Before there was Guardiola and Messi & Xavi & Iniesta, there was Johan Cruyff and the Dream Team. No, not the one with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, although they made a name for themselves in Barcelona, too, but the one with Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman, Guardiola, Begiristain, Bakero, Zubizarreta, and The Beast, Miguel Angel Nadal.
Brazilian superstar Romario joined in 1993, and it was all becoming a bit unfair. He scored 30 in the league to lead the team to its fourth straight Spanish title. Building on consistent domestic success, Barcelona won the 1992 European Cup along with the subsequent Super Cup, the two trophies taking their place in the cabinet next to the Cup Winner's Cup medal from a few years prior.
Following a shock early elimination from the nascent Champions League in 1993, the Dream Team were widely tipped to exact revenge the next season. And after successfully seeing off the challenge of Deportivo La Coruna at home (winning the league on the last day thanks to head-to-head results in the age of two-point wins), attentions turned to the '94 European final.
Building on Dutch excellence as well - though playing, as opposed to coaching - their opponents AC Milan had also enjoyed plenty of domestic & European success in the early '90s. Gullit, Rijkaard, and van Basten complimented arguably the greatest defensive line of all time, while Marcel Desailly dominated the midfield. It all added up to Fabio Capello's side winning their third straight Scudetto in 1994 by conceding just 15 and scoring a paltry 36 goals in 34 matches (only 6 of the 17 Serie A teams managed fewer).
Milan had made it to the final of the first Champions League, suffering a shock defeat to Marseille (in Munich!) and their duo of future Chelsea heroes Desailly & Deschamps. Marseille would of course later be found guilty of match fixing, be relegated and stripped of their French titles although not their European ones.
So, the Dream Team versus another European giant who had suffered an upset in the previous year's final in Munich. Sound familiar? In a repeat of last week's "4-0 heard around the world," AC Milan absolutely destroyed Barcelona. A first half double from Daniele Massaro was followed by second half goals from Dejan Savicevic and Desailly as Barca rarely threatened.
Shattered, the Dream Team never recovered. They'd win La Liga just twice in the next ten years. In '97, they popped up with a Cup Winner's Cup victory - not coincidentally, it was the one year Ronaldo was there (that's the one and only true Ronaldo, for all you youngins) - but it was a decade of drought considering what had come before and what all they have accomplished since 2004.
But are we yet another watershed moment? Is this the end of Dream Team, Mk. II? While they've lost in semifinals before (HA!), last week's hammering seems far more significant than any of those failures, especially when you add in the Guardiola past vs. future storyline. Lionel Messi may just be 25, but key members of the supporting cast are getting old. Puyol is 35; Xavi is 33. Iniesta is 28, going on 38. David Villa is 31 and has been crap for a couple years. And unless he has Cafu DNA, Dani Alves, 29, will soon lose his best attribute. Can the likes of Fabregas, Pedro, Jordi Alba, and Alexis carry the torch? Probably not to the same extent...