Tactical Insights

Lopera’s Interesting Connection with Barça

Manuel Ruiz de Lopera passed away on Saturday at the age of 79, and there isn’t a player, club, or fan of a certain age, regardless of their team colors, who doesn’t have a memory or two about the man who served as the president of Betis at the turn of the century. Back then, leaders were sometimes more famous than the footballers themselves. FC Barcelona also had its fair share of encounters with Lopera, who even managed to steal the signing of a world-renowned star at the time.

Denilson, the record-breaking signing

He almost joined Barça

Over 25 years have gone by since then, but Betis, under Lopera’s leadership, held the record for the highest investment in a transfer for a period of time. The deal was sealed in the summer of 1997, but it wasn’t until July 1998 when Denilson de Oliveira donned the green and white jersey as the most expensive footballer globally: 5.3 billion pesetas (31 million euros) and a 10-year contract with a clause of 65,000 million pesetas. Interestingly, Denilson, the Brazilian left-footed winger who had been shining at Sao Paulo, was almost a Barcelona player. Still reeling from Ronaldo Nazario’s departure to Inter in 1997, Barça had to swiftly shift focus to signing another Brazilian talent, Rivaldo, in a move that turned out to be beneficial for the culés, akin to the switch from David Beckham to Ronaldinho a few years later. In front of 25,000 Betis fans, Lopera boldly stated, “If they want to take him from us, they’ll have to empty a bank.” Denilson’s arrival marked the beginning of the end for Luis Aragonés’ Betis, who chose to invest that huge sum in multiple players instead. Denilson ended up spending 7 years at Betis, with a football impact that fell short of expectations, but some still believe that the club gained global recognition due to that move.

Ángel Cuéllar, from Heliópolis to Camp Nou

The gem from the green and white academy, heading to BarçaDenilson was, in a way, Lopera’s way of getting back at Barça, with whom he had several disagreements during the 90s. In 1995, the president of Betis had experienced the loss of his youth team’s star player, Ángel Cuéllar, who chose to join Johan Cruyff’s attempt to recreate the Dream Team in Barcelona. It was the summer of 1995 when Barça paid the 500 million buyout clause for the 22-year-old Extremadura forward, who had just completed his best season (1994-95) after spending several seasons in Heliópolis. His departure led to one of Lopera’s famous phrases: “Explain to me how someone who has grown up with Betis can leave to earn less.”

Serra Ferrer, the division before the final

Days before the Betis-Barça match, there was a risk of cancellation

Llorenç Serra Ferrer, who was already considered one of the best coaches in Betis’ 90-year history, reached an agreement with Barça to join the club’s staff. During the 1996-97 season, Betis and Barça were on track to reach the final of the Copa del Rey. However, a rumored pact between the two clubs almost led to the dismissal of Serra Ferrer just 9 days before the cup final. Reports claimed that Lopera, Betis’ owner, was unhappy and wanted Serra Ferrer to sign a document preventing him from joining Barcelona. When the coach refused, Lopera initiated dismissal proceedings. Eventually, they agreed to continue working together until June 30, 1997, without any further restrictions.

The Cup final took place on June 28 at the Bernabéu. Betis seemed poised to win with Finidi’s 2-1 goal in the 82nd minute, but Pizzi equalized for Barça shortly after, and Figo scored the winning goal in extra time. The situation turned into a farce when Barça’s vice president got the club’s anthem to play loudly over the stadium’s speakers.

On July 16, Serra Ferrer officially joined Barça’s technical staff, accompanied by Betis’ physical trainer, Pep Alomar. After Lopera’s passing, Serra Ferrer returned to Betis and led them to victory in the 2005 Cup. He expressed gratitude for the trust placed in him during a challenging time.

Alfonso Pérez, a die-hard Barça fan

He leaves Betis to fulfill his dream

The signing of Alfonso Pérez Muñoz for Barça in the summer of 2000 was one of the failed additions that the Barça club made to try to alleviate Figo’s escape to Real Madrid. The Real Madrid youth player showed up in Barcelona with a pin from his new club on his 18th birthday, fulfilling a childhood dream. Barça paid 2,500 million pesetas (more than 15 million euros) for a forward who in his good seasons scored 20-25 goals in the League. He signed for four seasons as a culé but was only there for one and a half, with two goals of experience. A loan to Olympique de Marseille and another to Betis closed his Barça journey. “I would have liked that these two years had not passed and that I had continued at Betis,” said Alfonso upon his return to the green and white club, with part of the fans hurt when they remembered that he did not want to accompany the Heliópolis team in their via crucis for the Second Division.

This content has been translated and adapted from the Spanish version of the digital newspaper

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