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The Copa del Rey is the much sought after trophy that I never got my hands on. If I could go back in time, I’d like it to be one of the many dreams that came true in my time at Barça. I enjoyed so much success. I was part of a golden era, and also one of change. The era of an extraordinary Barça coached by Johan Cruyff, whose image is still being projected on the team today through Ronald Koeman. A team that excites.
It would be important to win a trophy this year. It would inject confidence into Ronald Koeman’s system and the young players who are getting more and more chances. They’ll get their first chance against Athletic Club, in the Copa del Rey Final. There’s no question that Barça are the favourites to win the title, but finals are never easy.
We found that out in the European Cup Final against AC Milan in 1994. It was a tough time. I remember we were full of confidence going into the game. They reckoned we were favourites, but we lost 4-0. Fact is, the Italians played much better than we did.
That game in Athens was a turning point, because such a painful defeat led to changes to the team. Johan thought it was time for a major transformation. And that’s when I left for Athletic Club, a club that has always been in my heart. It was a joy to wear the red and white shirt. I am so happy to have defended those colours.
The Lions did beat Barça in the Spanish Super Cup, but they know they’ve lost to them in several cup finals in the past“
I didn’t get to win the Copa del Rey in Bilbao either, a trophy that the Lions have been hunting for a long time. It’s a thorn that the club can’t get out of its side. And it will surely be even worse after failing to win it against Real Sociedad on April 3. Now they get a second chance and they won’t want to waste it. They’ll be desperate to win this one.
But they know it won’t be easy. They did beat Barça in the Spanish Super Cup, but they know they’ve lost to them in several cup finals in the past. But I’m pretty sure that once the ball starts rolling the Athletic and Barça players won’t be thinking about games in the past and the nerves will disappear. It’ll just be about excitement.
I can’t give any advice for finals. Not to Koeman either. He knows more about these games than anyone and faced the bilbainos as a player. He knows how much character the Athletic players and their fans have. He knows they’ll do everything they can to win the game. Athletic can do anything, although I still think Barça have everything to win this final.
I think we’ve all been surprised by Ronald Koeman’s new system. We had all grown used to Barça playing a 4-3-3 and now they’re playing with three centre backs and two wing backs. He’s innovating, and showing that he’s not afraid and knows the game well.
As a player I was a leader. When I signed for FC Barcelona, Koeman was already an important part of the team. I had never seen, and still haven’t seen, a player who covers so much ground and has such a powerful kick as Koeman. I’d stay behind with him after training and he was amazing. He was and still is the best. And he was so good at getting the ball out of defence. He was a player with character, who was fully focused on games, who was hard to beat … he was such a great all-rounder.
Of course Ronald Koeman was also a great team-mate. We were all astonished by the wonderful atmosphere among the squad. The Dream Team was a very close-knit group and we still are today. I still see Koeman every now and again, and we talk mainly about football. I remember when I was on the coaching staff at Osasuna, and I asked him about certain Dutch players. We also got to meet up for the 25th anniversary of the European Cup Final at Wembley.
Looking further back, 20 May 1992 was one of the most important days in club history. I wasn’t quite aware at the time how big a thing it was to win the European Cup. Looking back now, we made history in capital letters. It ended Barça’s curse in Europe. It was a major turning point for the club.
The era with Johan Cruyff as coach and with players like Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov, Laudrup, Eusebio, Amor, Bakero, Txiki Begiristain, Romario, me … It changed FC Barcelona. Not since the club was created had there been such an impact in Europe. So I can class my time at Barça as a golden era, but also one of change.
The Dream Team era was indeed a dream with open eyes, and that triggered new eras of success. Such as the days with Ronaldinho and now with Messi. What the Argentinian is leaving in his wake is incredible. I think they should build a monument to him in the Diagonal in Barcelona.
He creates so much pressure and he always appears. I’m sure he’ll play an important part in the final against Athletic. If you wear blaugrana, but red and white too, then you have to win every game. That’s why you have so much responsibility. Also when it comes to playing finals and lifting trophies. Both sets of fans want their team to win the cup.
I was lucky to win no fewer than eight titles in my four years at Barça. I played almost every game and fitted in nicely as part of Cruyff’s system. It was an honour to play under Cruyff and to see my name go down in gold letters in club history. But I never got the chance to go far in the Copa del Rey. I didn’t at Athletic either. They’re two clubs that I am glad to have been part of and that are in my heart. That’s why I’m looking forward to this cup final so much!
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