For many Barcelona fans the past few weeks have felt like the darkest chapters in the club’s proud history.
Most of us recognize that this moment has been years in the making, masked by the facade of seemingly endless trophies.
Even when we were bad, we thought we were good because at least there were La Liga and Copa del Rey championships to celebrate.
And yet every year there were red flags. Embarrassing Champions League defeats, and record signing players that consistently under-performed.
We now know that the system has been broken for a long time. Without Lionel Messi and a galactico spending budget, we would have seen it sooner.
As the club searches for a path forward, the following lament of Johan Cruyff is worth thinking about.
“Football is now all about money. There are problems with the values within the game. This is sad because football is the most beautiful game. We can play it in the street. We can play it everywhere.”
Cruyff became the manager at the Camp Nou in 1988, and when he left in 1996 he had truly made Barca more than a club.
Many remember him for bringing the team it’s first European Cup in 1992. This was a big deal for a team who for so long existed in the shadow of Real Madrid, rivals who made winning this trophy look like their birth right.
Real Madrid developed a reputation for spending money. Whoever the best player in the world was, they would write a check and make them their next superstar.
Johan Cruyff truly believed in the integrity of the beautiful game. He proved that hard work, tactics, and passion could trump money.
He instilled this belief in players who would go on to manage the biggest clubs in the world.
Pep Guardiola not only adopted the tactics and philosophy of his old coach, he supercharged them and changed the game forever.
Between Ronaldinho who came before him, and Pep’s second generation “Dream Team,” Barca became a global marketing giant, on par with Real Madrid and Manchester United.
As a result, they had resources they’d never had before. A blessing, and as it turned out, also a curse.
With the hiring of Josep Maria Bartomeu, a businessman without a football background, Barca became a club all about money.
From Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, to the Qatar Airways sponsorship, Bartomeu’s business-centric thinking destroyed the beautiful culture that Cruyff developed.
Whether Messi stays or goes, and whether Ronald Koeman succeeds or fails, I hope the next president understands what Cruyff knew to be true. Football is not for the elites. It’s not about money. It’s for everyone. All the socios and fans around the world.
If, like Cruyff, Barca puts the game first and the business second, there will be pride in the club again.
It won’t be about winning and losing either. Barca did a lot of winning the past few years, but they did it in the wrong way. Sometimes even when you lose you win if you can hold on to your values.
In honor of Cruyff, Koeman, and Guardiola, let’s take a look at perhaps the greatest highlight from the golden years. We could all use a reminder of past glory as we seek to return to it.
May 20, 1992: Barcelona beat Sampdoria 1-0
On this day in Barca history, the Blaugrane became kings of Europe for the first time beating Sampdoria 1-0 at Wembley Stadium.
Johan Cruyff was the manager, with Ronald Koeman anchoring the defensive line, and Pep Guardiola organizing the midfield.
The game was won in extra time by none other than Koeman. In one of the most iconic goals in Barca history, Koeman stepped up and scored a rocket of a free kick across his body and into the side netting.
Going into this season, this legendary moment should excite fans as they support Koeman in his campaign to bring quality football back to the team.
He’s not a Ernesto Valverde or Quique Setien. Like Guardiola and Luis Enrique before him, Koeman bleeds blaugrane and is committed to the project.
The victory was years in the making though, and with the current challenges, we should remember that as well.
Cruyff became the manager in 1988, tasked with rebuilding the club after the “Hesperia Mutiny” scandal.
The circumstances gave him the opportunity to bring in his own players and establish his own system virtually from scratch.
He took full advantage, developing a team around his unique footballing philosophy.
Players like Guardiola, Koeman, Romario, Michael Laudrop, and Hristo Stoichkov, came in and bought into his program.
From 1991-1994, the golden era blossomed and the club won four straight La Liga titles. The European Cup in 1992 was their announcement to the world that FC Barcelona had arrived and was staying for good.
The generation under Cruyff’s leadership did more than win titles. They developed an identity that would persist, and an expectation that they would compete with their rival Real Madrid every year to be the best.
It was a paradigm shift built on establishing a winner’s mentality. Look at Guardiola today and the intensity with which he coaches. We know where he learned it.
It’s the attitude change that Koeman and Barcelona need to emphasize.
Regardless of which players are on the roster, the team needs to be put first.
That starts with putting trust in the manager and his vision.
Using history as our guide we should look forward to the new season with the hope that we could be starting a bright new chapter.
Nothing lasts forever. New faces and ideas are what’s needed, but let’s hope the leadership truly understands the lessons of Cruyff as well.