When Ronald Koeman stepped up to take that free kick in the ’92 Champions League final, the identity of FC Barcelona was at a crossroads. Score this, and the Catalonian side would disrupt the monopoly that Real Madrid had over Spanish football, proving to the world that football could be perceived as art. Lose, and a decade of innovation would be for naught. 

It was that year, in ’92, when FC Barcelona fielded the ‘Dream Team’ and won everything there is to win. They astounded their opposition with high energy pressing and dynamic one-touch passing. There was an effervescence about the club, a feeling that was being cultivated back in ’82, when Meyba became the main kit sponsor for FC Barcelona. Considering that La Masia was established a few years before, it is no surprise that Meyba was picked up, as the brand had a reputation for being exciting, vibrant, and youthful. It was a perfect fit; imagine a young Pep Guardiola, a Catalonian, wearing Catalonian apparel, playing for a Catalonian club. There was a true connection between the players and the club, and an atmosphere of togetherness and comradery flowed from the dressing room out onto the pitch. 

This ethos dug its roots into Spanish football culture. Betis, Espanyol, Atletico Madrid and many more clubs, all wearing Meyba, experienced great success during this period and became more than the sum of their parts. This togetherness was strengthened by the strong emphasis on playing Spanish talent, that La Liga endorsed through the 3 foreign player rule – clubs were only allowed to field 3 foreign players in their starting 11 at any given time. 

After the euphoric season of ’92, FC Barcelona and many other Spanish clubs began to fall into mediocrity. Johan Cruyff was sacked as head coach of Barcelona, following 2 trophyless seasons, Espanyol nearly suffered back-to-back relegations and Atletico Madrid failed to amount to anything, following the club’s decision to close their youth academy in 1992, the complete antithesis of the culture that was being cultivated at Barcelona. This turmoil coincided with the departure of Meyba as main kit sponsor. It seemed Meyba had an understated effect on the fortunes of Spanish football. 

Spanish football stagnated until 2008, when former La Masia graduate, and Dream Team member Pep Guardiola became head coach of FC Barcelona. This fortuitous appointment changed the way football was played across Europe. The fruits of La Masia were finally ripe for picking, and star players such as Ronaldinho and Deco were sold to make way for Xavi, Iniesta, and a certain Lionel Messi. La Masia’s status as the greatest youth academy in the world was solidified when, in 2010, they sourced the 3 finalists for the Ballon d’Or. At this point, Meyba was out of the picture, but the influence the ‘Dream Team’ had on Guardiola’s philosophy was clear as day. Rondos were the key to success, according to Xavi in 2011.  

Our model was imposed by Cruyff… its’ all about rondos every single day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. Some youth academies worry about winning, we worry about education. 

In 2020, Meyba returned to football to partner up with Dutch side FC Twente, and FC Barcelona finished the 2019-2020 season trophyless for the 1st time in 12 years. This sparked a year of disappointment for Spanish football – Real Madrid and Atletico were being berated for playing anti-football and FC Barcelona were on the verge of receivership, being forced to lose Lionel Messi, the greatest player of all time and one who has surpassed the achievements of his Argentian compatriot, Diego Maradona. It was a Kafkaesque decline, where clubs were signing aging players on loan to stop the bleeding.  

There was a silver lining however, La Masia, a beacon of hope for FC Barcelona and Spanish football. As Real Madrid looked to South America for young, generational talents, FC Barcelona had been nurturing the best Spanish talent on offer, and at Euro 2020, FC Barcelona asked the footballing word to bear witness to their crown jewel. PEDRI. At 17 years of age, Pedri played every single minute of Spain’s Euro 2020 campaign that saw them knocked out by penultimate champions Italy in the semi-finals. Pedri also famously cut his international holiday short by 2 weeks to help the team during pre-season, a true professional behaved on and off the pitch with a wisdom beyond his years. If you didn’t know who he was, you’d think he was a remnant of the Dream Team that had been flung into the future by Doc Brown. 

Now, in 2022, with Xavi at the helm and Meyba returning to the coliseum of football, the future is looking bright for Spain. Atletico Madrid, Villareal and Real have taken scalps from European giants in the Champions League, and FC Barcelona’s youth project is reaping enormous dividends, with La Masia graduates once again providing an exceptional foundation for a team on the rise and making a late charge for the title. 

A new dawn is among us, and the age of Spanish football may begin again. 


July 01, 2022 — Oscar Willer