Terry Venables: ‘A special man and trailblazer’ – former Barcelona manager leaves lasting impression

Guillem Balague's BBC Sport column

Terry Venables, who has died aged 80, was Barcelona manager between 1984-87. Spanish football expert Guillem Balague talks about the lasting impression he made in Spain.

Terry Venables’ impact as manager of Barcelona can not be underestimated, both as a trailblazer on the field and a personality off it.

When he arrived at the club in June 1984, everyone in Spain was asking ‘Terry who?’ but by the time he left three years later, he had left a lasting impression that will never be forgotten.

Venables took over from the Argentine Cesar Luis Menotti after he had been manager at QPR for four years, but no-one was talking about English football in Spain at the time.

It must be remembered this was not a Barcelona who were winning titles all the time – in fact, they hadn’t won La Liga since 1974 – so Terry was arriving with a big job on his hands.

When he left three years later for Tottenham, Barcelona had won the league title, won the Copa de Liga and reached the European Cup final – albeit ending in a disappointing and surprise defeat by Steaua Bucharest.

It isn’t just the success he is remembered for, though. It is far more than that. He made innovative changes to the way the team were, and the way they trained – and his incredible personality made him such a likeable guy.

But how did Terry Venables end up at Barcelona? At the time, no-one in Spain was really following foreign football. But of course English sides were the references. They were the ones who were winning European trophies and setting the trend.

It was still seen as something very strange – even though Spain was a country that opened its arms to foreign influences – but we hadn’t had many English players or managers in the country.

It was so strange, the first thing Bernd Schuster – Barcelona’s German midfielder and best player – said to Terry was: ‘Who are you?’ That is what he faced. He had to convince players, media, fans, everyone really.

Menotti talked a lot about entertaining the crowd and playing good football, about the romantic side of the game. Venables was more focused on efficiency and that contrast was at first difficult to accept.

Legend says that vice-president Joan Gaspart asked Bobby Robson, the England manager at the time, and Doug Ellis, then the Aston Villa chairman, who was the best English coach and they said Terry Venables. He went and got him.

Venables didn’t speak Spanish – he never really did – but he introduced new things when he came in. Set-pieces were organised and practised in training, corners were as well – and things like this had never really been done before.

He took charge of a team that wasn’t well developed in terms of training. There was intensity in defence when the ball was near the box, but nothing else really,

Terry got himself into a little room at the Nou Camp and spent weeks watching Barcelona games and he quickly realised it was a physical team that could put lots of pressure on the ball all over the park. This was something no-one was talking about at the time – pressuring the person on the ball no matter where they were on the pitch.

It required a different training, a more aerobic type of work and the players didn’t particularly like it. Then they won a game 9-0 in pre-season and they started to realise “this works”.

He also started watching Barcelona B and realised there were players such as Ramon Caldere, Nayim and Juan Carlos Rojo, who were very good. “Why weren’t they playing with the first team?” he would ask. They are too young, he was told. But at 23, 24 they were more than ready and were moved into the first team.

He brought the 4-4-2 to Spain, he signed Gary Lineker, Mark Hughes, Steve Archibald. All this gave Barcelona an advantage, as both the system and the players were representative of the best football of the time: Physical, intense, organised.

He always said one of the hardest days of his life, football wise, was the European Cup final defeat by Steaua in 1986 at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, almost a home ground for the final.

Barcelona were expected to win. But it just didn’t work well; the team seemed affected by the pressure. He must have replayed that game so much in his head.

Terry made the controversial decision to take off Schuster, who was the best penalty taker. The match went to a penalty shootout, and Barcelona were beaten.

On the field, he was a success and an innovator. But he was far more than that. He was special, memorable. We all remember him singing on television shows, writing books, he was interviewed – in English – everywhere as a personality. The only other figure I can think of who did a similar jump from football to showbusiness was Johan Cruyff. He was at that level.

I once queued to get his autograph and it was the longest queue. It took so long for the 60 or 70 that were there because he gave every single person there some time to talk about his own experience or to listen to their experience with Spanish football or with his Barcelona.

He gave me five minutes, I was a journalist who’d just arrived in England and I felt he had all the time in the world, a lesson.

Terry Venables’ impact on football at Barcelona and in Spain will have a lasting impression.

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