I’d had difficulties finding a place in Atlético’s team. In those days, the 4-4-2 formation prevailed in football, but in that system there was only one position I could play. One of the two central midfielders traditionally had a more defensive profile, whereas the other was more technical; more of an organiser. That second role is where I fitted in. My only position.
Cruyff arrived, and I saw that his plan was to play with a diamond in midfield, with four men playing inside. I thought that I could play in any one of those four positions, which opened up the options for me to fit into his team.
Then I saw the way he planned to incorporate that diamond, with three defenders behind and three forwards. From the position I took in the middle of the pitch that offered many possibilities for a pass. That was my main asset – choosing the best pass available and having the technique to deliver it.
As a result, from the very first pre-season matches I played for Barcelona in the Netherlands, I could see that there was a huge new range of possibilities for me as a player. It was a joy to see the footballing idea that Cruyff brought, and to see so soon how it worked so well.
“I wanted to enjoy every day of my life as a footballer; now, here was a manager who proposed an idea in which I could”
Training was very different to what I was used to. Before, the players’ physical condition had always been the most important element. Under Cruyff, technique took precedence.
Technique; tactics; positioning exercises; short games. Everything was always with the ball. It was like when I was a kid and played with my friends in the streets in my hometown.
Then there were the practice games. Short, competitive matches with teams of three players. It felt like we were having fun every day. Football was the profession I had chosen because I loved it so much, and I wanted to enjoy every single day of my professional life. Now, here was a manager who proposed an idea – a training methodology in which all of us had a good time.
There is no point having a good time if it doesn’t help you win. You know that can’t continue. But Cruyff’s way helped us get results too. It felt ideal.