Nowadays, there’s something irrefutably exciting about the arrival of a Spanish footballer down under: so much so that ‘Spanish flavour’ has quickly become one of the buzz words of Australian football.
Adelaide United started the trend in 2013. Following the appointment of former Barcelona youth coach Josep Gombau, the Hyundai A-League has witnessed a significant uprising in Spanish players – thirteen, in total, including a brief cameo by David Villa.
The trend continues into the 2015/16 season where the Wanderers have launched a Spanish inquisition of their own.
The arrival of new assistant coach Andres Carrasco, versatile defender Alberto and a pair of deep-lying playmakers in Andreu and Dimas signalled a significant period of transformation in Western Sydney.
With three out of four arrivals sharing roots with Barcelona, the Wanderers had acquired the services of a special breed of footballer: players with genuine European pedigree and experience along with a healthy dash of culture and style.
The like of which had never been lodged before in Parramatta. It’s why there’s a very different feel about the Wanderers this season in so many ways – largely down to the impact of three Spanish recruits.
For the Catalonia-born Andreu and Dimas, this difference begins back in their homeland: at La Masia de Can Planes: the revered youth academy of FC Barcelona.
Both players are graduates in the art of total football.
“At La Masia, the philosophy is simple: play football”, says Dimas.
“You grow up with this style: keep the ball, look forward. Keep the ball”.
Andreu spent nine years at the fabled training facility.
“For me, it’s the best youth academy in the world”, he says.
“They create footballers from a very young age. In my situation, I played one game with the first team and played with players like Iniesta and Messi”.
Andreu would come through the ranks at La Masia between 1993 and 2002, a time where the academy’s production line hit the proverbial jackpot: generating a plethora of world-class talent led principally by the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. These players would go on to dominate domestic and European football like never before, establishing a Barca-dynasty. It’s an era in which this Barcelona team were commonly recognised as the best club side world football has ever seen.
Although Dimas spent his academy years at local club Gramenet – a twenty minute drive away from Barcelona’s facilities – the 32-year-old was also destined for La Masia.
He arrived there in 2007 during a momentous time for the club no less: the appointment of Pep Guardiola as head coach of the Barcelona B team.
Guardiola inherited an extremely talented but raw, young and inexperienced B team, comprised predominantly of players as young as 16 and 17. One of his first moves was to supplement these starlets (which included the likes of Sergio Busquets and Pedro) with a selection of older, more experienced players.
These players were to provide support and experience for La Masia’s next crop of world-beaters, fostering a supportive environment without infringing on their development prospects.
And so a 23-year-old Dimas, whose prospects of breaking into the Barca first team appeared slim at best, was drafted into Guardiola’s first ever side from Gramenet.
Dimas remembers Guardiola’s fledgling days in charge. He originally wondered whether Guardiola’s famous reputation as a player would translate into success off the pitch.
“It was his first year as a manager”, Dimas recalls.
“He was a great, incredible player – one of the most famous players in Barcelona’s history – so it was a shock that he was coaching us.”
But even in his first managerial post Dimas felt there was something special about the current Bayern Munich boss. He says that Guardiola’s unwavering ability to believe in himself and his project has been a key part in the Spaniard’s rise to the very top.
Although Guardiola would eventually take control of the first team in 2008, by then, Dimas and Andreu had already said adios to the Catalan giants and found pastures new.
As it worked out, Dimas didn’t have to wait long for a reunion.
Dimas, who had found a new home with newly-promoted Numancia, would face Barcelona on the opening day of the 2008/09 season. Numancia pulled off the ultimate upset, beating the Catalans 1-0 in Guardiola’s first game (Barcelona would go on to win the first treble in Spanish football history later that season).
In their time traversing the Spain’s top division, Andreu, Alberto and Dimas have amassed almost 150 La Liga appearances between them.
During this time the three Spanish Wanderers were pitted against some of the finest players ever to grace to pitch – the likes of Zidane, Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo and of course, Messi.
It’s against these types of superstars and their respective mega-clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, that Andreu, Dimas and Alberto have tested their collective mettle. They all relished the challenge.
“You get extra motivation for those kind of games”, says Alberto, who was involved in one of the greatest upsets in recent Spanish football history when his Getafe side dismantled Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey.
Getafe, who had finished ninth for two consecutive seasons during Alberto’s 32-match spell, were humbled 5-2 at Camp Nou in the 1st leg of the 2006/07 Copa Del Rey semi-finals.
They then responded in remarkable fashion, beating Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona 4-0 in the 2nd leg to progress to the final.
“It was a special game”, says Alberto.
“We played against one of the best clubs in the world and one of the best players in history in Messi.”
Having conquered some of world football’s household names, the Hyundai A-League is the next challenge for the three newly anointed Wanderers.
For Dimas and Alberto, it’s the first time they’ve ever moved abroad. But the trio are happy with how they’ve started their careers down under.
“The A-League is physical”, says Andreu.
“But we are trying to play with the ball a lot. We’re really enjoying this because Dimas and I are controlling games together”.
As of Round 5, the Wanderers have created by far the most chances (62) and have conceded the second least amount of shots on goal (11) in the league.
With Andreu and Dimas orchestrating play from midfield and Alberto offering experience and poise at the back, the three amigos have embodied the new era at the Wanderers.
They are the face of Tony Popovic’s newfound preference for possession football. But even after a deeply promising start, they’re not getting ahead of themselves.
“We know it’s going to be difficult because teams will try to run more and move quicker”, says Andreu.
“We are working in a good way and we are performing on the field what we are practising at training.
“We’re enjoying it a lot.”
You can see the three Amigos take on Wellington Phoenix this Saturday 21 November at Pirtek Stadium. Tickets available here.