IN MY OWN WORDS: Albert Ferrer
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I remember it like it was yesterday. I was going back to the Camp Nou, the stadium where I wore for the shirt of my boyhood club for eight seasons. It was the 18th of April and I was playing for Chelsea and we were in Barcelona to book a place in the semi finals of the Champions League after having won the first leg 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. It is funny that you don't really realise how big Camp Nou is until you go there as the away team. Barça make you run from one side to the other, tiring you out physically.
It felt really strange. I remember that we went into the game thinking that we could go through thanks to the advantage we had from the first leg and even more so when Tore-André Flo made it 2-1 after 60 minutes at Camp Nou. Nevertheless, that day at the stadium the magic returned and another great comeback was born. It was really strange to experience it from the other side but now I have great memories of that day. It was my return home and I believe, despite the deep disappointment, it was a special day for me.
At the moment we are going through an extremely difficult situation that is bringing the best out in everyone. We are at home trying to create new routines in lockdown with my wife, Genny, and our two children, Daniel who is 13 years old and Alexia who is nine. Watching them grow up and to be able to share my passion for football is priceless. I was 13 myself when I started playing for Barça. Before that I was playing for my school, Maristes de Rubí and when I found out that the Club had spotted me, I was delighted as you can imagine.
I remember that I went to training every day from Rubí, where I was living, as excited as you could be. My mother took me every day and little by little I started to see what it meant to play in one of the youth teams at a club as big as Barça. There was lots of competition and the level was very high. At the end of the season I waited nervously for the letter that told you if you could continue your development as a player at the Club or you had to look for another team. In the youth set up at Barça you can learn and develop as a player and also as a person. In my case, the dream of playing for the first team one day came ever closer as I progressed through the ranks and then finally it came true. It would not have been possible without three people in particular who were instrumental in my development. First, Oriol Tort, as he was the person who initially invited me for a train when I was still playing for my school in Rubí. Also, I will always remember Quique Costas and Carles Reixach as both were vital for me and my progression as a player.
Johan advised me to go out on loan before establishing myself in the first team. As usual, he was right“ ALBERT FERRER
Tenerife was also a great turning point in term of maturity during my career as a professional footballer. It was 1990 and I was playing for Barça B in the Second Division B and I remember that Johan Cruyff, the first team coach at the time, told me that I was in his plans but the winter transfer market would be a good time to go out on loan to First Division club where I could make my debut at the top level. Johan, as usual, was right. It was January and the chance to play for CD Tenerife until the end of the season came about. I went there with my mother and the experience as a footballer was sensational, albeit intense. I even managed to experience a relegation play off against Deportivo La Coruñá that thankfully ended in victory. In general it was some six months in Tenerife that made me stronger as a player and as a person.
Sometimes I think that you can sum up my sporting career in letters. When you are younger they send you a letter to tell you if you are still a Barça player or not. I was the same when I was at Tenerife. I received a letter in the post from Barça to tell me to turn up for a pre-season medical ahead of the coming campaign. I remember being so happy at that moment. Straight away I saw that Johan had kept his word. That season I quickly established myself as first choice at right back and we won the league title for the first time in six seasons. We claimed the league in a 4-0 defeat away at Cádiz and I remember watching the game at home as I was unfortunately suspended. I remember being really frustrated and I wanted to turn the TV off as we conceded goal after goal. Fortunately Real Sociedad beat Atlético the next day and we were crowned champions. It was the first league title for Johan and it was the first season for me in the first team. What more can you ask for?
That trophy set the tone for the success to come that made history with the 'Dream Team'. The following season we won the league once again, the Spanish Super Cup and the one we so wanted, the European Cup at Wembley. Even though it might seem a perfect season, it was not for me, at least not at the beginning. In November I suffered a cruciate ligament injury that kept me out for six months. To top it off, it was the year of the Olympic Games in Barcelona. I had that as an objective for the future; reaching the Olympics. It was tough but I made it. Before that, however, there was another important date in the diary: the European Cup final at Wembley. I wasn't sure that I would be fit in time since the medical staff had said I would be out for six to seven months. In the end I came back a fortnight before the final and Johan put me in the team. It was 20 May 1992; you all remember, surely? At Wembley we made history.
I will always remember that game. The boss not only put me in the starting XI, he also gave me an important job to do: man-mark Sampdoria's danger man Roberto Mancini. Cruyff knew for which games he had to motivate us and for which it was not needed. When we played against team who were on paper inferior, he made us think it would be as tough as a Champions League final. When we were actually in the final, strangely enough his team talk - similar to when we played against other big teams - was more of the famous 'go out and enjoy yourselves' variety, which came from Johan's previous talks in which he tried to take away the pressure and nerves we felt. In fact, he read the situation perfectly. We need go no further than the fact that I was on the verge of missing the final due to gastroenteritis, brought on by nerves and I remember Julio Salinas doing laps of the dressing room before the game; he was like jelly. We all were, at least I was until I went out for the warm up and I saw all our fans accompanied by 'Barcelona' by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé. That got rid of all my nerves.
Wembley was the high point for the Dream Team and where we hit the heights“ ALBERT FERRER
How did the final go? You all know that. However, what you probably don't know is that I couldn't relax until three weeks after winning the first ever European Cup. After the game I had to undergo a drug test and a few days before the final I had started to take some medication some of the effects of the gastroenteritis. Obviously, there was nothing illegal involved but in the most glorious moment ever for Barça, in my head I somehow though I might give a positive test and that they might take the title away from us. It was an illogical fear and finally when the letter arrived to tell me that the test had been negative, I was able to breathe easily.
That summer got even better when we won the gold medal in the Barcelona Olympic Games. It's true that we played all our games, except the final, in Valencia at Mestalla so we were not able to fully enjoy the Olympic atmosphere - however, we did play the final at Camp Nou in front of 100,000 fans. It was a great way to round off a season that had not started in great fashion.
Wembley was the high point for the 'Dream Team'. We reached our peak. The following season we won the league, the third in a row, and we did it again in 1993/94, four in a row. However, the defeat in the Champione League final against AC Milan - just four days after winning a fourth league title - was a turning point for us. We didn't expect that defeat. We went into the final thinking we were unbeatable but the truth is that they turned us over: we had less than a week to prepare and AC Milan had more than 20 days. We were not in it, they were much better. I think that final in Athens was the end of the 'Dream Team'. I think that team could have done more but little by little it was broken up.
For the 1996/97 season, Bobby Robson arrived to replace Johan. Robson was a great coach but he never managed to have the same hold over the team that Cruyff had. A season later Louis Van Gaal arrived. The Dutchman told me - without even having seen me train - that I was not in his plans and that if I could find a team, I was free to leave. Nevertheless, I decided to stay and I was able to play almost the entire second half of the season in the 97/98 campaign yet Van Gaal's position did not change. It was time to leave. From there, the chance to go and play in England came about with Chelsea. It was a great experience. What surprised me the most at the time was how relaxed it was being a professional footballer. There were no sports newspapers and not that much media coverage. I remember you could go out in midweek and hardly anybody would recognise you and it was very welcome because you could enjoy your job without the pressure that you get here in Catalonia or in the rest of the country. After five seasons with the London club I finally hung up my boots.
It is very easy to miss football when you are no longer a player. I guess that is why in 2010 when the chance came up to be a coach, I didn't think twice about it. I began my career with Vitesse in Holland and then Córdoba and Mallorca. Since then I have developed a lot and now I can proudly say that I am the coach of the Barça Legends team. It is a very ambitious project from the Club and I am learning a lot. Could I be the Barça first team coach one day? It would be a dream job obviously and football is very unpredictable so let's hope that one day it comes true.
From one Barça fan to another. Be strong in these difficult weeks for everyone. We will come through it, I am certain.
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