Nineteen years ago at the old Wembley Stadium, in the 111th minute of the Champions League final, Barça’s history changed forever. The team, and the club, was eager to win their place in football history, having a story of too many disappointments. After that night, Barça became a winning team. The mentality had changed forever. And 19 years later, Barça is becoming one of the best teams in the world. Players who were around in 1992 say that victory was an obsession, a burden almost impossible to bear. Now, victory seems the inevitable consequence of a job well done.
Nineteen years after that May 20, 1992, Barça is once again at the edge of a big European night. The memories of a perfect night, two years ago, against the same opponent we will face on Saturday, are much more fresh. What has changed in two years?
First, the rival. Manchester United might not be the flamboyant team of past seasons, but they seem to have strengthened their lines. Back then, this team was too much taken by individuality and personal egos, to the point that they were usually in big trouble when they were not leading on the scoreboard. Now, their players show more solidarity among the teammates, which leads them to be more careful thanks to their more compact style.
But Barça has also evolved over the past two years. Although they won all the trophies available to win in 2009, it seemed that they were a beateable team. Today, it appears to take much more effort to beat the team, since they have improved on the art of retaining the ball and playing it to one touch, fast, always waiting for the right moment to attack.
There are many reasons why we should trust our team will have a great performance this Saturday, but also of course, respecting our dangerous rival. Let’s review some facts:
1. Barça’s attacking line: David Villa’s addition was a major step forward for our attacking line, which has gained in depth and complexity. We can easily see Messi in a striker position and then Xavi in the same role, while being assisted by Iniesta or Pedro, and Villa opening closed defenses on either side. If United were confused when Messi played as striker in 2009, the surprise might be bigger this year.
2. The team, 100%: Barça suffered big absences for both the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals. In 2009 we could not use our first team right and left back due to suspension, against a team with two really good wingers. However, this time they’re all available.
3. The team’s high work rate: Thanks to the pressure put on rivals, starting in our attacking line, the ball is recovered fast enough to keep attacking again and again. This work is hard to deal with even for really good teams, like Arsenal.
4. Our path to the CL final: Since July 2010, when most of the team arrived tired after a long World Cup, Barça’s season has been like an obstacle course. The allegations from Madrid, which pointed out referee benefits for us, and even the doping allegations, the complex path in the Champions League (Arsenal, Shakhtar and Madrid), the physical and emotional battle with our bitter rivals in the last month, these were all obstacles that the club has passed. There is only one more!
There are lots of reasons to be optimistic before the CL final. However, success can be only achieved by a thorough preparation, hard work and unconditional support from the fans. We should not worry about the first issue – the team’s preparation. As Eidur Gudjohnsen explained very well this week, we can say that the plan to win this is in good hands. Pep can discover United’s weak points and put a tactical plan together to exploit them, while taking care of their strengths. Hard work is also guaranteed. Our players never lower the guard.
The last matter depends on each one of us. From anywhere we are, in anyway we can, we must show our support and believe that our team will make us proud, no matter what happens. Manchester United might have a better game, they might be better than us that day, but our team will give everything to win. And we must do the same.
Many years ago the club found itself emerging from a long history of small victories. They made history at Wembley. It’s time to do it again. “Get out there and have fun“!