Thursday, May 10, 2012

Soccer memories: Part Six

Cruyff’s Barcelona: The rise and fall of the Dream Team

(Note: I would like to once again thank for uploading this article )

When Johann Cruyff was appointed as Barcelona manager in 1988, the team had just finished one of its worst seasons in recent years by finishing in the sixth place.
They had saved their season somewhat by winning the Spanish Cup and qualifying for European Competition.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, June 1989
(Johann Cruyff)

They had not won the League title since Englishman Terry Venables led them to it in 1985, in fact that was their solitary League title since 1974 with Cruyff as a player.
Worse still, Arch-rivals Real Madrid had won the League title for the third consecutive season by playing an attractive attacking football.
At the conclusion of that disastrous season, Barcelona President, Jose Luis Nunez planned an overhaul. In addition to appointing Cruyff as manager, around 18 Million Dollars (a significant sum at the time) was spent to strengthen the squad and lay the ground works for what would become the ‘Dream Team’.
Gone were long serving players such as Migueli, Gerardo, Moratalia, Caldere, Victor, Rojo and Clos.
The notable players who survived the purges were goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta, midfielder Roberto and captain Jose Alexanco.
While Julio Alberto, Urbano Ortega and Francisco Carrasco remained though in a more peripheral role.
Of the foreign players on their books, West German midfielder Bend Schuster, Scottish Forward Steve Archibald, Welshman Mark Hughes and Paraguay born Luis Amarilla were offloaded.
Englishman Gary Lineker stayed and Brazilian defender Aloisio was acquired following the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Barcelona’s facelift was completed with the purchase of Spanish players, many of whom were full internationals.
From Real Sociedad came Jose Maria Bakero, Aitor Beguiristain and Lopez Rekarte.
Eusebio Sacristan and Julio Salinas were purchased from Atletico Madrid.
Miguel Soler and Ernesto Valverde arrived from cross-town rivals RCD Espanol.
Juan Unzue and Juan Goicoetchea arrived from Osasuna. Though Goicoetchea was loaned to Sociedad for two seasons as part of the Bakero-Beguiristain and Rekarte transfer package.
Also defender Ricardo Serna joined from Sevilla.
Guillermo Amor and Luis Milla were promoted from the youth squad for a more prominent role in the season.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, December 1994
(Jose Maria Bakero)

This team, in its first season together (1988/89), did not win the League title. It finished a credible second place behind Real Madrid, but did win the Cup Winners Cup vs. Sampdoria.
During this competition’s run, Barcelona eliminated Bulgaria’s Sredets Sofia (formerly CSKA Sofia) in the semifinals.
It was during these series that then unknown Hristo Stoichkov caught the attention of Cruyff, who saw great potential in him.
In the offseason, England’s Gary Lineker who was now confined to the wing, departed back to England.
Barcelona acquired Dutch sweeper Ronald Koeman from PSV Eindhoven and Denmark’s Michael Laudrup from Juventus.
The Spanish backbone of the team was kept intact.
For the 1989/90 season, Barcelona were once again off the pace in the League and finished in the third place, but did win the Spanish Cup at the expense of Real Madrid.
In the offseason of 1990, Hristo Stoichkov finally arrived. Juan Goicoetchea also returned from his two-year loan at Sociedad.
As defensive reinforcement, Nando arrived from Sevilla.
Finally, the team was ready to mount a serious title challenge.
That season (1990/91) Barcelona ran away with the League title and won with points to spare by playing an attack oriented game which would be the hallmark of this ‘Dream Team.’
This was also the first season that future legend Josip Guardiola made his debut for the first team.
This win was achieved despite the loss to injury of Ronald Koeman for months, the two months suspension of Stoichkov for stamping on the referee during the Super Cup Match vs. Real Madrid plus Johann Cruyff’s heart operation that kept him away for months.
Cruyff, who had been a chain smoker for many years, was forced to give up smoking after the surgery and became an anti-smoking advocate. As a substitute he started sucking on lollipops.
This League title win enabled Barcelona to enter the inaugural new format Champions League.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, December 1994
(Ronald Koeman)

Barcelona acquired Dutch midfielder Richard Witschge from Ajax as the fourth foreigner.
New League rules enabled each team to have 4 foreigners on their books, though only 3 could be present on the field at any given time.
For the 1991/92 season, Barcelona won the Champions League for the first time in its history vs. Italy’s Sampdoria with a trademark Ronald Koeman free kick.
Incredibly, they repeated as League champions on the very last day of the season with Real Madrid losing at Tenerife.

Photo From: World Soccer, June 1992
(Barcelona squad before the Champions League Final vs. Sampdoria,  May 20, 1992)

Last day league title wins would also become a specialty of this Barcelona team as they picked up titles in 1993 and 1994 also with last day wins.
For the 1992/93 season, Barcelona kept the same squad intact.
As mentioned, Barcelona once again triumphed in the League for the third year running with once again Real Madrid losing on the last day of the season and once again vs. Tenerife.
During the offseason of 1993,  long serving Captain Alexanco retired and inconsistent Dutch midfielder Richard Witschge was offloaded and replaced with Brazilian goal scoring machine Romario.
For this 1993/94 season, Romario formed a lethal partnership with Stoichkov and scored over 30 goals in his solitary full season at Barcelona. The highlight of that season was the 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid with Romario scoring a hat trick.
Barcelona won the League title on the last day when Deportivo La Coruna’s Miroslav Djukic failed to score from a penalty vs. Valencia and Barcelona’s win over Sevilla overtook Depor for the title.
Barcelona also reached the Champions League Final vs. the great AC Milan but was emphatically humiliated in a 0-4 loss.
Though for most fans the joy of a fourth successive League triumph more than made up for that heavy loss.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, December 1994
(Romario and Stoichkov)

The following season (1994/95), the first cracks in the dissolution of the ‘Dream Team’ became visible.
During the offseason of 1994, Michael Laudrup who had been marginalized by the arrival of Romario departed after 5 seasons to archrivals Real Madrid.
Cruyff’s son Jordi was promoted to the first team.
Juan Goicoetchea, Andoni Zubizaretta and Julio Salinas joined Bilbao, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna respectively.
Romanian superstar Gheorge Hagi was acquired, though he never really made an impact in his two seasons there.
Brazilian Romario, fresh from the World Cup win, delayed his return to Spain and caused a mini scandal by his behavior. The signs were already there for his eventual midseason departure back to Brazil and Flamengo.
Carlos Busquets, father of future star Sergio, was promoted as starting goalkeeper, though he suffered from comparisons with predecessor Zubizaretta and many soft goals did not help his cause.
Regardless Cruyff persevered with him for the rest of his tenure.
A lackluster Barcelona lost its League crown to Real Madrid that season.
Real even managed to avenge the previous season’s 5-0 loss with a 5-0 win of their own.
Barcelona also suffered another 0-5 loss at the hands of Racing Santander.
After the loss of Romario, Stoichkov also started to cross swords with Cruyff and started complaining about his position on the field as well as criticizing Cruyff for picking his relatives (i.e. his son).
In the offseason Stoichkov was transferred to AC Parma in Italy’s Serie A.
Ronald Koeman returned home to the Dutch League after six successful seasons.
Aitor Beguiristain and Eusebio Sacristan joined Deportivo La Coruna and Celta respectively.
Romanian Gheorge Popescu, Portugal’s Luis Figo, Bosnian goalscorer Meho Kodro and Croatian midfielder Robert Prosinecki joined the team.
For that season (1995/96) many players were promoted form the youth team.
These included Ivan de la Pena (dubbed Little Buddha, because of his bald head), brothers Oscar and Roger and Albert Celades.
Up until the last month of that season, Barcelona was the only team in the running for three competitions (The League, domestic Cup and UEFA Cup).
They lost the League title as well as the Cup to Atletico Madrid and were eliminated in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup to eventual champions Bayern Munich.
These losses cleared the way for Club President Nunez, with whom Cruyff had a strained relationship, to sack him with still two matches remaining in the League campaign.
Many believed his dismissal, prior to the official end of the campaign, was done to humiliate him.
By this time Cruyff had been the longest serving Barcelona manager with 8 years under his belt.
The critics were out for him, he was generally depicted as a manager with no special tactical ideas, but fortunate to manage a star studded squad.
His detractors would often point out that he had never managed modest teams, but only technically gifted teams of Ajax and Barcelona.
They pointed to his failed transfer signings over the years or his insistence on playing players out of their natural position.
They often point out that with the players at his disposal, Barcelona should have won its League titles with many points to spare instead of relying on its rivals’ implosion on the very last days of the seasons.
Cruyff must be given credit for bringing a winning mentality to Barcelona, as the team had not won for years, let alone successive titles.
His introduction of an attacking game was an innovation in a League where physical rough play was the order.
Cruyff won at least one title for each of the first six seasons of his tenure, only the last two were barren.
His Champions League triumph of 1992 is very significant since it was Barcelona’s first and Spain’s first since 1966.
Current Barcelona’s super team led by Guardiola is clearly influenced by Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team.’
Though the current team is probably more consistent and stronger, one could argue it is because Guardiola has perfected what he learned as a player with Cruyff.

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