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The fate of La quinta del mini, Barcelona's 1995-96 youthful revolution - Francisco Rufete (5th December, 2017)

7th October, 1995. Johan Cruyff must deal with the absence of Kodro, Hagi, Prosinečki, Popescu Bakero. Barcelona are travelling to Betis, and it is the only La Liga game of the day - all eyes are on it.

Those eyes then quickly turn - Diego Maradona rejoins the Boca Juniors squad after having been suspended for fifteen months. And even in Spain many focus on Jorge Valdano's Real Madrid who are struggling - and Atlético Madrid's Radomir Antić who calls club president Jesús Gil's dreams distant from reality.

But the eyes that remain go wild - Johan Cruyff has produced a revolutionary lineup. Eight new young players make their debut. Eight. And they tear Betis apart, in a performance that is still vivid in the memory of some Barcelona fans.

That season - the 1995-96 season - saw a record 20 youth academy players trained with the first team. Ten of them made their first team debuts - La quinta del mini, they called it. There are some who go further, who call the B team of 1994-95 the Lleva del Mini for obtaining a record 42 points (wins were two points then) and coming in sixth place.

The 1995-96 season may have trophy-less and may have led to the unceremonious firing of Johan Cruyff. But that season preceded three seasons of trophies galore. And it officially embedded La Masia in the "Barcelona way".

La quinta del mini consists of Celades, Roger, De la Peña, Javi García, Juan Carlos Moreno, Juanjo, Rufete, Setvalls, Toni Velamazán and Xavi Roca. And it's worth looking at the stories of some of them.

Today, we look at Francisco Rufete, the hardworking and skillful right winger who became etched in Valencia's psyche and Espanyol's history....



During the 1995-96 season, Francisco Rufete played for Barcelona C, Barcelona B, and 39 minutes with the first team on the last day of the season at Deportivo. That was, unfortunately, his only stint with the first team, but he would come back 11 years later to help deny Barcelona a league title.

In 1997, he would leave Barcelona B to join Segunda side Toledo, where five goals in 38 games earned him a move to La Liga side Mallorca in 1998. However, after six months without a single appearance, he moved in January 1999 to Málaga. He became instrumental, alongside Catanha and José María Movilla, in the side's promotion to La Liga - a side that was in the Segunda B in the previous season.

After two exceptional individual seasons, Rufete moved to Valencia in a 8.5 million euro deal that also involved the transfer of footballer Gerardo García the other way. Although not an undisputed starter after his first year, he contributed with good overall performances and was an essential part of the side that won the 2001-02 and 2003-04 league titles.

After Quique Sánchez Flores arrived at Valencia from Getafe, Rufete was released and joined Espanyol on a free transfer in July 2006. He became an essential cog of the Espanyol side that finished mid-table. And that, on the 9th of June, 2007, at 9:00 pm, held the balance of power in a fascinating title race. Real Madrid and Barcelona, both on top of the table, both with the same number of points but the Catalans were behind on head-to-head.

Real Madrid made the trip to La Romareda to face Real Zaragoza while Barcelona faced city rivals Espanyol on home turf. Two games left in the season and both teams knew victory was essential.

Over the next 90 minutes, the tables turned numerous times, so much so that even Sevilla were on top of the table for a few minutes. And so the two matches kicked off in perfect unison.

By the 89th minute, Barcelona were leading 2-1 and Real Madrid were tied 2-2. At this point, Real Madrid were on 73 points and Barcelona on 75.

It looked like the league was sealed, for the final fixtures were easy - Madrid vs Mallorca and Barcelona vs Nastic.

It was.

And then it wasn’t.

Former Barcelona player Francisco Rufete, played a sumptuous low through ball past the Barcelona defense and the only striker available waited for Valdés to come to him. A long wait, but a true number nine goal from Raúl Tamudo - a true number nine. No complications, no extravagance. A simple, effective, precise finish.

The goal to end Barcelona’s La Liga hopes.

This was the year that Barcelona lost the UEFA Super Cup to Sevilla, the FIFA Club World Cup to Internacional of Porto Alegre, Brazil, were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stage, and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey after a shameful 4-0 loss to Getafe in the semi finals.

Just one striker, scoring one dull, boring goal, to end one club’s hopes for one annual championship.

Aftermath


Francisco Rufete, at Espanyol


Rufete was constantly hampered by injuries during the 2007-08 campaign, after having appeared in 11 UEFA Cup matches during the Catalans' run to the final in 2007.

In mid-July 2009, Rufete was released by Espanyol, moving close to home with Hércules in a two-year deal. In his first season, aged 32, the veteran contributed with nearly 2,000 minutes as the Alicante team returned to the top division after an absence of 13 years.

Rufete was released by Hércules in late 2011 after the club decided not to renew his contract, and retired from football shortly after. Two years later he returned to Valencia after being appointed youth coordinator, but switched to director of football after a few months.

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He was short. Very short. At 5'3", the left winger sometimes played in an over-sized shirt.

The ball never left his feet. His feet were tiny but they had magic. A dizzying array of body feints, close control, direction changes and sheer speed, often resembling a roller-coaster, left opposition defenders outwitted. And yes - sometimes, he frustrated. Sometimes, he was irregular.

But when he turned up, the world was at his feet.

If Juan Quero plays against Real Madrid he'll be playing against the club that let him go. The club that didn't think he had it in him to become a La Liga player.

The club that was wrong. Very, very wrong - he went fr…