There’s an accepted modern-day footballing rule of thumb that suggests if you want to add skill, craft and guile to your team then go out and sign Spaniards. Just a few short decades ago this situation was the polar opposite. The highest profile Spanish players of the early 1980s were more kicky-hacky than tiki-taki and La Liga’s creativity was mostly contracted out to its big name imports. Barcelona were little different: West German midfielder Bernd Schuster and the Danish winger Allan Simonsen supplied the stellar quality, while their teammates of Spanish provenance – whether the hardened veterans or the fierce youngsters – did the dirty work around them.
The evergreen striker Quini was an honourable domestic exception and Barcelona relied heavily on his goals. In March 1981 he was kidnapped and by the time he was released unharmed 25 days later, the club’s title push that season had collapsed with just a single point collected from the four games he missed. Approaching the 1981-82 season and determined not to show the same fragility, Udo Lattek’s appointment as new coach made sense on several levels.
The German was known for his motivational ability and he was expected to bring the best out of both Schuster and Simonsen having managed them successfully in the Bundesliga. In a bold move he appointed Schuster as club captain, the extra responsibility Lattek reasoned might help curb the wayward excesses that often undermined the midfielder’s game.
A 4-0 hammering in the Nou Camp by Köln in the Final of their own Juan Gamper tournament did not augur well, but once the domestic season got underway competitive form was much more encouraging: Alexanco was in towering form at sweeper, Simonsen was irresistible on the right wing, Quini was putting away goals in his easy, unruffled manner and at the heart of everything was Schuster.