“Arrogance is pride polluted by the child-self. Pride is a natural and self-rewarding feeling of worth and efficacy which results from achievement. Arrogance, on the other hand, is a feeling of superiority and entitlement which completely annihilates the “we” for the “I.”

 

T. WATTS, A Personal Journey to Positive Change

The Olympic Stadium in Athens Greece – originally designed in 1979 and built-in 1980–1982. It was completed in time to host the 1982 European Championships in Athletics – would host the finals of the UEFA Champions League 1993-94 season. The hot favourites Barcelona – champions two years ago and three times La Liga winner – would meet AC Milan in a contest, which was almost considered as a cakewalk by the then Barca coach Johan Cruyff.

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Since Johan Cruyff took over as the coach of Barca, his fluid and free-flowing football left everyone crazy about it. Without a doubt, his style of football had been the cocktail of his Dutch side in 1974 and Tele Santana’s Brazil in 1982. Each and every player ran all over the pitch to provide a sheer joy and mesmerizing moments for the opposition.  It was a team boasted with stars and talented players. People used to gather in numbers to watch Romario and Hristo Stoichkov in action.

The success of Barcelona not only made them a bunch of confident unit ready to tear apart any oppositions, but also made the coach – Cruyff an arrogant person.

The arrogance of Johan Cruyff

1993-94 was like a dream for Barcelona. In La Liga they had been a dominant force and won it for the fourth consecutive season. Both Barca and Deportivo La Coruna had the same points, but on goal difference, the Catalans were way ahead and their arch-rivals Real Madrid fell eleven points short and finished fourth on the table.

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In the Champions League, their progress had been utterly flawless.  The Cruyff system was waving its magic throughout Europe and it seemed none would stand a chance against them.

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Before the finals, Cruyff said, “Barcelona are favourites, We’re more complete, competitive and experienced than [in the 1992 final] at Wembley. Milan are nothing out of this world. They base their game on defence; we base ours on attack”.

Cruyff’s statement smelled of arrogance and false pride.

Daniele Massaro, the strike of AC Milan said, “We heard and saw everything they did. Cruyff’s statements, the photos with the cup. They were very arrogant and I was also sick because Johann was my idol as a child. We had a lot of competitive anger and we put even more enthusiasm in the preparation. We heard the sound of sweat falling on the grass. Capello had more doubts and certainties at that time”.

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La Gazzetta Dello Sport’s Alessandra Bocci said, “Johan Cruyff, in a rather un-elegant way, was photographed holding the Champions League trophy before the match. So this showed the difference in attitude between a Barcelona team that was flying high with confidence, and a Milan side that was essentially in pieces”.

But, Cruyff’s overconfidence led to a lazy preparation and his arrogance betrayed him badly.

A trouble-hit AC Milan unit

Like Barcelona, AC Milan had on the Italian Serie A title finishing at the top of the table. With Fabio Capello in charge, the club went on the longest unbeaten run in Serie A history (58 games) and picked up three Scudetti in a row between 1992 and 1994.

But Capello’s side had been hit by troubles as the finals started to knock at the doors.

In the battle of fantastic attack vs sound defense, Milan lost two of their key defenders – Franco Baresi and Costacurta – through suspensions.

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As Massaro said, “The absence of Costacurta and, above all, that of Baresi were difficult to manage and for this reason, Barcelona felt even more favoured. After the friendly against Fiorentina, we had many doubts because losing the friendly many certainties seemed to have vanished”.

Again, in the attack, the status of Milan was also not good – Marco van Basten and the world’s most expensive player at the time, £13 million Gianluigi Lentini, were out through injury and UEFA regulations, as they were, insisted that only three non-national players could be in the 16-man squad.

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But Capello would not waste time in thinking what he lost, rather he would fill the gaps with players who would deliver him the results on that eventful night.

As Capello said, “We were missing two pillars of the defence, Costacurta, and Baresi, so I had to invent a new defence for the match and make a few important tactical changes”.

Cruyff’s dream team

Zubizarreta started in goal for Barca as he was supported by a defensive four of Ferrer, Koeman, Nadal, and Sergi. Johan Cruyff chose his highly favoured 4-3-3 and in the midfield, Guardiola played as the anchor while Bakero and Amor started on either side of him. Stoichkov, Romario, and Begiristain constituted the front three as Barcelona built on their possession-based build-up looked to win the Italian giants.

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For Cruyff – like Rihinus Micels and Tele Santana, attack is the best defence had been his motto – which led his team to shape up in 2-3-5 positions more often in that season.

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Pep Guardiola played the role of a pivot. The attacking midfielders Bakeroa nd Amor occupied the half-spaces. Koeman and Nadal would join the attack straight from the defence to make the attack look even more dangerous. They would attack from the flanks and center and from the distance, no matter what it takes to score goals and perish an opposition.

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The wider players remained wide.

The midfielders did not bother about defence.

Spaces were left for the counter-attack.

Capello’s tactical masterclass

Meanwhile, Capello used Marcelo Desailly in the defence and then in the midfield as a floater while Paolo Maldini would play as a center-back alongside Filippo Galli. Whereas, brilliant players like Florin Raducioiu, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup dropped out so that Marcel Desailly, Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savicevic could play – the idea was to maintain compactness and then catch Braca on the counter and the players selected were at home in this.

Milan started with a 4-4-2 formation which varied as 4-1-3-2 and 4-4-1-1 based on the position of the ball. Milan were quite compact and narrow in the defensive half which did not allow Barcelona to take advantage of their possession-based-football at the center of the park.

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The role of Desailly was critical behind Milan’s success on that night – he was the Casemiro on that, who would not only ensure safety at the back, but dictate the terms from the center midfield as a pure defensive midfielder. Barca’s languid football took a blow.

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The wider players in the midfield – Roberto Donadoni and Bovan shun the idea of playing as a winger and stayed narrow enough to squeeze Barcelona in the midfield.

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Albertini would advance forward and join the attack from the center of the park. When needed, Donadoni and Bovan would do the same, which created spaces on the flanks – Both Panucci and Tassotti occupied those spaces taking up wide and high positions. The presence of full-backs in the wider areas gave width to the Milan side.

Whenever Braca attacked, Milan shaped to a 4-4-1-1 shape – a forward would withdraw himself in the deep to hamper the rhythm of the Catalan side.

It worked beautifully.

Milan slap Cruyff’s arrogance

Barcelona started off confidently, but as time progressed, they lost their momentum. Capello’s tactical moves were outclassing Cruyff’s much-hyped system.

In the 22nd minute, Savicevic broke through on the right during the counter and tried to chip the ball over Zubizarreta – his brilliant attempt skewed wide, but on the path, Massaro volleyed it to open the floodgates.

At the stroke of half-time, Massaro scored from the pull-back, courtesy of a fluent solo run by Donadoni from the left flank.

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To the astonishment of Barcelona fans, players and their coach, their team were 2-0 down at half-time and it was the Rossoneri who were controlling the match.

Two minutes into the second-half, Savicevic robbed Nadal wide on the right and scripted an astonishing lob over Zubizarreta from the edge of the Barcelona penalty area.

Regarding the Yugoslavian, Capello said after the match, “From Savicevic you came to expect these unthinkable plays of brilliance because from the position he was in most players would have just taken the ball in stride and gone a little further with it, instead he went for this spectacular attempt which has gone down in history and is shown over and over again. It was simply…. Una Cosa da Savicevic [an Italian cliché meaning essentially: the way of Savicevic]”.

With still more than an hour to go, Massaro hit a post and almost became the first player to score a hat-trick in Europe’s showpiece final since 1969.

Braca were reeling and all came forward to restore pride.

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Their defence split-opened when Desailly cut out a pass, took the return ball, and curled it coolly into the net as Zubizarreta came out of the goal.

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Cruyff’s arrogance was slapped on the face as the final scoreline flashed on the electronic scoreboard: AC Milan 4 Barcelona 0.

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As the great Sid Lowe said, “Cruyff’s team talk at Wembley had been: “Go out and enjoy yourselves”. His team-talk in Athens was: “You’re better than them, you’re going to win.” In 1992, he was hailed as a genius. In 1994, he was derided as a fool”.

Cruyff’s golden team fell apart

Cruyff reacted badly after the thrashing and tore the team apart immediately.

Zubizarreta had been promised a contract renewal but it had not been signed.

The day after the final he was told he would be leaving as the bus crossed the runway towards Barcelona’s plane home, a decision that had Guardiola in tears.

The final scoreline at Athens. Image Courtesy: TBT
The final scoreline at Athens. Image Courtesy: TBT

As for Laudrup, the man left out of that final, a few days later he announced that he too was going – Real Madrid would be the next destination.

Romario would go on to win the World Cup in the USA and his friendship with long-time friend Stoichkov strained, while the relationship with Cruyff and Barca officials never became normal.

Neither Stoichkov nor Cruyff won the World Cup, but Romario did and he was a World Champion ranked alongside Pele and Garrincha.

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The tensions, which were developing before the final resurfaced after the defeat. Rexach remembers, “We rested on our laurels. We didn’t plan properly for the future carefully”.

Barcelona would never be the same again until the arrival of Ronaldinho at Camp Nou.

“Arrogance is a self-defense tactic to disguise insecurities”

CAROLL MICHELS, How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist

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