FC Barcelona's 1992 European Cup winners may always have a special place in the fans' hearts yet Michael Laudrup says "this team we have now is the best" seen at the Camp Nou.
FC Barcelona fans rightly revere the 'Dream Team' of 1992 that won the Blaugrana's first European Champion Clubs' Cup but Michael Laudrup, a star of that side, believes the current team are even better.
Debates will run about which was the best of Barcelona's three European Cup-winning sides: 1992, 2006 or 2009. Laudrup, though, played alongside Barça coach Josep Guardiola in Johan Cruyff's team that beat UC Sampdoria 1-0 at Wembley in 1992, and raves about his former team-mate's charges.
"You always compare the teams," former Denmark forward Laudrup told UEFA.com. "Barcelona over the last 20 years have had some great teams and that was one of them. The Rjikaard team was another, with Ronaldinho. And now this one, with Guardiola, Messi, Iniesta.
"The last two teams have even more quality, individual qualities, than our team – but because we were the first big Barcelona team, and we won so many things, we will always be something special in the hearts of Catalans and in Barcelona. But [in terms of] quality,
I think individually this team we have now is the best."
High praise from a man who helped the Camp Nou side win four straight Liga titles between 1991 and 1994 as well as that Wembley triumph. Yet in the wake of Barcelona's dazzling, Lionel Messi-inspired rout of VfB Stuttgart – which earned them a repeat of the 2006 final with Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals – Laudrup feels the club are set for prolonged success.
"What makes it special is that they have a combination of very good football and a structure in the whole club," the 45-year-old said. "So when a young player from the youth team comes up to the first team – and you have a lot of them – they know exactly what to do, because they have done it over a lot of years. Then they have individual quality, they have signed very good players.
"But they have a style, that's what I like most, they have a style and a philosophy in the club that is very nice to see. They play marvellous football. And they have a coach who is Catalan. He knows about the culture, which is important in the good moments and the bad."
Of all the memories Laudrup holds from his five years in Catalonia, bringing that famous trophy to Barcelona is perhaps the fondest. "Seeing so many people on the streets and so happy is a memory that always stays," he said. "I played for many years and won a lot of things, but that moment and especially the day after the final was very important.
"We were all tired, but thinking about the importance for us, for the city, for the people – so many happy people – that fills you with joy. I think there were a million people on the streets to celebrate, it was a fantastic day."
That final, of course, is best remembered for one thing alone: "Yes, that goal," said Laudrup. If the 2006 success will always be associated with Juliano Belletti's dramatic late winner, and the 2009 victory with Lionel Messi's looping header that saw off Manchester United FC, 1992 was all about Ronald Koeman's thunderbolt free-kick in extra time.
"It was a great goal from Ronald, and then I remember the referee blowing the final whistle and me asking: 'Have we won?' When we got the trophy, we all knew how important it was for the club and the city to have won that competition for the first time."
Eighteen years on and Barcelona are chasing their fourth European title. Laudrup is convinced they can succeed but knows only too well the challenge ahead. "They are one of my favourites, but at this level, when we are talking about the best four, five, six, seven teams in the UEFA Champions League, well, one bad night and you are out.
"Last year they won the title and they had been playing so well, but we also have to remember they were only 45 seconds from losing against Chelsea in the semi-final. So when you talk about small differences, there you have it."