For all his many virtues as a successful and innovative coach, on a personal level Rinus Michels was a very stern individual not at all well disposed towards pranks or shows of unnecessary humour – and particularly so in 1973 while in charge of a not-at-all amusing Barcelona side. The Dutchman had joined the Catalans after leading a brilliant Ajax team to European Cup success in 1971 and now, in his second full season, he was discovering just how frustrating it was trying convey the concept of total football to a broadly unremarkable and unreceptive group of players.
There was one occasion when Barcelona’s players saw a more frivolous side of the Dutch disciplinarian, but even that was delivered with a sharp sting in the tail. After a meek performance in a 3-1 Copa del Generalísimo defeat at Sevilla, the Barcelona squad were booked to stay in the city’s Hotel Colon.
A group of players – Marcial, Rexach, Juan Carlos, Perez, Sadurni, Reina and Marti Filosia – got together in one of the bedrooms late at night and started drinking champagne. After a while they phoned down to the hotel bar and ordered another bottle to be sent up.
The waiter took the bottle upstairs to the room as requested accompanied by Rinus Michels who had happened to be at reception and overheard the order being placed. Outside the room the Dutchman took the tray and the champagne from the waiter and knocked on the door. “Come in waiter, serve the champagne and bring the dancing-girls” called out one of the high-spirited players. Michels quietly walked into the room and cleared away the empty bottles while keeping his back to the group. They didn’t even notice the subterfuge until he turned around and ad-libbed: “Your champagne is served gentlemen, I’m sorry there are no dancing-girls.”
This prank came with a second punchline delivered in a disciplinary hearing upon their return to Barcelona. The starting eleven from the Sevilla game were fined 50,000 pesetas (£350) for their abject performances, while the seven players caught partying by the stand-in waiter were fined twice that amount. Reina and Marcial were both put on the free-transfer list too.
So what’s the moral of this story? Never rely on waiters from Barcelona and never use room service to order drinks in a hotel – it’s going to be crushingly expensive one way or another.