The 7 players Barcelona signed along with Ronaldo – & how they fared

·5-min read
Ronaldo and Luis Enrique of Barcelona during the Cup Winners' Cup final v Paris Saint-Germain. De Kuip, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 14 May 1997. Credit: PA Images
Ronaldo and Luis Enrique of Barcelona during the Cup Winners' Cup final v Paris Saint-Germain. De Kuip, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 14 May 1997. Credit: PA Images

In the summer of 1996, it was all change at Barcelona. And the biggest sign of that change was signing a young Brazilian striker by the name of Ronaldo Nazario.

The Catalan club had lost the services of club legend Johan Cruyff after eight years in charge. Highly regarded English manager Bobby Robson was the new man in the managerial hot seat, and he recommended the Brazilian teen sensation to the Barca club hierarchy.

In 2009, Robson said: “The president [at Barcelona] said to me, ‘We need bums on seats, we need a top-class striker, do you know where there is one?’ I said, ‘Yes, I know there’s a young kid at PSV that I like very much. I think he’s terrific, but he’s a risk.'”

The risk paid off. At just 19, Ronaldo made the £20million fee paid to secure his signature from PSV Eindhoven look like peanuts. In his short stay in Catalonia, the forward registered 47 goals in just 49 appearances.

Accordingly, Barca accumulated three trophies in the 1996-97 campaign – the Copa Del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Ronaldo was Barcelona’s superstar – the player who ensured Barca remained successful in what many predicted would be a tough transitional period following Cruyff’s departure. But how did Barcelona’s other 1996 signings fare?

Laurent Blanc

It was Cruyff who persuaded Blanc to join the Catalans. It’s perhaps no surprise his stay at the club lasted just one year after the Dutch coach was sacked on the day he convinced the French defender to sign.

The World Cup and European Championship winner appeared 38 times for Robson’s side that won three trophies in the 1996-97 season before he returned to his homeland to sign for Marseille.

Blanc ended his career at Manchester United in 2003. Before his move to Old Trafford, former United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, had admired the defender from afar for many years.

Ferguson said: “The first time [I tried to sign him] was back in 1996 when Laurent was still with Auxerre, then while he was at Barcelona and Internazionale. I’ve followed him around the world.”

Luis Enrique

It’s rare that a player makes the switch from Real Madrid to Barcelona – just 12 players have played for both clubs since 1990.

In the summer of 1996, Luis Enrique ended a five-season stint in the Spanish capital to move to Los Blancos’ arch-rivals.

The Spain international went on to appear 300 times for the Catalans, netting 109 goals in the process. ‘Lucho’ quickly became a fan favourite for his all-action midfield performances and allegiances to Madrid were forgotten.

In 2014, Luis Enrique took over as Barcelona manager. He won nine trophies in his three-year reign at the helm, including a Champions League crown in his first season.

 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

READ: Ranking every player to play for both Real Madrid and Barca since 1990

Juan Antonio Pizzi

The Argentinian striker spent two seasons at Barcelona and in that time scored 18 goals in 73 appearances.

Pizzi was an important player in Robson’s successful squad in the mid-90s.

In 2019, the former Chile coach praised the impact of Robson at the Spanish giants: “Robson would get names wrong and we’d be there shooting looks at each other, going along with it.

“But he was fundamental: he had to lead Barcelona through the hardest era in 20 years, making that post-Cruyff period as trauma-free as possible.

“He was old school, close to the players, and the lessons from him were not just about football, they were human. He was an exceptional person and whenever we meet up, we remember him fondly.”

Hristo Stoichkov

Stoichkov initially signed for the club in 1990 and was a huge part of the success of Barcelona during the Cruyff era. The Bulgarian temporarily departed for Parma in 1995 but returned one year later.

In his second spell at Barca, he was much less impactful – despite winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997.

But Stoichkov will always have legendary status at Camp Nou. Cruyff’s support for the one-time Ballon d’Or winner said it all about his influence.

“Before Stoichkov came, we had a team of very nice people, but you can’t just have a team of very nice people,” Cruyff said.

“You need someone like Stoichkov who is aggressive in a positive way.”

 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

READ: A tribute to Hristo Stoichkov at Barca, the Boss of the Dream Team

Giovanni

The Brazilian arrived from Santos and went on to win an impressive seven trophies in three years at the club.

The midfielder was an underrated figure for Barca who also racked up 13 appearances for Brazil in his career.

Vitor Baia

Baia was the number one goalkeeper for Robson in the 1996-97 season after arriving from Porto.

The arrival of Louis Van Gaal as manager in 1997 marked the beginning of the end of Baia’s brief Barcelona career – he returned to Porto on loan and remained there until he retired as a Porto legend in 2007.

Fernando Couto

Couto arrived at Barcelona from Italian side Parma to join up with his former Porto team-mate Baia. The Portugal international went on to appear 44 times for the Catalans before leaving for Lazio in 1998.

His most memorable moment in a Barcelona shirt came in the 1997 Copa del Rey semi-final at Camp Nou – he scored his first and only goal for the club in a comprehensive 3-0 triumph against Las Palmas.

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