Sunday 3 August marks the 40th anniversary of Johan Neeskens’ debut for FC Barcelona in the match to inaugurate Hercules’ José Rico Pérez stadium in Alicante.
Signed from Ajax, Neeskens was one of the stars of Holland’s spectacular run to the Germany 1974 World Cup Final. Barça, with another Dutchman Marinus Michels on the bench, signed him to team up with his compatriot Johan Cruyff, on the assumption that they’d be able to quickly sort out Spanish nationality for Peruvian Hugo Sotil, which ultimately was not the case.
On August 3 1974, Barça were in Alicante for the inauguration of the José Rico Pérez stadium, which was full to its capacity of 30,000 to see newly promoted Hercules in action against the 73/74 league champions. Barça cruised to a 4-0 win with goals from Rexach, Asensi, Cruyff and Pérez.
Neeskens only played the second half and had a quiet game, having had very little time to adjust to his new team. But he did provide fleeting glimpses of the talent that would serve FCB so well over the next few years.
The Dutchman had a remarkable fighting spirit and always finished matches with his shirt drenched in sweat. He was given a hero’s send-off when he left the club in 1979, with tears in his eyes as the crowds in Plaça Sant Jaume chanted his name the day after winning the Cup Winners Cup in Basel.