Barça's Dream Team 1988-96

Four Consecutive Ligas and the First European Cup

The nickname of the Dream Team refers to the legendary FC Barcelona side put together by Johan Cruyff in the late 1980s that won four consecutive Ligas from 1991 to 1994 and brough home the club's first European Cup.

The term wasn't actually coined until the summer of 1992 after the Barcelona Olympic Games, when the all-star United States basketball Dream Team featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came and wiped the floor with its opponents to take the gold medal.

Johan Cruyff's FC Barcelona had just won its second consecutive Liga title and the club's first European Cup and for a couple seasons had been putting together some amazing football with accompanying results so the comparisons seemed obvious.

The Dream Team nickname seemed appropriate and stuck but the whole team building process had actually begun four years earlier with arrival of head coach and footballing legend Johan Cruyff accompanied by the charismatic Carles Rexach as assistant coach and the extremely likeable third coach, Toni Bruins Slot, at the start of the 1988-89 season.

Cruyff had arrived immediately following a major club crisis, known as the Hesperia Mutiny, and was in the fortunate position of being able to let most of the old squad and have the chance to build a new side almost from scratch.






Amongst the new signings were the tireless José Mari Bakero with his powerful heading ability, the skillful and intelligent Txiki Begiristain, the soberly effective Eusebio Sacristán, the astute and technical Guillermo Amor and the controversial and opportunistic Julio Salinas, who all became key players of a Barça side that would go down in history.

In fact, the only important players who remained from the previous line-up were goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and English striker Gary Lineker, who was only to stay for another season as Cruyff played him out of position on the wing and then criticised him for not scoring enough goals.

With these new players, Barça's game improved almost immediately and success soon came in the shape of the European Cup Winners' Cup at the end of the 1988-89 season.

However, as far as the fans were concerned the main objective remained winning the Liga, which had been won that season by the legendary Real Madrid side, known as the Quinta del Buitre.

With La Liga in mind more signings were necessary so Cruyff let Lineker go and signed Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup and Dutch defender Ronald Koeman for the 1989-90 season.

This was a turning point for me in terms of my support for Barça and both Koeman and Laudrup are two of my all time favourite players.

I'd arrived in Barcelona in April 1988 so the Johan Cruyff's arrival at Camp Nou and the 1988-89 season was really my introduction to Spanish football.

Obviously, at the time, I didn't know I would spend the rest of my life in Barcelona and a combination of the excellence of the Quinta del Buitre and Cruyff's mistreatment of English hero Gary Lineker meant I could have easily ended up supporting Real Madrid.

The sublime elegance of Laudrup's football changed all that, though, and whilst not yet being a fully-fledged culer, 1989-90 was the first season I really paid attention.

In fact, I went down to Barcelona's famous Ramblas to buy a Laudrup shirt from one of the souvenir shops and they were out of stock so I came back with a Ronald Koeman shirt, which I still occasionally wear to this day.

However, despite the wonderful football, in terms of trophies, that season was a bit of a washout.

Real Madrid's Quinta del Buitre won its fifth consecutive Liga title and Barça only came away with the Copa del Rey trophy, which was something of a disappointment.

With the signing of Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov at the start of the 1990-91 season, all the cogs of the Dream Team began to click into place

Alongside the players already mentioned, Jon Andoni Goikotxea was brought back from being on loan and was crucial down the right wing formimg a brilliant partnership with right back Albert Ferrer, who'd arrived on the first team through the youth system.

The other FC Barcelona legend to make the step up from the youth team was a young Pep Guardiola, who in time would be the player who would translate Cruyff's complex tactics and put them into practice on the pitch.

Although not yet named, this was the Dream Team that would go down as one of the greatest sides in the History of FC Barcelona.

In the 1990-91, Barça went top after the second game and stayed there until there until the end of the season, taking the title with a ten-point advantage over Atlético de Madrid and eleven points over third classified Real Madrid.

With incorporation of Mallorcan central defender, Miguel Angel Nadal, the 1991-92 season marked the side's coming of age.

On May 22nd 1992 at Wembley in the second half of extra time after 111 minutes of play, a Ronald Koeman free kick goal beat the Sampdoria keeper and FC Barcelona won its long overdue first European Cup.

This was the day that has gone down in history but for me June 7th, when Barça won the what is known as the first Tenerife Liga, is more important for me because after having followed the side pretty closely for four years since the start of the 1988-89 season, it was the day I lost my heart to FC Barcelona and became a full-blown culer.

In those days, I lived on Carrer dels Cecs de Cugat in the Ribera neighbourhood of Ciutat Vella and used to watch the football at the long gone a much missed Bar López on neighbouring Neu de Sant Cugat.

We used to call the bar Santi's because it was run by a father and son, who were both called Santi.

Santi Senior supported Real Madrid and Santi Junior, who I had become close friends with, supported Barça and they had two televisions so whenever both Madrid and Barça were playing at the same time, if you positioned yourself correctly, you could watch both matches simultaneously.

That night I sat in such a position with little hope of satisfaction because Real Madrid had been top virtually all season and just had to beat humble CD Tenerife.

If they did as expected whatever second placed Barça did against the much more demanding Athletic Club de Bilbao, they would win the Liga title.

As expected Hierro put Real Madrid 1-0 up after just 8 minutes and then Hagi scored the second 20 minutes later.

Quique Esteberanz got one back for Tenerife and even with Real Madrid 2-1 up at half-time, La Liga began to look a little shaky because with Barcelona were beating Athletic Club in Camp Nou and given their superior goal average a draw in the Heliodoro Rodríguez would hand them La Liga.

In the second half, Real Madrid's Villaroya got sent off and a few minutes later Tenerife not only equalised in minute 76 but went 3-2 up in minute 77.

The bar went wild and for another nailbiting 20 minutes, we watched as Barça culminated their 2-0 victory over Athletic and Tenerife held on to their 3-2 advantage.

La Liga was ours, Santi and I went to Canaletes to celebrate and I woke some time late the following afternoon not only with a dreadful hangover but also as a diehard culer.

The level of excellence continued the following season and unbelievably finished the same way.

Real Madrid again had a one-point advantage over Barcelona at the top of the table and once again had to face their nemesis Tenerife in the final game whilst Barça played Real Sociedad.

Nobody thought it could happen again but it did and Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 while Tenerife beat Real Madrid 2-0 and handed Barça the Liga title for the second consecutive season.

For the start of the 1993-94 season, Cruyff signed the brilliant Brazilian striker Romario de Souza and brought young defender Sergi Barjuan up from the B team.

The presence of Romario, briliant though he was, disrupted some of the equilibrium because in those days you could only field three foreign players.

Cruyff tended to favour Romario, Koeman and Stoichkov, which meant that Laudrup spent too much time on the subs bench and the relationship between the Danish midfielder and the Dutch coach suffered irrepairable damage.

FC Barcelona took the Liga title again against all odds when Deportivo de la Coruña, who once again had been leaders for most of the season, were only able to draw with Valencia, with the missing of a last-minute penalty by Djukic thrown in.

Meanwhile Barcelona beat Sevilla 5-2 in Camp Nou to take the Liga title.

In many respects, apart from the wonderful football, one of the reasons why the Dream Team became so legendary was that the Ligas of 1992, 1993 and 1994 were all decided in the last game and in the case of the last Liga in the very last minute.

However, later that season everything was to come to an end when in the Champions League final just three days later on May 18th, FC Barcelona were thrashed 4-0 by a magnificent AC Milan.

I remember watching the game with friends and realising the dream was over and when an annoyed Michael Laudrup decided not to renew his contract and signed for arch-rivals Real Madrid another nail had been driven into the coffin.

Zubizarreta, Goikotxea and Salinas also left the club at the end of the 1993-94 season and Johan Cruyff decided to rebuild the side by bringing a clutch of young players known as the Quinta del Mini onto the first team.

The team never really clicked and Cruyff staggered on for another couple of seasons without any success until with relations between the Dutchman and president Josep Lluís Nuñez worsening, a half-time dressing room spat towards the end of the 1995-96 season between Cruyff and the club's vice president Joan Gaspart led to his dismissal.

Assistant coach Carles Rexach took over the reins of the team for the last two seasons but it was not only the end of an era but also the end of a friendship between Cruyff and Rexach that had gone back to their time as players together in the 1970s.



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