For the best half of a decade, Andoni Zubizarreta fashioned the reliable, unflinching determine between the sticks for Barcelona as the club reached untold heights under the legendary stewardship of Johan Cruyff.
Yet, had the goalkeeper affectionately known as ‘Zubi’ had his means, he by no means would have joined Barcelona, as an alternative decided to stay at one of their fiercest rivals of the time.
Barcelona first tried to sign Zubizarreta when he was a promising 18-year-old with Alaves, solely to be gazumped by the side which might virtually change into their antithesis, Athletic Club.
The identical summer season Zubizarreta was promoted to first crew duties at Athletic marked the arrival of Javier Clemente as head coach. Clemente – a fierce, outspoken former Athletic player – constructed a crew based on a bodily and pragmatic strategy which sparked an enmity with the historically more aesthetically pleasing Barcelona.
The Basque-born Zubizarreta was a close to ever-present in every of his 5 seasons in red and white as Athletic, by no means dipping below fourth, claimed two La Liga titles. Between making his top flight debut in 1981 and his final match for Athletic half a decade later, Zubizarreta played 169 of the club’s 170 league games. (The just one he missed was a 3-0 defeat to Sevilla.)
In the summer season of 1986, with the World Cup in Mexico quick approaching, Zubizarreta was eager to affirm his speedy future and, in an superb world, prolong his stay at San Mames with an improved contract. However, Barcelona rekindled their makes an attempt to lure him away. As a report from the Spanish publication El Pais claimed on the time: “Zubizarreta…wanted to remain at Athletic at all costs and was willing to continue for half of what Barça offered him.”
In the end, with Athletic unwilling to meet his wage calls for, the economics spoke for themselves. Spain’s number one, six years after their first strategy, lastly joined Barcelona.
Cruyff first exerted a revolutionary effect on Barcelona as a player within the Nineteen Seventies, inspiring the Catalans to their first title in 14 years. A decade later he returned to revolutionise the club as supervisor.
Following his appointment in 1988, everybody at Barcelona was pressured to adapt. Yet, having spent half a decade in Clemente’s Athletic, and in a position as elementary as goalkeeper, few have been subjected to as much upheaval as Zubizarreta.
Cruyff insisted that his goalkeepers have been comfortable not solely coming off their line to sweep behind the defence, but adept with the ball at their toes. This was decidedly not Zubizarreta’s game.
At Athletic, Clemente – who’s broadly credited with coining the time period ‘tiki-taka’ as a disparaging remark – was more carefully related to ‘patapun y p’arriba’, ‘bish-bosh, up it goes’. Zubizarreta was sincere when he acknowledged his own skillset having played on this system for therefore long, describing himself as a ‘severe, dependable kind of keeper’.
In order to make him more comfortable, Cruyff played him in midfield throughout coaching session. However, somewhat than a instructing technique, Zubizarreta seen this as a form of punishment or humiliation, telling Movistar (by way of Marca) in 2018: “When Johan would put the goalkeepers in the rondo [a piggy-in-the-middle passing exercise] during pre-season, I thought he mostly did it to embarrass and bully me.
“It was clear he was attempting to put me in a drill by which I couldn’t succeed, so as to show he wanted somebody new.” Zubizarreta added: “There was by no means any kind of recognition from Cruyff in his interviews, or phrases of reward, about myself.”
Nevertheless, Zubizarreta’s unparalleled technical excellence ensured he was scarcely left out of the side as Cruyff’s Barcelona, winning four consecutive La Liga titles and the club’s first ever European Cup between 1991 and 1994, became known as ‘the Dream Team’.
Fittingly, the day the dream of that side died marked Zubizarreta’s final match in the colours of Barcelona.
Just four days after sealing their fourth consecutive league crown, Barcelona played Fabio Capello’s Milan side in the 1994 Champions League final. As the unfancied Rossoneri mercilessly routed their overly confident opponents 4-0, Zubizarreta described the occasion as ‘the worst night of my career’.
It would get worse after the final whistle.
Zubizarreta’s contract ended that summer and for the vast majority of the season he had been assured of a new deal. Yet, the Barcelona president at the time, Joan Gaspart, kept avoiding the topic and by the final the writing was on the wall. As Barcelona’s coach neared the airport, Zubizarreta was told that his time in Catalonia was over, leaving his teammate Pep Guardiola in tears.
Eight years after desperately trying to avoid a move to Barcelona, Zubizarreta could scarcely envisage a future anywhere else. He would go on to spend another four seasons in the top flight with Valencia – earning a clean sheet on his first return to the Camp Nou – but the ‘serious, reliable’ Zubizarreta will forever by synonymous with Barcelona and that era-defining side.