Alves, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Suarez, Messi, Neymar… announces the voice from the PA at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, the voice as synonymous as the players themselves. For the past 60 years Manel Vich has taken his seat above the Barca faithful to perform his ritual duty prior to kick-off. The Dutch filmmaker and photographer Johan Kramer discusses his interest and motive behind his new short film Le Veu del Barça, which documents one of football’s true outsiders.
Photography by Johan Kramer
Can you tell us a bit about what football means to you?
Football is a global language. It’s a fantastic way to connect. When you’re young, you play all the time. When you’re older, you watch all the time. And now I think that Messi is one of the most outstanding contemporary artists of our time.
How has it informed your work as a filmmaker over the years? What is it about the game that provides you with inspiration?
The first time I truly realised the true power of football, when I directed my first documentary The Other Final. This was a film about a game between the two lowest ranked national teams in the world: Bhutan and Montserrat. Although the level was not very high, the passion and spirit was exactly the same as with the best players in the world. The Other Final was released worldwide and because of that, I’ve been doing lots of football commercials over the years. The stories that I like are mostly the stories of football outsiders….
Tell us a bit about the name change as well – what was it about Johan Neeskens that made you want to adopt his first name? And why him over Cruyff?
I was lucky to grow up in a time where Ajax was extremely successful and won the European Cup 3 times in a row. All the kids I played with were crazy about Cruijff and off course he was a magnificent player, but I loved the hard working midfielder with the long blond hair Johan Neeskens. In fact I was so crazy about him, that I decided to change my real name (Jan Jasper) into Johan. Although I was very shy, I went in front of the class room and told everyone that from now on my name would be Johan. A few years ago, I shot a feature film called Johan Primero, where the main character also changed his name into Johan and is crazy about Neeskens…..
Cruyff and Neeskens made the switch together, in 1974, to Barça from your hometown club, Ajax – how much of a fondness do you still reserve for the Amsterdam club? And what do you think it will take for them to compete with Europe’s elite again?
I will always love Ajax, but the truth is that they play horrible football, for years now. That’s why I really have fallen in love with Barca, because the way they play is fantastic. It’s a combination of the team, the philosophy behind it, the atmosphere, the stadium, the friends I have there…the combination is just a football heaven.
Anyone that’s followed your personal projects will know it’s no secret that you’re a huge Barcelona fan but, given that you were born in the Netherlands, when and how did you first hear about Manel Vich?
I am a storyteller and always looking for new stories. As I told you before, I like the stories of outsiders. People that are not in the spotlight, but have a great story to tell. I read about Manel some years ago and immediately realised it’s a beautiful story. The weird thing is that this was really the first time he was properly featured. Over the years, he had done some quick TV-interviews, but never really had a film crew at home to listen to his story.
What was it in particular that drew you to his story, besides the sheer length of his tenure?
It’s the perfect example of devotion for a club: FC Barcelona means so much for so many people in Catalunya, for all kinds of reasons, but to have one man who has been there since the first game of the stadium till now is amazing. The fact that he also never got paid for it is even more amazing: for Manel, it’s a matter of honor. This shows that FC Barcelona is more than a club. And finally, I am also a little bit jealous of Manel: he sits there in his glass box, high above the stands, smoking a cigarette. I felt like I was visiting God in heaven
How did you want to tell his story, from a visual perspective?
I wanted to start with showing how people in the stadium ‘experience’ Manel. That’s why I showed the speakers and slowly reveal the person behind the voice. Everyone in Barcelona knows this voice, but not so many know what Manel looks like…..he’s a very well known unknown person.
What was the overriding impression of Manel that you took away from the project?
A few impressions: it’s very special that Barca keeps this tradition of having the same speaker alive. Also, I didn’t want to leave his glass box. It gives the perfect view of the match: since you’re so high up, you really have the right overview. And finally, I realised I love to shoot and photograph more stories like this. Maybe in the UK?
What has been the club’s finest period In the five and a half decades during which Manel has been announcing the teams, in your opinion?
I think the last 8 years have been fantastic. It started with the arrival of Ronaldinho and when Guardiola took over, it became next level
“Everyone in Barcelona knows this voice, but not so many know what Manel looks like…..he’s a very well known unknown person.”
Is there one name that stands out for you in that time? Is it Neeskens, or someone else entirely?
Messi. Messi. Messi. It’s funny that people still talk about Pele, George Best, Cruijff, Beckenbauer, but c’mon. The world has never seen a better player than Messi. It’s really pure art. Ronaldo is trying, but no…not even close. Take the goal he scored against Bilbao in the cup final. Amazing. Let’s consider Nou Camp as the Modern Museum of Art of Barcelona. By the way, I shot Messi some time ago with the same camera as Manel: an old Rolleicord that is 60 years old now
Do you think the double and/or treble is a real possibility in the coming weeks?
And what is next for the blaugranas? Everyone seemed to think that Pep Guardiola had presided over the best team in the club’s history, but do you think Luis Enrique could be about to change that?
I learned from Manel that it’s hard to compare. To him, Kubala was a magic player and you have to see this in relationship with that time and the level they played. And that’s how we need to look at Barca now as well. Football and the team will evolve. A player like Rakitic brings another dimension to the style and this will continue over the years. And of course, there will be years without trophies, but the suffering is part of the love for football.