Ronald Koeman was responsible for scoring one of the most important goals in Barcelona history one very special night at Wembley in May 1992.
There had been nothing to separate Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ led by Johan Cruyff, and Italian champions Sampdoria in 111 minutes in London. But with the atmosphere growing ever more tense deep into extra-time, Koeman stood over a free-kick around 25 yards from goal.
Sampdoria did their best to delay the strike, unsettle Koeman and encroach to reduce his chances of what almost certainly be a decisive blow.
As the ball was shifted to one side ready for him to strike, three Sampdoria players burst from the wall to try and block the shot. By the time Koeman hit it, all three were just a matter of feet from him, but his connection was powerful, clean and true, whistling past the rushers and the wall, and beating Sampdoria goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca - even though he was covering that side of the goal.
The ball rippled the net and a few minutes later Barcelona were finally lifting the previously elusive European Cup for the first time in their history.
It was the crowning moment of the ‘Dream Team’ era at Camp Nou, with that European triumph sandwiched firmly in between four consecutive La Liga titles between 1990/91 and 1993/94.
Among a small handful of highly skilled foreign imports, alongside home-grown talents from burgeoning youth ranks and several Spaniards poached domestically, Koeman was a key figure in all that success and scoring goals was unusually natural to him.
Penalties and free-kicks were a major part of his armoury, as was long-distance shooting, and he had the ability to either thrash the ball with venomous rage or place it delicately and precisely. That he could do both with such accuracy and still so effortlessly mask which technique he was using made it all the more difficult for defenders and goalkeepers to anticipate.
Yet Koeman was still first and foremost a defensive player, whether it be as a holding midfielder, centre-back or sweeper, operating in the latter role in the 1992 European Cup final.
Koeman was already a European Cup winner by the time he arrived at Camp Nou in 1989, having been part of PSV Eindhoven’s success under the management of Guus Hiddink a year earlier – he scored an astonishing 26 goals in all competitions for PSV that season.
The Dutchman’s goalscoring showed little sign of slowing down when he arrived in Spain. He got 14 his debut season in La Liga in 1989/90, a return plenty of attackers wouldn’t sniff at. Centre-forward Julio Salinas was Barcelona’s top scorer in the league and managed only one more, but Koeman actually got more in all competitions and from the back was the club’s leading marksman overall.
Koeman’s most prolific season as a Barcelona player in La Liga was in 1991/92 when he scored 16 times in the league alone. By then, the ‘Dream Team’ was in full flow and Hristo Stoichkov had taken over as top scorer, although only by a single goal in La Liga that year.
Koeman scored 67 times in La Liga in six years as a Barcelona player. In all competitions, he never failed to score at least double figures every single season he was at the club, while in 1993/94 he scored eight goals in the Champions League to finish the campaign as joint top scorer in the whole competition. His tally for Barcelona for the season stood at 19.
Even in 1994/95 as the original ‘Dream Team’ waned, Koeman managed nine goals in La Liga, matching both Stoichkov and the manager’s emerging son, Jordi, as the club’s joint leading scorer.
Koeman scored over 250 career goals for club and country, 88 of them for Barcelona. They are truly stunning numbers that defenders today don’t even come close to matching.