‘I Played Barca And Their Brains Are Different…’ Ninkovic And Yorke On Tackling Tiki-taka

From scoring at the Camp Nou to watching genius in action, even the best players are Barca aficionados, writes Tom Smithies.

Ultimately you have to enjoy any brush with genius, no matter what the outcome and even if it takes the passage of time to fully appreciate the experience.


Two central figures in the All Stars camp have already traded blows with Barcelona on the highest stage, albeit with rather different outcomes.


Dwight Yorke famously scored twice at the Spanish giant’s Camp Nou stadium, in a Champions League thriller in 1999 that also featured an overhead strike from Rivaldo and a goal from Andy Cole built by some outrageous interplay between him and Yorke.

Barca’s midfield featured a 19-year-old Xavi, “and 20 years later we’re at the helm in a game in Sydney – I reckon that was just about the furthest thing from what we were focused on that day,” remembers Yorke, appointed head coach of the All Stars team for this encounter.

25 Nov 1998: Dwight Yorke of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Champions League match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Spain. Yorke scored twice as the game ended 3-3. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

“Those were epic games against Barca, and of course we went on to win the Champions League that year.

“So I know exactly how good they are, but what’s the point in going into management if you won’t embrace a challenge like this?

“Xavi and me have both gone through the process to become a manger, and to be fair he’s further ahead than me – as a player he was second to none and so far he’s done a fine job back at Barca.”

For Milos Ninkovic the experience was a little more sobering, though the Sydney FC playmaker can still take an aesthetic pleasure in seeing such a symphonic side up close.

In 2009, Dynamo Kiev lost 2-0 at Camp Nou but held out greater hopes for the return, where a point would guarantee Ninkovic’s side at least a place in the Europa League.

They even took the lead before Xavi equalised… and then, with just four minutes left, Lionel Messi bent a free-kick over the Kiev wall and in to snatch a win. Ninkovic was in the wall, and turned to watch the ball sail in.

“I played so many years in the Champions League against so many great teams, but I never felt so bad – I have to say bad – as against Barcelona,” he says. “Basically we played most of the time without the ball. The possession was something crazy like 87% to 13% or something like that.

“It was really hard to play against and what was really impressive – back then everyone in Ukraine were saying that you had to be strong and fast if you want to play football, you know, and then you play against Barcelona and you see Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Dani Alves, and they are not strong, they’re not fast. But they’re brains are just different.

Ninkovic, right, watches Messi’s freekick go in.

“It was an amazing experience, especially to play against Messi, in my opinion probably the best ever. And to play against Xavi… though he’s now coaching and I’m still playing!.

“The funniest thing was that in our group we had Inter Milan, Barcelona, Rubin Kazan and us – and then soon after we had a (Serbian) national team camp. And Dejan Stankovic played for Inter Milan and he was like, Every time when I tried to kick someone, I couldn’t because they just passed the ball, I couldn’t get near them!

“So when someone from Inter Milan – and that year they were one of the favourites and they actually won the Champions League – when they feel that way about playing Barcelona, then I was like, Oh, we are not that bad.

“I think that that was probably the best team in the last I don’t know how many years – obviously I didn’t watch Cruyff and that Barcelona team back then (in the 1970s) but I still think it was one of the best teams ever.”