Appointed in August 2020, new coach Ronald Koeman spoke to UEFA.com ahead of his first Champions League campaign in command of Barcelona.
On returning to Barcelona
Every time we went back to Barcelona, we had that feeling of, “OK, we’re back home, we have friends.” We know everything about the city and it’s a fantastic feeling to be back in Barcelona. I’m Dutch, but maybe I’m a little bit Dutch-Spanish, Dutch-Catalan, because I had a period of nine years in total in Barcelona.
On scoring in (and winning) the 1988 and 1992 European Cup finals
If you score the winning goal, you’re the hero of the night. That feeling was great, and it was, and still is, a fantastic memory [for Barcelona in 1992). It was a fantastic feeling because it was the first Champions League at that time for Barcelona. You can’t compare scoring one of five or one of seven penalties with scoring a free-kick in extra time; that’s very different. We won the title with PSV Eindhoven [in 1988]. It was unexpected because a team in Holland winning a big title like that is great.
On that Barcelona 1992 final goal
It wasn’t planned. I remember we’d taken free-kicks in the last training sessions the day before the match. We were shooting free-kicks, but we didn’t try the one-two with [Hristo] Stoichkov and [José Mari] Bakero, and me shooting. It wasn’t a direct free-kick and it was above the wall, and we said, “OK, if you pass the ball short to Bakero or Stoichkov stops the ball, then I’ll try to score.” Normally, if you shoot that ball, you will touch one of the defenders who comes out of the wall, but that time I was lucky, and it was maybe difficult for the goalkeeper to react faster to [get to] his second post.
On Johan Cruyff’s words before the 1992 final
Being in the final, it’s about trying to take a little bit of pressure off the team, and that was the reason he said, “OK, disfrutad, enjoy the game”. If we enjoyed the game, if we played football, that would normally give us the best chance of winning the game and the final. He didn’t treat us differently in a competition game, in the Spanish league or in European league football. It was always pressure on the team; it was always about playing good football.
On his other favourite Champions League memory
[Barcelona] won against Manchester United [in 1994/95]. That night it was 4-0. We played great football. I remember a game against Dynamo Kyiv [in 1993/94], maybe that was the best game that we ever played with the Barcelona team – I think we won 4-1. And I scored a great goal against Porto in the [1993/94] semi-finals when [Vítor] Baía was still the goalkeeper.
On nearly reaching the semi-finals as a coach with Ajax (2002/03) and Benfica (2005/06)
I remember that [Ajax quarter-final second leg] perfectly. We played well and we lost in the final minute; we lost 3-2 against AC Milan. Maybe we deserved to go on in the tournament because we had a really young but a really quality team at that time, with a lot of young talents like [Rafael] van der Vaart, [Nigel] de Jong and Steven Pienaar. Benfica was different. We played at home [against Barcelona in the first leg], it was 0-0. [In the second leg] at 1-0 down, Simão [Sabrosa] had a big chance to score, to equalise. But, OK, sometimes you have luck on your side and sometimes you’re missing some luck.
On coaching Virgil van Dijk at Southampton
I think it was great to work with Virgil because he was an open guy in [terms of] communication. He liked to learn from everybody. He had to change his personality a little bit because sometimes he was a little bit too lazy. Maybe people will tell you that he was a little bit arrogant in his football. We worked really hard, but the credit is for the player. He is now, in my opinion, one of the best defenders we have in football.
On uncomplicated football
Sometimes coaches will make it too difficult. It’s still 11 against 11; you need good organisation in a team. You need to approach the individual qualities of the players. We have [Lionel] Messi in the team, and the rest, they need to do a lot of work, a lot of running, because then Messi can still be the best player in the world. And that means every player playing in their position, playing to the qualities of the player.
On Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie is a very clever football player. He sees all the situations on the pitch, he always makes the right decision, and the most important [thing] for me is to put him in the right position in the team. Last season, he didn’t play in his [best] position. Then it’s always difficult for a young player who comes to Barcelona; it’s a big change in the language, how they live, how they train. But I will give him that support now to leave him in his best position, but there’s no question about the qualities of the player.
On Lionel Messi
I’ve now been working with Leo and the team for almost three weeks. I see, from the beginning, the big qualities he has as a player. Also, his commitment to the team in trying to do good pressing up front. He’s the best because he is so easy on the pitch, but he’s very intelligent. He sees the best solutions in the game really fast. To see it is one [thing], but to do it is another.
On Barça’s 8-2 semi-final defeat by Bayern last season
The big lesson for me is that if you don’t play as a team, you will not win. First of all, if you see the physical state of the Bayern team, it’s excellent, and the organisation in the team was excellent. That was a big difference on that night.
On Henrik Larsson’s role on Koeman’s staff
I was looking to bring an assistant coach [as well as Alfred Schreuder]. I was looking forward to having an assistant who played for Barcelona. I know Henrik Larsson very well because we played together for two seasons at Feyenoord. I was a defender, Alfred Schreuder was a midfield player and Henrik was a striker. We have all those positions in our technical staff. That’s also one of the features of Henrik, to bring his experience to the front players. I can trust them. I know them and that’s really important for the head coach.