It is considered the most important moment in Barcelona’s history. The venue was Wembley Stadium in May 1992 as Ronald Koeman’s strike secured the club’s first ever European Cup title. eir sport 1, Sat, Sep 14th 10.30pm
It’s hard to imagine a time when Barcelona were not one of the leading teams in Europe. While nowadays, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Gerard Pique and other superstars in their ranks, they challenge for top honours even in a bad season, three decades ago it was a different story entirely.
Back then they were a team in the doldrums. While they had never enjoyed the success of rivals Real Madrid, they had claimed a La Liga and Copa del Rey double in the late 1950s followed by a Fairs Cup triumph the following year, so there was some track record of achievement. But other than two Cup Winner’s Cups, silverware had been thin on the ground since then and when former player Johann Cruyff took over as manager in 1988, the club had won La Liga just twice in almost 30 years.
The Dutchman’s arrival proved a massive turning point as he brought a new style and ethos to Barcelona, one that has continued to this day and is still celebrated around the world. His style of free-flowing, attacking football soon had supporters flooding back to the Nou Camp as he mixed home-grown players like Pep Guardiola, José Mari Bakero, Jon Andoni Goikoetxea, Miguel Angel Nadal and Txiki Begiristain with top quality international imports such as strikers Hristo Stoichkov and Romario, Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup and Dutch defender Koeman.
Cruyff led Barcelona to Copa del Rey success in 1989 and 1990 and four consecutive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994. On the European stage his ‘Dream Team’, as they were known in the press, won the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1989 before losing out to Manchester United in the final of the same competition two years later.
But they weren’t to be denied as they reached the final of the European Cup the following year. The venue was Wembley Stadium, the opposition Serie A glamour boys Sampdoria who included the likes of Roberto Mancini, Attilio Lombardo and Gianluca Vialli in their line-up.
Barcelona attacked relentlessly, but the Italian defence held firm. A stalemate ensued and the game went into extra time. Both sides missed chances and it looked like penalties would be required. Four of the previous eight finals had been decided on penalties and it looked like this one was heading the same way until eight minutes from time when Barcelona were awarded a free-kick just outside the Sampdoria box.
Stoichkov tapped it about two feet to Bakero who stopped it dead for the oncoming Koeman who drilled an unstoppable shot beyond Gianluca Pagliuca into the Sampdoria net. It was the breakthrough that Barcelona deserved as they held on to claim their first ever European Cup title. It is considered by many associated with the Catalan club as the most important moment in their history, the moment that launched them onto the global stage. It was the beginning of everything that was to follow – four Champions League titles, a Cup Winner’s Cup, five Super Cups and three World Club Cup trophies. At home it began a period of dominance which has seen them claim 13 La Liga titles since that Wembley evening 27 years ago and eight Copa del Reys, including the last four in succession.
Destination Wembley looks back on the events of that fateful night 27 years ago. Contributors include an emotional Koeman (who knew he was such a softie?), Nadal and Guardiola amongst others who give their take on what it still means to the club all these years later. They pay tribute to their late manager who led them to such unprecedented success and set a blueprint for future managers like Guardiola to follow.
It was the beginning of a new era in European football – and what a goal to launch it!
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