Lionel Messi and the 5 Greatest Barcelona Players of All Time
When compiling a list of which players should stand in this FC Barcelona "Hall of Fame," there were a number of factors for me to consider.
Creating a lineup of the best players ever to wear La Blaugrana is hugely subjective.
Ask half a dozen people the question, and I can virtually guarantee you will get half a dozen different answers. So, what should the criteria be based on?
In the end I decided to base my thoughts on which players had the most influence in their respective FC Barcelona teams.
Big-name, big-game players who stood up to be counted when the need arose.
Players who didn't shirk their on-field responsibilities and inspired all around them to greater endeavours.
There are some big names in there and some equally big names missing. Let's see if you agree with my choices.
When Bernd Schuster joined FC Barcelona, the team was in crisis. The archetypal midfield general quickly earned a reputation for his dynamic midfield play and aggressiveness in the tackle.
Much of Barca's play and tactics during the German's time at the club were built around him, such was his immense physical prowess and on-pitch influence.
The driving force in the Blaugrana midfield, he had a range of passing that was a delight, and he also possessed the ability to score goals with a reasonable return of 106 goals in 295 games.
Although his relations with the club were often difficult owing to his fractious nature, managers from Helenio Herrera to Terry Venables were in no doubt as to the player's importance.
Hugely influential, he essentially overshadowed Diego Maradona's ill-fated time at the club, which gives you some idea as to his standing at the time.
His time at the club came to an end after he fell out with authority once too often, but I would prefer to remember him as the captain who brought La Liga back to Camp Nou for the first time in 11 years in 1985.
Ladislao Kubala was probably the first great superstar of FC Barcelona.
Indeed, the supporters poll organised by FC Barcelona during the clubs' Centenary celebrations of 1999, named the Hungarian the best player ever to wear the Blaugrana.
He holds the quite unique distinction of having represented Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain at international level, and he also represented a Catalan XI and a European XI.
Kubala was as strong as an ox, yet he could be as graceful as a ballet dancer. He had an extraordinarily powerful shot and a deft touch when required, and his dribbling skills were mesmeric and legendary.
A goal machine, Kubala scored 194 goals in 256 appearances for Barca and his seven goals in the 1951-52 season against Sporting Gijon remain a La Liga record for goals scored in a single match.
Barcelona and Kubala enjoyed great success during the 1950s including four La Liga titles and five Copa del Generalisimo wins.
I expect the player will probably be forever remembered for inspiring Barca to a historic win over eternal rivals Real Madrid in the 1961 European Cup.
The 4-3 aggregate win for La Blaugrana was the first time the "all whites" had ever lost in the competition, having won the first five trophies between 1956 and 1960.
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A product of La Masia,he is the current appearance record-holder for La Blaugrana, and he is also one of the most decorated members of the current squad in terms of trophies won, both individually and collectively.
Xavi has never looked back since making his debut against Valencia on October 3 1998 during the Louis van Gaal era at Barca.
Eventually to become Pep Guardiola's replacement, Xavi's appreciation of the game, his skill level and his ability to play the killer pass when required, all mark him out as extra special.
It is perhaps his passing game that best illustrates his value to the team.
There is not a player in world football who passes the ball as often and with such unerring accuracy as Xavi Hernandez.
With individual possession stats to die for, there is a genuine love affair between ball and player, and it's certainly fair to say, and also blindingly obvious, that all of Barcelona's forward movement is directed through him.
He is, in my personal opinion, the complete midfielder.
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Josep Guardiola i Sala. The man who has done it all for FC Barcelona.
It's worth repeating the rise of the man from Santpedor: Camp Nou ball boy, La Masia product, Barca B player, first-team player and captain, Barca B manager, first-team manager.
During his playing days, Guardiola was peerless. Captain of the "Dream Team," he played the pivote role with ease and was manager Johan Cruyff's mastermind on the pitch.
Ex colleagues and staff talk with fondness at how the young 20-year-old Guardiola was like a sponge: always asking questions, prompting debate. An old head on young shoulders who was certainly not out of place in such esteemed company.
Hristo Stoichkov, Romario et al grabbed the headlines, but they would be the first to acknowledge the insightful role that Pep played in that teams success.
His legacy to the club may remain unsurpassed. The team he played for during the 1990s and the team he managed during the last years have redefined footballing standards.
THE example of Barcelonisme to many, Camp Nou is the poorer without it's prodigal son.
As with Guardiola, Hendrik Johannes Cruyff has left an indelible mark on FC Barcelona.
The word "legend" is bandied around all too often in the wrong context, but in Cruyff, Barcelona utilised one of the games' most exciting and forward-thinking talents to maximum effect.
Signed in August 1973 from Ajax of Amsterdam (for a then world record transfer of $1 million), where he had already enjoyed immense personal and club success, Cruyff's arrival lifted the club out of the doldrums.
A bureaucratic wrangle meant that he couldn't play right away, and by the time Cruyff eventually donned the Blaugrana for the first time, his team were bottom of the league.
To illustrate just how important a figure he was in that season, Barcelona then went undefeated for the rest of the campaign. A campaign that ended in the first La Liga title in 14 years.
The five-goal thrashing handed out to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in February 1974 remains the enduring highlight of the Dutchman's first season in Catalonia.
Despite scoring a modest 83 goals in 227 appearances, Cruyff was the "total footballer," a game changer, if you will. A creator supreme who revelled in his role as the main man.
His arrival at the club coincided with that of Laureano Ruiz at the clubs' cantera "La Masia." Ruiz implemented the playing style that Barca are now synonymous with, and which Cruyff, when he returned as manager in 1988, took a step further.
We now know that style as "tiki-taka."
And so we move to without question the best player ever to play for FC Barcelona, in my opinion the best player in football history.
Two words that are enough to strike fear into any team in the world.
When you consider the other names in this list, not to mention the ones I have left out and could have probably made a case for, clearly numero uno had to be someone very very special.
Lionel Messi is that player.
This Barcelona team are certainly not a one-man team, far from it. Messi will be the first to admit he benefits handsomely from the fruits of Xavi's and Iniesta's labour, amongst others.
Often I am genuinely open-mouthed watching him, lost for words.
What marks him out for me is his work rate. His tracking back. The best player in the game today running 50 yards into the left-back position in the 90th-minute to retrieve the ball if he feels there is a goal threat.
Not for him the posturing and the massaging of his ego.
Messi has a genuine love for the game, and you can see that in his football. He is blessed with an extraordinary gift and rewrites the record books week after week.
Incisive, intelligent, imperious. Free kicks, hat-tricks, box of tricks. Messi has the lot.
Four successive Ballon d'Or awards just scratch the surface of what this player will go on to achieve in the game.
A young man who is still only 25 years of age with his peak playing years ahead of him!