Remembering the Last Great Barcelona Team to Seal La Liga Glory as Early as the Class of 2018

Barcelona secured a 25th La Liga title on Sunday after victory over Deportivo La Coruna, wrapping things up with as many as four games left to play.

Including 2017/18, Barça have now won 10 Spanish titles in the last 20 seasons. But this has actually been their most dominant triumph throughout that time.

Not since winning La Liga in 1997/98, the club’s first title since the end of the Johan Cruyff ‘Dream Team’ era a few years earlier and fresh off the back of selling Ronaldo to Internazionale in a world record deal, have Barça been quite this dominant.

And because we’re constantly hearing all about Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and co. here’s a look back that star studded 97/98 side:

1. The Boss

Louis van Gaal was one of the hottest coaches in Europe in the 1990s, and, after steering a Golden Generation of Ajax talent to Champions League glory in 1995, was rewarded with the Barcelona job upon Bobby Robson’s departure from Camp Nou in 1997.

The Dutchman spent three seasons in charge, winning two La Liga titles and the Copa del Rey, before leaving in 2000 to coach the Netherlands national team. He then returned for the 2002/03 season, but results were mixed and he left again after just half a season.

2. GK – Ruud Hesp

Ruud Hesp was almost 32 years of age when he arrived at Camp Nou in 1997, with the Dutch goalkeeper seemingly having impressed van Gaal during spells at Fortuna Sittard and Roda in the Eredivisie in the 10 previous years.

Hesp finished the 1997/98 campaign by earning a call-up to the Dutch national side for the World Cup, although he never actually got on the pitch for his country in his career.

3. DF – Michael Reiziger

Michael Reiziger was one of several Dutch players who moved to Barcelona during van Gaal’s tenure, with the right-back having been an important member of Ajax’s Champions League success a few years earlier.

Reiziger had initially gone to AC Milan after leaving Ajax in 1996, but injuries limited his playing time in Italy and he wound up heading to Camp Nou where he spent the next seven years. He later played for Middlesbrough and PSV Eindhoven.

4. DF – Winston Bogarde

Centre-back Winston Bogarde, now infamous for his four-year spell at Chelsea during which he refused to leave the club in order to collect handsome wages despite rarely playing, joined  Barça midway through the 1997/98 campaign.

Another of Van Gaal’s former Ajax players who had struggled to make an impact at AC Milan, he replaced Portuguese defender Fernando Couto in the team. Injury unfortunately limited his opportunities with Barça thereafter.

5. DF – Miguel Angel Nadal

Spain international Miguel Angel Nadal had been at Barça since 1991 after joining from Real Mallorca. He had been a key part of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ in the early years of the decade, although he was beginning to age when van Gaal arrived.

Nadal was almost 33 when he was let go by Barça in the summer of 1999 and returned to Mallorca to play for another six seasons. By the time he retired in 2005, the centre-back had played over 700 career games.

6. DF – Sergi

After joining Barça’s youth ranks at the age of 16 in the late 1980s, left-back Sergi Barjuan was promoted to the first team in the autumn of 1993 and had quickly established as a regular starter. And that would remain the case throughout Van Gaal’s first spell in charge.

Sergi’s Camp Nou career drew to a close when the Dutch coach returned for a second spell, joining Atletico Madrid in 2002 and seeing out the last three years of his career in the capital.

7. MF – Luis Figo

In only his third season at Camp Nou, Luis Figo often wore the captain’s armband and was beginning to show the world his class. The Portuguese winger played in all but three La Liga games over the course of the season and scored six times in all competitions.

In 2000, Figo made one of the most controversial moves of all time when Real Madrid triggered his buyout clause and took him to the Bernabeu to kick off the Galacticos era. He was infamously greeted with a pig’s head thrown onto the pitch on his return to Camp Nou.

8. MF – Albert Celades

Home grown defensive midfielder Albert Celades was another Barça player who went on to play for Real Madrid, although a single season spell at Celta Vigo was sandwiched in between his time at Camp Nou and the Bernabeu.

Barcelona-born Celades had arrived at La Masia at the age of 14 and 1997/98 was his first full season in the senior squad, missing just two La Liga games. His game time waned the following year and he joined Celta in 1999, before five years as a fringe player at Real.

9. MF – Luis Enrique

Unlike Figo and Celades, Luis Enrique made the opposite journey and had joined Barça from Real as a free agent in 1996. The versatile midfielder had become a prolific goalscorer upon moving to Catalunya and scored 25 times in all competitions in 1997/98.

Famously later Barça manager, guiding the club to a second historic treble in 2014/15, Enrique remained at Camp Nou for the rest of his playing career, eventually retiring in 2004 at the age 34 after injuries had started to limit his impact.

10. MF – Rivaldo

The 1997/98 season was Rivaldo’s first at Barça after signing from fellow Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna, with the Brazilian beginning to hit the form that would soon yield a Ballon d’Or award in 1999.

Rivaldo spent much of his debut campaign switching between a left wing and ‘number 10’ role, finishing with 28 goals in all competitions. But while he thrived under van Gaal to begin with, his Barça career end suddenly in 2002, joining AC Milan, when the fiery Dutchman returned.

11. FW – Giovanni

Giovanni was another Brazilian that van Gaal ultimately pushed out of the club, but the former Santos star was at least an important part of the 1997/98 team having made the move to Spain from his homeland the previous summer.

It was a substantial £11m fee that took Giovanni from Camp Nou to Olympiacos in 1999 and his six-year spell in Greece was the longest stay at any club in his journeyman career.

12. FW – Sonny Anderson

Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson was bought from Monaco in the summer of 1997 after three prolific seasons in French football. He made a strong, if not spectacular start, scoring 10 times in 23 La Liga appearance during his debut campaign.

Like so many others, Anderson fell foul of van Gaal and saw his role in the team diminish the following season. That prompted a return to France, where he once again rediscovered his best goalscoring form after signing for Lyon.

13. The Rest

Vitor Baia (GK) – Relegated to second choice stopper behind Hesp in summer of 1997.

Albert Ferrer (DF) – His final season at Camp Nou before joining Chelsea.

Fernando Couto (DF) – Joined Lazio in 1998 after a bit-part role with Barça.

Abelardo (DF) – Spent eight years at the club before moving to Alaves in 2002.

Pep Guardiola (MF) – The club captain was injured for much of the 1997/98 season.

Guillermo Amor (MF) – A 10-year Camp Nou veteran, this was his final season.

Oscar Garcia (MF) – Later played for Valencia and Espanyol.

Dragan Ciric (MF) – Enjoyed the best of his three seasons at Camp Nou in 1997/98.

Ivan de la Pena (MF) – La Masia graduate, but later spent nine years with Espanyol.

Juan Antonio Pizzi (FW) – Left Barça in 1998 to return home to Argentina.

Hristo Stoichkov (FW) – Had returned to Catalunya in 1996 as a shadow of his former self.

Christophe Dugarry (FW) – Managed only a few games before leaving for Marseille.

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