This article first appeared here on Dec 15th, 2010.
From detective series co-creator to the grey haired man on top of the O2 crooning his paean to the “impossible dream” of an England world cup win it can be hard for people of younger generations to imagine that Terence Frederick Venables was once one of the hottest managerial properties in European football. In a time when we laugh at Sam Allardyce for his comments about managing Real Madrid or Internazionale it is important to remember that some English managers have already been there and done it with the continent’s best.
As a midfield player with Chelsea, Tottenham, QPR, and Crystal Palace Venables made over 500 appearances and scored more than 60 goals but it is as a manager that he really made his name in football. Starting with Crystal Palace, where he replaced Malcolm Allison, he guided the club from the third division to the top, (briefly) of the first division. A move back to Queens Park Rangers saw another promotion to the top flight, an FA Cup final appearance and qualification for the UEFA Cup.
Whilst both of these tenures had raised Venables’ profile in the game it was still a surprise in 1984 when Barcelona president Josep Lluis Nunez, searching for a replacement for Cesar Luis Menotti, canvassed the opinions of among others Sir Bobby Robson, and plumped for Venables. One of the most surprised was German star Bernd Schuster who at the time was reported to have asked the local media, “where did we find this English tourist?”. The story goes that Venables had been learning Spanish for the preceding two years and even when greeting the fans in Catalan whilst being introduced on the pitch at the Camp Nou he was viewed with suspicion in some quarters.
“El Tel” as he was now being dubbed by the UK tabloid media didn’t have long to wait to prove himself. One of his first jobs was to steer Barcelona into a more pressing game. Under Menotti some people thought that the team was playing too deep and allowing the opposition too much time on the ball. Bringing in the most English of formations in 4-4-2 meant that opponents were always under pressure and allowed talents like Schuster to operate on the edge of the opposition’s box rather than on the halfway line. Venables built his team on the defensive rocks of ‘Tarzan’ Migueli, (that season’s Don Balon award winner), Julio Alberto and Gerardo which gave the more skilful players confidence to get forward. His first away game was at the home of eternal rivals Real Madrid and the new style of football brought a resounding 3-0 win for the Catalans. What followed was Barcelona’s first league title for 11 years. FCB won the title by 10 points, (15 points under today’s rules) and only lost twice in the league.
The next season saw Barcelona lift the League Cup but it ended in huge disappointment as the team missed out on its first European Cup. A dour and goalless 120 minutes against Steaua Bucharest was ended by a perfect display in the shootout from Romanian ‘keeper Helmuth Duckadam as Steaua won 2-0 on penalties.
1986-87 saw Venables bring in Gary Lineker and Andoni Zubizarreta but they were unable to stop the Hugo Sanchez inspired Real Madrid winning another league title. European football ended badly for Barcelona as well, being beaten home and away by Dundee United in the UEFA Cup. This was seen as the last straw by the Barcelona board and in September of 1987 Venables left the club to return to England.
Despite the relationship ending badly between Venables and Barcelona he is still a firm favourite in Cataluna and his 84-85 manager of the year award shows that whilst he might never be revered as a managerial all time great there is always a corner of Spain where this particular ‘Mister’ will be welcome.
“Winning La Liga for Barcelona is the pinnacle of my career in club management. It was an incredible time there and I loved every minute”. Terry Venables