Juan Antonio Pizzi will be back at the Camp Nou on Saturday. As a player, he signed for Barça in 1996 from Tenerife, where he had been top goalscorer in the league, and following naturalisation as a Spaniard, he had won a place in the Spanish national team. Bobby Robson was in his first season in charge at FCB, and Pizza was to pair up with superstar signing Ronaldo.
The Englishman preferred to play a single striker, so 28 year old Pizzi spent a lot of time on the bench, usually coming on in the second half, but still managed to notch up eight league goals.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s moment of glory came in the cup in 1997. After a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the quarter final with Atlético Madrid came an incredible return match at the Camp Nou. Barça went 3-0 and then 4-2 down before pulling back to 4-4 with ten minutes to go..
Then came the miracle, when Pizzi seized on a rebound to convert the goal that brought qualification for Barça in a game that minutes earlier had looked lost. The Argentina born striker also played a role in the final at the Bernabéu, where he stood in for the absent Ronaldo and scored the goal that took the game into extra time.
Under Louis van Gaal the following season, Pizzi got fewer opportunities, even though Ronaldo had left and been replaced with Sony Anderson. He was only involved in 15 league games, and started just three, but there were no remorse from a man who considered Van Gaal to be “tactically one of the most capable managers in the world. I learned a lot from him”.
In 1998, he left for River Plate and Rosario Central in his home country before returning to Europe and Porto followed by Villarreal. He then went into management, working at clubs in Peru, Chile and Argentina. It was in the latter that he recently won the Opening Championship with San Lorenzo, an achievement that caught the eye of Valencia, where he is now the new manager.