Europe’s Champions: Barcelona 1991-92

GIVEN the size of the club and its importance to global football, it is surprising that Barcelona had to wait until 1992 for their first European Cup triumph. The club had already made a mark on the continental stage, winning six trophies and finishing runners-up in another four between 1958 and 1989. The truly big prize eluded them, however, the most painful defeat being the 1986 final of the European Cup in Seville, when Terry Venables’ much-fancied team lost on penalties to Romania’s unadventurous Steaua Bucharest.

Finally, in 1992, Barcelona won the competition with a star-studded team managed by Johan Cruyff, making him one of the few men to have won the European Cup as a player and manager. Cruyff had three winners’ medals from his hat-trick of triumph with Ajax Amsterdam as a player in the early 1970s and he hoped to add to that haul when he left for Barcelona in 1973, but he only got as far as the semi-final.

Cruyff took over as manager in 1988, a time when Real Madrid were the dominant force in Spanish football. Barca had won La Liga in 1985, but Real had won three consecutive titles. Cruyff rejoined the club after enjoying some success with Ajax, including the 1987 European Cup-Winners’ Cup. He never managed to win the Dutch league with the club that launched his playing career.


Cruyff was as revered in Barcelona as he was in Amsterdam and his style mirrored the best elements of “total football”. His influence on Spanish football was reflected in the approach taken by those who saw him as a mentor, including Pep Guardiola. Guardiola was a young emerging player when Cruyff took up his new role and gave the tall, skinny midfielder his chance to shine. Guardiola was a product of La Mesia, the academy advocated by Cruyff when he was a player at the club. In 1988, Barca had England striker Gary Lineker in their ranks, but mostly it was an all-Spanish squad. They were heavily in debt and many saw the club as a soap opera.

By the end of 1988-89, Barca had won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, beating Sampdoria in the final. In the summer of 1989, Cruyff persuaded Michael Laudrup, Denmark’s brilliant attacking midfielder, to join the club from Juventus and also secured the services of Dutch international Ronald Koeman. Cruyff felt that these two players were the final pieces in the jigsaw that was the team he building at the Camp Nou. He was a big admirer of Laudrup, a player who had many of the qualities of Cruyff himself. “When Michael plays like a dream, a magic illusion, no one in the world comes anywhere near his level,” said Cruyff. But while there was no doubting his skill, he felt the complex Laudrup lacked the “ghetto instinct” that characterised some of the game’s all-time greats born into poverty.


In 1989-90, Real Madrid were still the champion club, but in the close season of 1990, Barcelona added another star name in the form of Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov. Cruyff felt Barca needed a bit of nastiness in their line-up and Stoichkov had that certain mala leche – bad milk – that could complement a team of “nice guys”.

Straight away the CSKA Sofia striker made a name for himself with Spanish referees, who he claimed knew nothing about the game. He was suspended after stamping on one of them, thus missing a big chunk of the season. Barca’s so-called “dream team” still won the league with a 10-point margin over Atlético Madrid and Stoichkov scored 22 goals in all competitions, despite playing only 24 league games.

Michael Laudrup of FC Barcelona (L) and Moreno Mannini of Sampdoria (R) 

Barca also reached the final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup but underperformed against Manchester United and lost 2-1. Many felt the team had completed their task for the season in winning the league and already had one eye on their holidays.

The league title gave Barca and Cruyff the chance to have another crack at winning the European Cup. Another big name arrived in Ajax’s Robert Witschge, a player with excellent technique. Barca were among the favourites for the 1991-92 European Cup, along with teams like Arsenal, Marseille, Sampdoria and holders Red Star Belgrade. This campaign would be the last before the transition to the Champions League and would also include an English team for the first time since 1984-85. Compared to modern line-ups, the field now looks relatively weak.

Barcelona were desperate to win the European Cup, it was the only piece of silverware missing from their trophy cabinet. Real Madrid’s record in the competition, although rapidly being buried in the past, only served to irritate them even more. They were sick of being taunted by their bitter rivals.

Barcelona started the 1991-92 season with three defeats in their first five games, but they soon recovered and were neck-and-neck with Real Madrid for most of the campaign. Their European Cup programme started with a 3-1 aggregate victory against East German champions Hansa Rostock. In the second round, they were within seconds of being eliminated after going three goals down against Kaiserslautern. Barca had won the first leg 2-0, but were 3-2 down until José Mari Bakero netted in the 90th minute to send them through on the away goal rule.

Victory put them through to the last eight, which comprised two groups of four teams. Barca’s group included Sparta Prague, Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv. The other group included Sampdoria, Red Star Belgrade and Anderlecht.

Barca won four of their six games, slipping up in Prague and drawing in Lisbon with Benfica. Stoichkov was on form, scoring four times. They topped the group and were through to the final, which was to be held at Wembley Stadium. Joining them were Italian champions Sampdoria, a team that had a very dangerous front line in Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini as well as an often under-rated midfielder in Atilio Lombardo.

Good final

Barcelona Team Group. (Back Row L-R) Andoni Zubizarreta, Nando, Julio Salinas, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Eusebio Sacristan, (Front Row L-R) unknown, Jose Mari Bakero, Albert Ferrer, Josep Guardiola, Juan Carlos, unknown.

The game at Wembley was one of the better European Cup finals of the period and, thankfully, was not decided by an unsatisfactory penalty shoot-out. Four of the previous eight finals had been determined by penalties, including the dire encounters in 1986 and 1991.

Barcelona ran the game, although Sampdoria turned the clock back more than two decades with a decidedly cautious approach, packing their defence and almost inviting Barca to run themselves out of steam. But they were also masters of the counter-attack and Vialli had more than once chance to snatch a goal. Furthermore, Lombardo deceived three Barca defenders but was denied by goalkeeper Andon Zubizaretta, who pushed his shot around the post.

The second half saw both teams up the tempo and Barca went close when Stoichkov, picking up from a sublime angled pass from Laudrup, struck the woodwork. Sampdoria also had their chance when Vialli tried to chip Zubizaretta, but after 90 minutes, it was still 0-0 and Sampdoria seemed to be content to run the game down to penalties.

Barca looked fatigued against a defence that was getting deeper and deeper. The purists were to get their relief, though, as in the 111th minute, Eusebio tapped his free kick to Koeman and he sent a long range effort past Sampdoria keeper Gianluca Pagliuca.

Catalonia had its moment, the long wait for the trophy they had coveted since the mid-1950s. “After four years, my mission had been completed,” said Cruyff some years later.

There was more to come in 1991-92. On the final day of the season, Barca were one point behind Real Madrid as they faced Bilbao at the Camp Nou. Real had to travel to Tenerife and were favourites to win La Liga.

Real went 2-0 ahead in the Canary Islands while Barca went in at half-time a goal ahead thanks to Stoichkov. In a two minute spell in Tenerife, Real went from being 2-1 ahead to trailing 3-2. Barca cruised to a 2-0 win with Stoichkov adding another goal. Their game ended just before Real’s and Cruyff and his players stood in the middle of the pitch to await the final score. The “dream team” had created history and, in the words of a Barca official, “spoke to the public”.

Barca won La Liga in 1992-93 and 1993-94 and were back in the UEFA Champions League final in 1994 to face AC Milan. Cruyff’s side was taken apart by Milan in one of the most impressive team performances of the modern age. Two years later, Cruyff left the club. As he said after beating Sampdoria, his mission had been completed.

Photo: PA




Great Reputations: When Sampdoria shocked the system

Those terrible twins - Vialli and Mancini
Those terrible twins – Vialli and Mancini

THINK of Italian football and you come up with Juventus, Milan and Internazionale, in that order. Then add to that Roma and Napoli, perhaps Lazio. Today, you need to scratch deeper to bring names like Sampdoria to the fore. Sampdoria, from Genoa…pesto, minestrone, Pandoce Alto and, of course, football. But it is Genoa 1893, the oldest football club in Italy and, with nine Serie A titles, the fourth most successful club in Italy, that historically has been the more celebrated of the Genovese clubs. But the last time Genoa won anything meaningful was in 1937, when I Rossoblu lifted the Italian Cup. Their last Serie A title was in 1924. It’s a club with a past.

Sampdoria and Genoa share the same home ground, the Luigi Ferraris Stadium. Their rivalry is fierce, the oldest club in Italy versus one of the country’s youngest – Sampdoria were founded in 1946. It’s hardly new kids on the block, but the Genoa fans like to remind their co-tennants that they have a longer and richer history when they meet in the Derby Della Lanterna (the Italians have such romantic and descriptive nicknames and terms to describe their football – in England, we have “the North London derby”, “the Manchester derby”, “the Merseyside derby”).

In 1990-91, Sampdoria surprised everyone by winning their solitary Serie A title – the Scudetto. It was, in fact, a good year for the city of Genoa, because Samp’s rival finished fourth, with the two Milans sandwiched in between.

It was more mild surprise than shock, because Sampdoria did have some fine players and had been building up to something, winning three Coppa Italias in 1985, 1988 and 1989 and finishing runners-up in 1986. And in Europe, they had won the Cup-Winners Cup in 1990, the year after losing in the final. Yet this was in a golden age for Italian football, when the country’s top clubs hired the cream of world football talent – Milan with their Dutch masters, Inter with their clinical Germans, Juve with Platini and Napoli, the champions in 1987 and 1990, with the great Diego Maradona. It was a fascinating time for Serie A and an exciting era for Sampdoria under Yugoslav coach Vujadin Boskov. Italian football was the benchmark for other domestic league competitions, with its huge crowds, vibrant atmosphere and all-star teams. The strength in depth of the Serie A during that period is underlined by the fact that between 1980-81 and 1990-91, seven different clubs won the title (Juventus, Milan, Inter, Verona, Napoli, Roma and Sampdoria).


While Milan were sweeping up everything at home and in Europe in 1988, Sampdoria lifted the Coppa Italia by beating Torino 3-2 on aggregate. They also finished fifth in Serie A, finishing eight points behind champions Milan and ahead of Inter and Juventus. They regained their Coppa Italia title in 1988-89, overcoming Napoli 4-0 in the second leg after losing 1-0 in Naples. They also enjoyed a run to the final of the European Cup-Winners Cup, losing 2-0 to Barcelona in Berne. The team, however, was shaping up to be very special, with players like Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli coming to the fore.

A year later, Sampdoria went one better in Europe, slaloming their way past Norway’s Brann (3-0 on agg), Borussia Dortmund (3-1), Grasshopper (4-1) and Monaco (4-2) before meeting Anderlecht in the Gothenburg final.

Sampdoria won 2-0 in the Ullevi Stadium, thanks to two goals from Vialli in extra time 105 and 108 minutes. Vialli topped the competition’s goalscorers with seven goals in 1989-90. In Serie A, Vialli scored 10 goals in 22 games for Sampdoria, while his partner, Mancini, scored 11 in 31. Sampdoria finished fifth, eight points behind champions Napoli. But something was definitely brewing in Genoa.

The terrible twins

The 1990-91 season marked the end of an era for Italian football in some ways. Napoli, twice champions in four seasons, were no longer the force they were because of Maradona’s decline and eventual departure. Milan were not as consistent as they had been in previous years.

It simply all came right for Sampdoria. They scored more goals than anyone else, conceded only 24 in 34 games, bettered only by Milan’s 19, and they lost just three Serie A games, of which only one was away from home.

Vialli and Mancini really clicked, with the former topping the Serie A list with 19 goals in 26 games. Vialli had something to prove in 1990-91 as he had not performed well in Italia ’90 for the national team. Mancini netted 12 goals in the league, but the complementary play of the two front men was key in securing the Scudetto for Sampdoria.

Vialli and Mancini were fed by speedy wide-man Attilio Lombardo, who had cost Sampdoria four billion lira in 1989 when he signed from Cremonese. Lombardo, who looked considerably older than his years, was not a highly technical player, but he had the simple but valued ability of beating defenders and sending in dangerous crosses. Given that Sampdoria liked to play on the break, Lombardo’s contribution was crucial and he scarcely missed a game in the 1990-91 season.

But Sampdoria’s real strength was their defence. In goal was Gianluca Pagliuca, would go on to play in three World Cups for Italy and play more than 600 league games. Then there was centre back Pietro Vierchowod, the son of a Ukrainian Red Army soldier who was capped 45 times by Italy. He was considered to be one of the outstanding defenders of his generation in Italy. He could be exceptionally quick and really organised the Sampdoria defence. In midfield, Lombardo played alongside Giovanni Invernizzi and Oleksiy Mikhaijlichenko, the latter joining the club in 1990 from Dynamo Kiev. And up front, when Vialli or Mancini were missing, Boskov could call on Marco Branca.

That season

Sampdoria started the season solidly, if not spectacular, with a 1-0 win at home to Cesena. By the end of September, they had conceded just one goal and had held Juventus to a 0-0 draw in Turin. Milan and Inter led the way, but they were just a point behind. At the end of October, they beat leaders Milan 1-0 in the San Siro, thanks to a goal from Cerezo, and took over top spot.

Three weeks later, they went to champions Napoli and won 4-1 with Vialli and Mancini scoring two apiece. Their first defeat came in the next game, their 10th, when they lost the Genoa derby 1-2. Inter, Sampdoria and Juventus were all on 15 points at the top at this stage.

When Inter were beaten 3-1 in Genoa, Sampdoria ended the year on top with 21 points, one ahead of Milan and two in front of Inter. But two defeats at the start of January, against Torino and Lecce, sent Boskov’s side down to fourth, two points shy of Milan at the top. It was a really tight Serie A.

They ended their bad patch with a 1-0 win at Cesena at the end of January and with Inter stuttering and Milan dropping points, February saw all three teams on level points. Juventus were also in the hunt, but a 1-0 win, a goal from Vialli, saw them go three points clear of the Turin side and one clear of the Milan duo.

9091Calcio-Sampdoria_pcA double from Vialli-Mancini inspired a 2-0 win against Milan on the same day Inter beat Juve, meant that in early March, Inter and Sampdoria were on 35 and Milan 32. The rossoneri were fast fading, as a 0-1 home defeat against Atalanta demonstrated. But Milan then beat Inter to damage their rivals’ chances of a second Scudetto in three years.

As April drew to a close, Sampdoria had a three point advantage over Inter and the two sides were due to meet on May 5 in Milan. There were four games to go. If Vialli & co. could win, they would have one hand on the title.

Inter literally “battered” the leaders, but two second half goals, by Dossena and Vialli, won the game 2-0. On the same weekend, Milan won 3-0 at Juventus to rekindle their feint hopes, although four points was a lot to make up with three games remaining. Milan found some extra vigour, beating Bologna 6-0 as Sampdoria stuttered 1-1 at Torino. Three points separated the two teams with two games to go – Boskov was almost there. Milan slipped up again at Bari as Sampdoria raced into a 3-0 lead against Lecce, which made any recovery by Milan worthless. The title was clinched. In the final analysis, Sampdoria were “campione” by five clear points.

Today Italy, tomorrow Europe

It was always going to be hard for Sampdoria to retain their Serie A title, and their very first game in its defence was lost – 3-2 against Cagliari on Sardinia. They finished sixth in Serie A in 1991-92, but the club went within a whisker of winning the European Cup. They made light work of Rosenborg in the first round of the competition, beating the Norwegians 7-1 on aggregate. In round two, they overcome a 2-1 deficit against Hungary’s Honved to win 4-3 over the two legs. In to the group stage, Sampdoria came out on top against Red Star Belgrade, Anderlecht and Panathinaikos to reach the Wembley final against Barcelona.The game was tight and was goalless after 90 minutes. Eventually, it was settled by an extra-time piledriver from Ronald Koeman. It was Barca’s first European Cup win.

For a brief period, Sampdoria broke the mould in Italy, challenging the domination of the Milan clubs and Juventus. It didn’t last for long, but the men that wore the distinctive shirts of I Blucerchiati will never be forgotten in the ancient city of Genoa.