Messi on hand as Barca open Cruyff Stadium

ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol discusses how Barcelona struggle to adjust without talisman Lionel Messi in the side.

BARCELONA — Lionel Messi was among a long list of special guests as Barcelona officially opened the new Johan Cruyff Stadium on Tuesday with a match between their U19s and Ajax’s youth team, two of the clubs the late Cruyff represented during an esteemed career.

Barca also unveiled a statue of the Dutchman, who played for and managed the club, outside their Camp Nou home on Monday.

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The new stadium is located at the club’s training ground in Sant Joan Despi, a suburb outside the city of Barcelona. The capacity is 6,000 and it will be the home of Barca B, the women’s team and the U19s when they play in the UEFA Youth League.

Those teams had previously played their home matches at the Mini Estadi, which is located next to Camp Nou. That stadium will now be knocked down and replaced by an arena for the club’s basketball and futsal teams.

All of the ongoing work is part of the wider Espai Barca project, which will eventually see Camp Nou updated, with a roof added to the stadium and the attendance breaking the 100,000 barrier.

Club captain Messi, along with Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, stood in the centre circle prior to Tuesday’s match as Cruyff’s son, Jordi, took a ceremonial kickoff to officially open the stadium. Cruyff’s wife Danny and his daughter Susila were also in attendance.

On the pitch, Naci Unuvar, who only turned 16 in June, scored two brilliant goals as Ajax beat a Barca side coached by former goalkeeper Victor Valdes 2-0.

Other guests included Frenkie de Jong, who followed Cruyff’s path from Ajax to Barca this summer, Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert and Carles Puyol.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu lauded the opening of the stadium as “a historic moment which will remain in the club’s memory forever.”

Cruyff, who died of cancer in 2016, first signed for Barcelona as a player in 1973, joining the club from Ajax. He went on to manage both clubs, too, with his playing philosophy still very much present in everything the two teams do.