captain must meet. Often, s/he must be the voice of the players in front of the coach, club, fans and referees alike. But he can also be the extension of the manager’s ideas on the pitch, which is why Johan Cruyff would later choose José Mari Bakero over a goalkeeper like Andoni Zubizarreta, and why Louis van Gaal selected a midfielder like Pep Guardiola.
A captain, above everything, must be the symbol of the club and the fans must be able to identify with him – despite this has not always been the case. He must be respected inside the dressing room and must be a reliable figure for his teammates.
And this perfectly suits the profile of Tente Sánchez, who became the first-team captain in 1982 after the importance of one-club man Antonio Olmo was decreasing on the pitch. Tente was consistent and ever-present in the side and, in spite of the later clash with Terry Venables, he was a reference point in the squad.
Tente had what in Spain is called “casta”, a combination of courage and commitment to always be in the service of the collective, both on and off the pitch. He wasn’t a star, but he always acted with the club’s colours in mind – the definition of a team player.
Then, his longevity and the fact that he emerged from the academy surely played a part in him wearing the armband. Being a homegrown product is by no means an imperative trait for Barcelona captains, but it is clear that this has been a constant in the team’s captaincy throughout its history.
As future captain Xavi Hernández suggested, being a captain can be “A reward after so many years of linkage to the club”. Wearing the armband is a reason of great honour.
Looking back, captains have also acted as the image with which the fanbase has recognised the different periods in Barça’s history. From Johan Cruyff to Carles Puyol, talking about the captain has also automatically meant talking about the corresponding era. Hence, it is no coincidence that there was such inconsistency in Barcelona’s captaincy during their relatively dark 1980s.
The team had four players consecutively that only lasted two years as captains, as the Catalans only won one league title between 1974 and 1991. The single one was in the 1984/85 season, with Tente Sánchez still in the squad but no longer as the captain.
He did lift a Copa del Rey (the last of the three he won), a Spanish Super Cup, a League Cup (the first of the two he won), and, most memorably, the second of his two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup titles. In the first one, in 1979, he opened the scoring on the way to a 4–3 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Tente Sanchez (back, second to left) with the armband before squaring up against Aston Villa at Villa Park.
It was only one of his 19 official goals with Barcelona across 346 appearances in all competitions, which at present makes him the 24th player with most games in the club’s history – just above Jordi Alba.
After hanging up his boots at Sabadell in 1990, Tente Sánchez would become the first retired footballer to become an agent.
He even acted as an intermediary in trying to bring Hugo Sánchez, by then at Real Madrid, to Barcelona as a request from coaches Johan Cruyff and Carles Rexach. The transfer did not come to fruition, though, as president Josep Lluís Núñez surveyed Culés across the city, who refused to sign the Mexican.
But it was on the pitch where Tente Sánchez had made a name for himself and had worn an iconic captain armband. As he said, playing at Barça during eleven seasons “is not achieved only by running”.
Lionel Messi: The unconventional captain
“Here he is again. Here he is again. That’s astonishing! That’s absolutely world-class!” “Look at this, Kevin! It’s a brilliant run from Messi. Can he go all the way!” “But here’s Messi. Away from two…three…four. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!”
They say mere words cannot express beautiful stories. Yet these few lines are enough to send shivers down the spines of Barcelona fans all over the world. They bring back raw emotions of those glorious days of the past. Those fervent Champions League nights, Cup finals and El Clasicos. A point in time when all the ardent Barça supporters used to have their eyes glued to their TV screens to watch the magic unfold in front of them.
The all-conquering team donning the historic blue and red colours brought exuberant smiles on the faces of every Culér out there, and at the heart of it all, was one man — Lionel Messi. An outlier in a generation of extraordinary footballers.
Born in Rosario to working-class parents, Lionel Messi had relatively humble beginnings. But his passion and love for the beautiful game was apparent from the start. He was ready to give his all for the sport.
“He would never say no to anything. If I told him to run, he would run. If I told him to do an exercise, he would do it. All I had to do was to encourage and support him.”Enrique ‘Quique’ Dominguez | This is Football (Amazon Prime Documentary)
This quote from his coach Enrique Dominguez, during his Newell’s Young Boys days, goes to show that his dedication was not something he learnt. It was a virtue he already had from the beginning, etched on his heart from a very young age.
Life did not start at high speed for Lionel Messi. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
As with any artist, Messi had the sublime levels of talent and the desire to fight for his dreams. All he needed was a canvas to paint on. And when his father took him to Barcelona for trials, he caught his lucky break. Before he knew it, he had been picked up by Barcelona and thus began the journey that defined an era.
It was not plain sailing, though. A success story never is. Carles Rexach, Jospe Maria Minguella and Horacio Gaggioli, the three figures behind the signing, faced opposition from board members and coaches. To comply with FIFA regulations, they had to pay an amount unheard of for a player in the under 14s to keep him at Barcelona. Yet they took the risk, and Barcelona supporters all over are reaping the rewards today.
The False Nine
When talking about Lionel Messi, it is impossible not to talk about the false nine position under Pep Guardiola. It is not easy to become the very definition of a particular position, but the six-time Ballon d’Or winner managed to achieve the feat nonetheless.
Everyone knew Leo was going to be a world-beater when he began making headlines at the age of nineteen. But the true potential of Barça’s crown jewel was on display when Guardiola’s team destroyed Real Madrid 2-6 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Lionel Messi left no scope for Real Madrid in this encounter back in 2009. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
A false nine is a centre forward who drops back between the lines of opposition players creating spaces and opportunities to score. ‘La Pulga’ excelled in the position because it took full advantage of his repertoire of sublime traits. Unlike most players, Messi possessed a lethal combination of skillsets that brought out the need for the use of such an unorthodox role.
Beleaguering defences at all times and causing havoc on the pitch was Messi’s job. However, he achieved it with unforeseen levels of elegance. Be it his mazy and intricate runs or his telepathic connection with midfielders like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, or with fullbacks like Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, the #10 never fails to surprise.
Messi’s understanding of the game allowed him to form sensational on-the-pitch connections. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Bongarts)
While he was a bodacious dribbler and a natural goal scorer, his supernatural passing and astounding vision made him a priceless asset. He was also a phenomenal reader of the game. But nothing was more important than his adept decision making. Not only was he almost always right in his choices, but he also made them at the blink of an eye.
“Its about understanding the game. When in every situation, he takes the right decision at the right moment. And every time, his decision is correct.”Pep Guardiola | This is Football (Amazon Prime Documentary)
A different kind of skipper
Leo Messi is, for the most part, a silent leader. His performances speak for themselves. Especially in recent times, when he has an off day, the team heavily suffers. His mere presence on the pitch is enough to lift the team spirit. He has a magical aura around him that can strike fear in even the toughest of players and one that can turn an average team into levels above.
The number of times the 800-capped La Masia graduate come to Barça’s rescue is ineffable.
But one thing that many people forget to speak about is his personality. Whenever a new player comes to the team, it is understandable that it is tough to adjust to the new environment. Especially at a club like FC Barcelona, a player may have varying levels of maturity.
Lionel Messi’s performances speak a lot more than he does. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN)
Be it an established player like Antoine Griezmann or a fledgeling talent like Pedri, Leo is one of the first to help them feel comfortable. He uses what he has learned throughout the years to help others elevate their game. Leo’s influence on his teammates is an equally important and much-overlooked aspect of being a captain.
“From day one, Messi has been good to me. He gives me a lot of advice on the pitch. He is an incredible person.”Pedri | Dynamo Kyiv Pre-game Presser
The imperfect captain
Whilst the little magician is a master of playing the beautiful game, he is not exactly an ideal leader, on the pitch anyway. When Andres Iniesta finally decided to leave his beloved club in 2018, it was natural that the mantle would fall to fellow La Masia graduate and teammate.
He had been brought up in the Barcelona academy, and the team’s principles were deeply instilled in him. Having already proven himself as a player, it was a new challenge for the Argentine. However, it was a provocation that brought with it some problems.
Despite being the centrepiece of the team, it was clear that Messi’s reign as captain was not going to be insouciant. Unlike the days of the past, Barcelona were in need of a complete overhaul. The old guard’s time was nearly up, and it was the dawn of a new era for the Azulgranas. The following years were bound to be long and gruelling. Now more than ever, the team was in desperate of a skipper who could guide the team on and off the pitch.
Barcelona were no longer the club Lionel Messi once joined, and it was time to say goodbye. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
It was evident that gone were the days where Barcelona could steamroll past opponents on their way to glory. Year after year, heartbreak followed the team as performances reached an all-time low. Roma, Liverpool and then finally the drubbing against Bayern left fans desolated and drained.
It was the number ten who came under immense scrutiny for the failures and his desire to leave the club at such a delicate time was the final nail in the coffin. Media erupted with claims of Messi’s disloyalty. He became a scapegoat for the press.
There was a hint of truth in the claim that Messi was not a deserving bearer of the armband. Much like cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, Leo did indeed let the pressure affect his performances. However, his love for the badge shone through the darkness.
Irrefutable loyalty through controversy
Loyalty is just another one of Leo’s characteristics that makes him so incredible. Be it off the pitch towards his family and friends, or on the pitch to his team, Messi’s fidelity never falters.
Most Culés know that the faults ran far beyond the Argentine, starting with the underwhelming board of directors. Years of controversies and deceit marred their five years at the helm. The Lionel Messi transfer saga looked to be the next in a line of outrageous mistakes and choices made by the board.
Leo, wanting to win the Champions League one more time before he hung up his boots, wanted to be at a club where the sporting project could enable him to fulfil his desire. Barcelona were miles away from taking the number ten close to his dream and thus he sought for a different club, such as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Lionel Messi – Pep Guardiola reunion stories had already caught fire, and it tore apart Culés. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON)
The transfer looked to be on for a free because of a clause in Messi’s contract, but club president Josep Maria Bartomeu intervened with the smallest of irregularities in the same. His argument was extremely fragile and would easily have been overturned legally. Yet the Argentine could not bring himself to take the team he loved to court.
He instead decided to stay and fulfil the agreement. All those who ever had the slightest doubts as to where his allegiance lies were silenced once again. Even if the little magician does indeed end up leaving, he would have left behind one last parting gift: the resignation of the irresponsible leadership of the club.
He came out and spoke the truth as to what was going on behind the scenes. He lashed out against all the accusations and revealed the true situation behind the scenes. This even prompted other players like Gerard Pique to hint at just how poorly the club was being run. The Barcelona Socios had finally had enough, and thus began the referendum that sent the board running from their posts to avoid embarrassment.
Like a devoted leader, he saved his team from the hands of the bureaucrats who were about to lead the club to bankruptcy.
Lionel Messi stood by the club, like any captain would. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Not to mention, he also led the charge against the board when they claimed that Barcelona players were not agreeing to a pay-cut during the pandemic, with each player releasing a statement on their social media to challenge the same. Lionel Messi’s charge as captain has been dominated by off the pitch work rather than vocal shouts, or tactical improvement – important all the same.
Respected by all
Being the best player in a club’s history brings you love from Culés all around the world. But a sensational talent like Leo is not loved only by Barcelona fans, but by football fans everywhere. The respect he has earned through his incredible performances is unimaginable.
An example of the same was when the Blaugranas faced Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin on March 18, 2019. It was the 85th minute and Messi had just scored a sensational chip from outside the box to seal the victory for Barcelona and to complete his hat-trick in the process.
One would have expected the stadium to jeer and whistle after seeing a player demolish their team 4-1 almost single-handedly. But the sight that unfolded was one that makes a person fall in love with football all over again.
The entire stadium gave Lionel Messi a standing ovation befitting the beauty that they had just witnessed. The chants of ‘Messi! Messi!’ echoed the stadium as the fans from both teams took a moment to absorb and applaud the genius of the little man.
Garnering such levels of respect and love from opposition fans is one of the most difficult things in any sport. But what else can one do but admire an artist painting out his masterpiece?
Name etched in diamond and gold
Whether he decides to stay and finish his career at the Camp Nou is something that only time will tell. After all that Leo has given to this club and the fans, not respecting his wishes would almost be a crime. He is 33 right now, and once that day comes when he leaves the club – and it definitely will, it will feel like a sword to the chest.
As his illustrious time at the very top of the game draws to a close, supporters can do nothing but reminiscence in the memories that he has left for us. Even though he may be an out-of-sorts captain if there is anyone who deserves to wear that armband, it’s him.
The day Lionel Messi decides to retire will be a sombre one for the football community. It will be difficult to see starting XIs without his name, and even harder to imagine a Camp Nou that does not shout “Messi, Messi” in unison game after game after game. Just like so many things in life, that goodbye is fast approaching.
Lionel Messi does not have a long time left with the ball. And that in itself is horrifying thought. (Photo by David Ramos)
The Ansu Fatis and the Kylian Mbappes will come and go, but there might never be another Lionel Messi in the world of football. But long after he retires, his legacy will remain, just like it did with Pelé, Johann Cruyff, and the late Diego Maradona.
Many people will have his future on their minds as the summer 2021 transfer window approaches. Many will dread the prospect of him leaving the club. But all good things do come to an end, and so will the extraordinary relationship that is Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona. Whatever happens, fans need to remember that it is time to move on. And as the great Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”