Dream Teams in Barcelona - Which One Was the Best?

Johan Cruyff was the manager that guided the original FC Barcelona dream team. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Olympic football did not bring much joy to FC Barcelona, as Spain (which included Barca's Cristian Tello, Jordi Alba, and Martin Montoya) was extremely underwhelming. There were sunnier news on another front, however. Spain's basketball team, which includes two former and one current Barcelona stars in the starting five, triumphed over China. The Spanish team will have an extremely tough task ahead if they want to capture gold; the USA team is absolutely loaded with stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant and remain clear favorites.

USA basketball and Barcelona will be forever linked, as it was in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona where the original "Dream Team" of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and others dominated the tournament and took home gold.

But there was another team in Barcelona who are now rightfully called a "Dream Team." FC Barcelona had just captured their first European Cup title just a few months before the Olympics, beating Sampdoria 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a Ronald Koeman laser beam of a shot.

In Olympic basketball, the debate has grown: who is better, the original 1992 USA team or the current one? Bryant and James have said, without claiming they are necessarily better, that they could beat the original Dream Team. The 1992 class, however, does not think it very likely.

Barcelona has a more recent dream team as well. Tito Vilanova's team may capture trophies upon trophies, but for now, his era has not started. Pep Guardiola's four-year reign as manager belongs to the history books. Guardiola was a key figure in the original Dream Team as well, a cerebral midfielder who organized the team. Both are sterling periods of a storied franchise, but which one was better?

Beginnings

The nineties Barcelona Dream Team was managed by club legend Johan Cruyff, who arrived to coach Los Cules in 1988. The Dutchman had been one of the best players ever, a product and firm believer in the "Total Football" philosophy. As a manager, he had already won a Cup Winners' Cup as manager of Ajax.

Cruyff coached the Barcelona team that won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1989 (2-0 over Sampdoria) and the Copa del Rey 1989-90. But the true "Dream Team" is generally recognized to have lasted for four seasons, from 1990-91 to 1993-94.

Cruyff secured the services of international stars like Bulgarian marksman Hristo Stoichkov, Danish wizard Michael Laudrup, and Koeman, a Dutch defender. He promoted youth players to important roles, taking up a young, unproven defensive midfielder named Guardiola who turned out to be one of the world's best. Of the 11 who played the Cup Winners' Cup Final, only 3 (Andoni Zubizarreta, Eusebio Sacristan, and Julio Salinas) would play the EC final in 1992.

Guardiola was named manager after Barca suffered a few disappointing seasons ending in Frank Rijkaard's sacking. Again considered young and unproven, again he turned out to be one of the world's best. Guardiola, too, inherited some good players, but his team was much changed from Rijkaard's best side. Only two players, Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes, started both Barca's 2006 CL success under Rijkaard and Guardiola's first CL final managing Barca in 2009.

Guardiola shipped off Barcelona's brightest stars such as Ronaldinho, Deco, and Samuel Eto'o, bringing in a host of players including Dani Alves, Seydou Keita, and Gerard Pique. He looked to the academy as well, bringing in a young defensive midfielder who proved to be one of the world's best, Sergio Busquets (sound familiar?), while overseeing the continued progress of Lionel Messi into one of the best ever.

Successes

Cruyff's Dream Team won La Liga 1990-91 rather comfortably, 10 points ahead of Atletico de Madrid. In those days, only the Champions had access to the European Cup, and this victory gave them the opportunity to claim club football's greatest honor for the first time in team history.

The 1992 European Cup campaign included an away goals triumph over Kaiserlautern. After a 2-0 win at Camp Nou, Barcelona found themselves 3-0 down in Germany. But an 87th minute goal from Jose Mari Bakero gave Los Cules a close victory.

This was followed by a group stage where the winner of each group would then dispute the final. Barca had superior differential but were tied on points with Sparta Prague heading into the last game. Dynamo Kiev beat Prague and Barca beat Benfica 2-1 to advance.

The final was tense again, with the game tied 0-0 and going into extra time. In the 111th minute, Barcelona worked a free kick to allow Koeman a shot from outside the box, and he smashed it past Sampdoria's keeper Gianluca Pagliuca to give Cruyff's Dream Team its biggest success.

In the 1991-92 La Liga, Barcelona faced a stiffer challenge from Real Madrid, who led by one point going into the final game. Los Cules faced off against Athletic Bilbao, while Real Madrid visited 15th placed Tenerife. Real Madrid began the match leading 2-0 in just 28 minutes. Tenerife fought back remarkably, and turned the game around, winning it 3-2.

The European Champions had never been first that season, but they had their chance. While Tenerife were playing their match, Barcelona were seeing off Athletic Bilbao 2-0 thanks to a brace from Stoichkov. Barca trailed by as many as 8 points in the league at one point, but in the final day captured the trophy.

The next season, history would repeat itself. Real Madrid were heading into the last game a point ahead of Barca. Real Madrid ventured into Tenerife again. Barcelona defeated Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou thanks to a Stoichkov goal. Los Blancos lost in Tenerife again, this time by a score of 2-0, and Barcelona won their third successive league.

For the 1993-94 season, Barcelona secured a record transfer for Romario, the Brazilian forward. Despite being level on points with Deportivo de La Coruña, Barcelona would capture their fourth league title in a row due to a direct matchup tiebreaker. But the most enduring moment was surely Barca's 5-0 triumph in el Clasico.

In the 2008-09 season, Guardiola's men not only began their historic sextuple, but they did it with a dominant authority. They won the league by 9 points, beating Real Madrid home and away (including a memorable 6-2 win.) They won in the cup final versus Athletic by 4-1. Their victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final was "only" 2-0, but in truth Man U were barely in the game by their own admission.

In 2009-10, Barcelona spent heavily on Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In the campaign, they completed their sextuple, winning the Spanish Supercup, European Supercup, and Club World Cup. They also added a second successive La Liga trophy, beating Real Madrid by 3 points. After a 2-0 win in el Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu, Barcelona retained the top spot and never let it go.

Ibrahimovic proved a poor fit and feuded with Guardiola, so he was sent away in favor of David Villa. Villa would prove his worth in the 2010-11 season as he contributed two goals to an impressive 5-0 victory over Real Madrid en route to a third successive league title.

Barcelona returned to Wembley to capture their second Champions League title under Guardiola, again defeating Manchester United in the final by two goals. This time it was 3-1, with Pedro, Messi, and Villa scoring.

In Guardiola's last season in charge, Barcelona captured the two Supercups and the Club World Cup again, adding a Copa del Rey trophy for good measure. Guardiola became the most successful coach in club history, surpassing Cruyff, but said goodbye, citing burnout from four very successful years.

The End?

For Cruyff's Dream Team, it was a devastating 4-0 loss in the CL final versus Milan that seemed to shake the confidence of a previously all-conquering side. A supremely self-assured Cruyff bragged to the media that Barcelona were better than ever, while Milan were weak. When his swagger led to Barcelona triumphs previously, he was hailed as a genius. This time, he looked like a fool. By 1994, Laudrup was gone to Real Madrid. Romario and Stoichkov feuded with various people in the organization and left in 1995. Cruyff went two years without winning anything before leaving.

Guardiola's story is different. He did have a strong argument with a talented but troubled player, Ibrahimovic, but the Swede was replaced effectively by Villa. During Pep's last year in charge, he did fail to secure either the league or CL for the first time. However, he did deliver four cups and retired out of his own volition. He was given a hero's goodbye. The squad is nearly the same and his assistant, Vilanova, is ready to lead them to challenge for more titles.

The Best

Cruyff's 90s side reached previously unscaled heights for the Blaugrana, winning the European Cup for the first time in club history. They also won the league in four successive terms. The side led by Guardiola won more in a shorter time span, and conquered Europe not once but twice.

So we ask you, the reader, which "Dream Team" was the most impressive? The most stylish and entertaining? The best?

Fun fact: At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Guardiola was named best player as Spain captured their first and so far only gold medal in football.

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