Roberto Fernández Bonillo, better known as Roberto or Robert, was appointed last week as the new FC Barcelona Sporting Director. Considered as one of the ‘80s and ‘90s characters in La Liga, Roberto is no stranger to Barça’s DNA and playing style.

A powerful and indefatigable attacking midfielder, he combined his potent shot and excellent aerial game with a strong personality and tactical wit, qualities that allowed him to compete in a 22-year span in the Spanish first and second division leagues. He debuted in La Liga when he was 17, but made his mark for his physical endurance and natural competitiveness. Still today, in his mid 50’s, Roberto likes to bike 400 kilometers a week around his home residence at Rocafort, Valencia.

Fernández arrived at Barcelona in 1986, after the club’s defeat in the European Cup final against Steaua Bucharest in Seville, a painful moment the club needed to forget with new blood. The midfielder played with the Catalans for four seasons and won three trophies, the only silverware in his professional club career: the 1988 Spanish Cup against Real Sociedad, the 1989 European Cup Winners’ Cup versus Sampdoria and the 1990 Spanish Cup against Real Madrid.

“I won three titles in four years but above all that what I took was the club’s sentiment. For me, Barça is huge and I bring it in my heart. The important thing for any player who gets to play at Barça, whether he wins a lot of trophies or not, is that the club’s essence stays with him, the years he lives in Barcelona, defending the shirt, it all remains with you for the rest of your life,” he said in an interview with Barça Magazine.

He played for the blaugrana jersey until 1990 completing a total of 247 appearances with 66 goals, but just missing out on the glory Cruyff’s Dream Team enjoyed in the succeeding seasons.

Regarding his relationship with The Flying Dutchman, his coach at the club for two seasons, Roberto has said: “Football changed with Johan, the tactical approach was different and you needed time. The comprehension was a hard and slow process. We had to change the way we understood the game...and at the same time we had to win matches and titles. You had to be very focused on your job, it was a very rewarding experience.”

Despite his admiration for Cruyff, Roberto had a difficult time adapting to the Dutchman constantly rotating his position; he played in almost every role except for goalkeeper: “I’m drifting away. I don’t feel comfortable playing almost as a full back,” he said at one time. He ended up leaving for Valencia as advised by the coach himself.

Defending the Spanish crest, Fernández had 21 caps with the U-21 national team, scoring seven goals and finishing runner-up in the European U-21 Championship in 1984 and champion in the 1986 European U-21 tournament. With the senior Spanish team, Fernández had 29 appearances and two goals in nine years with the first team, including playing in the 1984 Euro and 1990 World Cup squads.

After his retirement from professional football, Roberto took on coaching duties with Valencia CF academy, Córdoba, Orihuela, Alzira and Figueres. In a 2014 interview, he said that he had nothing left to offer as a coach, asked about an eventual role as a Sporting Director he said: “For that you have to be at the right time and also know it’s a trust position, because you got to make decisions.”

Let us get to know Barça’s new Sporting Director through his own words. This is the conversation Roberto Fernández had with the newspaper El País back in 2013:

What was your football school?

Back in the 70’s, the kids placed two rocks on the street as the goal and that was it. If it had rained and the pitch was muddy, you didn’t play. There was no electricity or hot water. Until you were 12 years old you didn’t know what it was to compete in a team. Nowadays, at five or six years old, they’re already in the academies, in every town there are fields with artificial turf, the pitch is always the same. And that, alongside the coach improvements, has made the players to evolve very quickly. At 17 years old, they’re already very prepared.

How was your spell with the national team?

I was very young, we were the U-21 European Championship runners-up and we also took part in the 1984 European Cup in France. That summer, the two teams made it to the finals and we lost both. The first team was a very tough one with personality: Arkonada, Goikoetxea, Gordillo, Camacho, Santillana, Señor…

How has Barça evolved since your time in the team?

I arrived in 1986 and Cruyff did in 1988. He branded Barça with a method that has been improved over the years. Except for Robson, all of the coaches have kept that line.

Do you remember the day Cruyff arrived in the club?

Yes, I was coming out of the elevator and he was entering with Rexach. It was shocking. I knew him because I had played against him, when he was in Levante and I was just a newbie in Castellón, back in 1980. As a player, he was delightful, a genius for the way he moved around in the pitch. As a coach, he changed Barça and Spanish football histories, because of his vision to transform the attacking modern football. Before, Rinus Míchel would also contribute a lot and four years later I met Guus Hiddink in Valencia. Also Leo Beenhacker in Madrid with La Quinta del Buitre: to not run that much but rather train with the ball. It was a pleasure to train; before Cruyff it was torture: run, run, run…

Was it hard to grasp Cruyff’s methods?

At first, we suffered a lot playing with just three men in defense, pressing high in the field but we managed to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989 against Sampdoria; and one year later we won the Spanish Cup by beating Real Madrid in Mestalla, which saved his job. I was playing in several positions and that was good. Then came very important signings, especially Koeman’s: he started the plays from the back line. Before, the centre backs in Spain had to be big and didn’t think a lot but to clear the ball away. The inclusion of a centre back with technical skills is Cruyff’s football signature. Since then, it’s very important for Barça’s goalies to have good passing skills.

What happened in the Hesperia mutiny [the players demanded Josep Lluís Nuñez’s board resignation after arguing about the players’ image contracts]?

We had entered a very dangerous dynamic. When there are people who couldn’t keep their words like the vice president [Joan Gaspart], these things happen. Luis Aragonés backed the team. And then we won the Spanish Cup against Real Sociedad at the Bernabéu. They were in a great moment but we stood up for the club.

How was Luis Aragonés?

A special man with a strong character, he was very close to the players but he arrived during a very complicated period. Talking to Gaspart was another deceit after the other. That’s where all the problems began for the club.

And how was Terry Venables?

Englishman, nice. He was a manager and he didn’t run the trainings. We didn’t like that. He wanted me to go to Tottenham but at that time no one left Spain. I do regret that decision.

And do you regret leaving Barça when it was about to take off?

I don’t regret that. Because Valencia was at a very high level too. Valencia will always be a big club, with economic problems or not. Barça and Madrid are transatlantics. I gained status in Barça but I was 29 years old, Valencia was a competitive team, it was an important contract, and I was coming back home.

Do you have your football heart divided nowadays?

I’m Valencian and “ché” [Valencia supporters’ nickname] but I have a deep affection for Barça. I’ve never hidden that.

Which club treats its former players in a better way?

Barça treats them very well. The relationship with its former players is very good, there’s great respect. When you arrive at the Ciutat Esportiva, you carry Barça’s DNA. There should be more former players in Valencia. It’s a little embarrassing, this fact.

Anything wrong? Send your correction.

Source: El País, ABC and Sport.