The realization of a Dream Team – the story of the first Barcelona team to win a European Cup

The Catalans conquered the continent for the first time in 1992 with a side built by Johan Cruyff and featuring a young Pep Guardiola, laying the foundations for today's success
By Ben Hayward

The year of 1992 changed Barcelona forever. The Olympic Games brought with it regeneration, redevelopment and renovation, transforming the city into the global center for business, tourism and leisure that it is today. It put the city on the map, and something similar happened in football.

Barcelona had lived in the shadow of fierce rivals Real Madrid for much of the 1980s, and the club suffered perhaps its greatest ever disappointment during that time, losing the 1986 European Cup final to unfancied Steaua Bucharest on penalties. At ‘home’, on Spanish soil – in Seville.

To rub salt into the wounds, Madrid went on to win five league titles in a row. Something had to be done. It was time to go Dutch.

President Josep Lluis Nunez, who always went by his Catalan name even though he is Basque, had come to prominence in the construction industry. But the businessman had failed to build anything remotely close to a dynasty at Barcelona.

The plans, however, were in place.

Nunez took over as president in 1978, while Johan Cruyff was still a player at the Catalan club. Before he left, the Dutchman gave the supremo an important piece of advice. It was simple: open a youth academy.

Nunez set about doing just that and behind the scenes, the seeds were sown. But by 1988, fans were growing restless at a lack of success at Camp Nou. So once again, Nunez turned to Cruyff.

“It's impossible to get to the level of the Dream Team. I would love to even get near that level.”

- Pep Guardiola

A year earlier, Cruyff had led Ajax to European Cup Winners Cup glory and the Dutchman was brought to Barcelona to replicate that success – and to break Madrid’s monopoly in Spain.

Slowly but surely, Cruyff and Nunez began to lay the foundations, to build their dream house; their Dream Team. Theirs was a dual strategy: sign the best players from home and abroad, and bring through young talent. It worked - and how.

In came renowned international stars such as Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and Michael Laudrup. A solid Basque base was formed from the great Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad sides of the mid-80s, including Andoni Zubizarreta, Jose Mari Bakero, Txiki Begiristain and Julio Salinas. Eventually, some promising homegrown youngsters, such as Pep Guardiola, Guillermo Amor, Albert Ferrer and Sergi Barjuan, were brought through from La Masia – the youth academy Cruyff had recommended 10 years earlier.

Cruyff’s side finished second in his first season at Camp Nou and third the following season, but a Cup Winners' Cup was won in 1989 and, perhaps more importantly, the Barca faithful were marveling at the fantasy football they were witnessing. The Dream Team was dawning.

The beginning of that dream arrived the following season as Barca claimed the first of four consecutive league titles, three of which were won on the last day of the season. The first two arrived thanks to surprise Real Madrid defeats at Tenerife, and the final one courtesy of a missed penalty by Miroslav Djukic for Deportivo La Coruna against Valencia.

Like a dream |
Koeman, the hero from '92, up against Manchester United for Barca

“The difference between achieving success and not doing so is minimal,” Laudrup said. “To win three leagues on the last day, coming from behind, you have to have some luck.”

But this wasn’t just any team. “The Dream Team radically changed the history of the club and that’s why it’s such a special team,” the Dane added.

Nobody in Spain has managed to win four league titles in a row since then, although Barca will have the chance of emulating that feat next season. And the current side will also have the opportunity to achieve something the Dream Team could not – win the European Cup twice.

Barca fell at the final hurdle in 1994, losing 4-0 to a great AC Milan side they had nevertheless been favorites to beat. Members of the Dream Team remember that as the lowest point in the side’s story. The high came at Wembley.

After knocking out Hansa Rostock in the first round of the European Cup in 1992, Barca found itself on the brink of elimination against another German side. Two goals from Begiristain had given the Catalans a straightforward 2-0 win over Kaiserslautern at Camp Nou, but Cruyff’s side were 3-0 down in the return leg, only to be rescued by a last-minute Bakero effort, which saw Barca advance on away goals. The line, as Laudrup says, is indeed fine.

A group stage followed, with the two winners set to advance to the Wembley final. Barca faced Sparta Prague, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev, losing just once (in the Czech capital), drawing once (in Lisbon) and winning the other four.

“The Dream Team radically changed the history of the club and that's why it's such a special team.” 

                    - Michael Laudrup
That set up a final meeting with Sampdoria, a repeat of the 1989 Cup Winners' Cup final in which the Catalans had comfortably beaten the Italians 2-0. Big favorites to emulate that success, Barca looked the better side for most of the match and Stoichkov hit the post. But Samp twice came close through Gianluca Vialli, who found himself one-on-one with Zubizarreta but was unable to hit the target on either occasion.

The deadlock remained unbroken and extra time beckoned. In the sixth minute, Barca won a free-kick just outside the Sampdoria area. Up stepped Stoichkov, but in stepped Bakero; “Koeman takes them from here,” the Basque reminded the Bulgarian. It would prove to be almost as important an intervention as his crucial face-saving second-round goal against Kaiserslautern, because Koeman fired low into the corner to give Barca its first-ever European Cup.

Again, there had been some good fortune: Giovanni Invernizzi was penalized as he attempted to keep hold of the ball under pressure on the ground from Eusebio Sacristan – but there was no foul.

History, however, had taken its course. And Barca, courtesy of two Dutchmen, had conquered Europe for the very first time. It seemed appropriate, then, that the Catalans had done so playing for the first time ever in orange (Sampdoria had both blue and red on their kit).

In the middle of the park, a young Pep Guardiola was realizing his dream. The year of 1992 would change his life: after the European Cup success he went on to win gold with Spain at the Olympic Games in the summer. He changed, the city changed, Barcelona changed – and football changed. Dreams were realised, a Dream Team was created and then consecrated. And now, on Saturday, where the twin towers of Wembley once stood, Guardiola is back again as the leader of a new team that can go one better – it’s the stuff of dreams.

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