Johan Cruyff, Lionel Messi and Barcelona's 25 Greatest Foreign Imports

Tre' AtkinsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

Johan Cruyff, Lionel Messi and Barcelona's 25 Greatest Foreign Imports

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    FC Barcelona are one of the most successful and storied clubs in all of football. The Catalan giants have won countless trophies and boast a rich history full of stars and legends of the game.

    For the most part, Barcelona has seen Spanish and Catalan legends grace the club since its establishment in 1899. The club have also been fortunate enough to see numerous foreign stars wear the Blaugrana shirt.

    Living legends like Lionel Messi and Johan Cruyff are among the foreigners who will always be idols of the club and figureheads of Barcelona.

    In this article, we will take a look at the 25 greatest foreign players in Barcelona's rich history and what each of them means to the club.

    Please note that these 25 stars are not in ranked order, but simply listed together. 

     

    * All player history and statistics are courtesy of the club's official website.

Deco

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    Anderson Luis de Souza, more commonly known as Deco, is one of several storied Brazilian footballers to have graced the Camp Nou.

    Deco came to Barcelona after a lengthy and luxurious career with Porto and brought the success he enjoyed in Portugal with him.

    His ability to read the game and influence play made Deco a staple under manager Frank Rijkaard. The Brazilian quickly became one of the leaders of the team and during his four seasons at the club helped helped Barcelona lift several trophies—including the Champions League—during one of their greatest eras.

Hans Krankl

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    Austrian-born Hans Krankl was adored by the Camp Nou faithful and won the hearts of everyone despite spending just two years at the club.

    Krankl could be considered your typical striker as he was able to score goals—and plenty of them—in seemingly every way imaginable. Though his left-foot was a constant threat for opponents, he was just as adept at using his right and scoring with his head.

    All told, Krankl could do it all. He left the club after only two seasons, during which time he managed to find the back of the net 64 times and pick up European Cup Winners' Cup and Copa del Rey medals. The Austrian identified himself with Catalonia and is still remembered today as a big fan favorite.

Dani Alves

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    Dancing Dani Alves joined Barcelona from Sevilla in 2008 and quickly became a dominant force in the Barcelona line-up. The Brazilian has won everything possible with the Catalan club and isn't done yet.

    Known for his ability to get forward, the now 30-year-old right-back is the type of player who defenders must always be looking over the shoulders for. He is not as well-known for his defending, but Alves is a winner nonetheless.

    It is difficult to mention current players along with legends, but Alves fits the profile—he couldn't have given more for la Blaugrana during his six years at the club. He has won it all and is arguably one of the best at his position in the history of the club.

    The Brazilian's time at Barcelona may be coming to an end in the not so distant future, but he will never be forgotten. For now, his dancing and fun attitude will continue to make fans cheer.

Diego Maradona

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    Diego Armando Maradona. The name alone revives memories of incredible goals and pure quality. The Argentine has gone down as one of the best to have ever played the game and wore the Blaugrana shirt from 1982-1984.

    Granted, Maradona did not show his best while at Barcelona. Issues, such as injuries, meant he only made 36 appearances for the club, but it was clear that he was someone special.

    Though his time at Barcelona was short-lived, he still wore the shirt and went down as one of the greatest to ever kick a ball.

Ramon Villaverde

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    Hailed as one of the best Uruguayan players of all time, Ramon Villaverde holds a special place in Barcelona history. The attacker played alongside the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano during his early career, and like his former teammate ensured his name would be remembered for his time in Spain.

    Villaverde wore the Blaugrana shirt from 1954-1963 and was a force to be reckoned with. Like most South American players of his day, the Uruguayan had a powerful shot and an unbelievable ability to play with the ball at his feet.

    The Barcelona legend played as both a midfielder and a winger during his time in Catalonia, and he always had an eye for goal.

    Villaverde left Barcelona having scored 53 goals and forming one of the best attacking duos in the history of the club with the "Golden Galician" Luis Suarez

     

Johan Neeskens

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    Johan Cruyff isn't the only dazzling Dutchman to have become a Barcelona legend. Johan Neeskens played with Cruyff at Ajax and followed his former teammate to the Catalan club in 1970s. The rest is history.

    Neeskens was the perfect midfielder. He controlled the ball well, kept possession, made deadly passes and was also a capable scorer. His connection with Cruyff made the duo impossible to stop and Barcelona reaped the benefits.

    The Dutchman quickly became a fan favorite during his time in Catalonia. His mesmerising moves brought fans to their feet, while his heading ability resulted in several outstanding goals. 

    His admiration for the crowd and love for the Cules was reciprocated. Even after his departure the fans would chant his name.

    Neeskens was a big part of a great Barcelona team—a gentlemen and a winner, and fans will never forget his dedication.

Rivaldo

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    Vitor Borba Ferreira is one of the greatest Brazilian footballers in history and a World Cup Champion. Rivaldo, as he was affectionately called, played for many clubs, but he will always be best remembered for his time at Barcelona.

    Rivaldo was signed by Barcelona to replace Ronaldo and immediately filled in perfectly. The Brazilian did things that no other players were doing at the time and caught the eyes of fans everywhere.

    With a special ability to dribble and beat defenders coupled with a powerful left-footed shot, Rivaldo became a legend. 

    Though he did replace Ronaldo, Rivaldo was not a striker. He normally featured as an attacking midfielder or winger, but scoring was definitely suited for him.

    When Rivaldo finally left Barcelona in 2002, he had amassed 136 goals making him one of the best scorers in club history.

Patrick Kluivert

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    Players from the Netherlands have always thrived at Barcelona and Patrick Kluivert is no different. 

    The Dutch striker joined Barcelona in 1998 and was an immediate success. His height and physical ability made him a prolific target man that was difficult to mark.

    Though Kluivert is best remembered for his aerial ability, he was also surprisingly quick on his feet and often used dazzling moves to create space. The striker could do it all and was very successful during his time in the Blaugrana shirt.

    When he left the club in 2004, Kluivert had scored over 90 goals. He also went down as one of the best strikers in Dutch football history, holding the national team's all-time goalscoring record until it was broken by Robin Van Persie last year. A legend of the early 2000s, fans won't soon forget the target man.

Evaristo De Macedo

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    Evaristo de Macedo was already a legend before joining Barcelona in 1957. The Brazilian had made a name for himself playing for Flamengo, but his time in the spotlight was far from over when he made the switch to Europe.

    The Brazilian star was known as a prolific scorer and successfully lived up to his billing in Catalonia. He possessed immense speed and a deadly shot, which helped him score an average of 0.8 goals per game during his time at Barcelona. 

    Evaristo's finest moment came in November of 1960, when he scored a stunning goal with the sole of his boot to eliminate Real Madrid from the European Cup for the first time ever.

    The Brazilian did leave the club in a odd way, however, as he quit Barcelona for Real Madrid in 1962 after refusing to become a naturalized Spaniard. He was a Brazilian through and through, and his time at Barcelona was nothing short of successful. 

Thierry Henry

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    Thierry Henry is a hero of the modern game and one of the most beloved players in Arsenal history. However, he did leave the Gunners for Barcelona in 2007 and found immense success in Catalonia.

    The French striker slotted into the Blaugrana system beautifully—linking well with Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi to form a deadly attacking trident that would go down as the most successful in Spanish football history.

    During his time in Catalonia, Henry won almost everything. He was a part of the club's treble season and one of the best eras in Barcelona's history.

    Henry was—and is—known as a classy player and the type of footballer that fans love. His willingness to work hard and sacrifice himself for the good of the team helped bring Barcelona success and many trophies.

Bernd Schuster

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    Surprisingly, there haven't been many German stars that have found major success at Barcelona. Bernd Schuster, however, will always be remembered as a Barcelona legend.

    The attacking midfielder was one of the faces of Barcelona throughout the 1980s and spent nearly a decade leading the Catalan club. His physical play made him a force in the middle of the pitch and his vocal leadership rivalled that of Carles Puyol.

    Schuster suffered a few bad injuries during his Barcelona career, but he stood the test of time. He eventually left the club for Real Madrid in 1988 after his relationship with the club's board broke down—having scored over 60 goals for la Blaugrana.

Joan Gamper

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    Hans-Max Gamper is the reason for FC Barcelona. The businessman from Switzerland fell in love with the city during a visit to Catalonia and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Gamper's love for Catalonia saw him accept the Catalan version of his name, Joan, and become a successful speaker of the language. In 1899, Joan Gamper would found FC Barcelona and feature as the club's first captain.

    The Swiss man was an incredible player for his day and went on to be club President. Without him, there would be no FC Barcelona. 

    Mr. Gamper, Cules worldwide thank you.

Sandor Kocsis

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    Sandor Kocsis, born in Hungary, became one of the first true forwards in the history of European football. The striker was an established star in his home country before escaping to Spain in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution.

    After leaving Hungary, Kocsis joined FC Barcelona and was an instant star. Nicknamed "Golden Head" due to his unrivalled ability in the air, the striker scored many goals and led the Catalan club to success.

    Kocsis was one of the smartest players of his time and known as a noble character on and off the playing field.

Ronald Koeman

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    As is the case with most Dutch Barcelona stars, Ronald Koeman is a club icon. The defender—who was nicknamed "Tintin"—was a member of the glorious dream team and scored his fair share of big goals while wearing the Blaugrana shirt, including the winner in the 1992 European Cup Final.

    Koeman was a force in the Catalan defence and his way of playing is still remembered today. Despite being a defender, the Dutchman was a free-kick specialist and an expert penalty taker.

    In his six years at Barcelona, Koeman scored a total of 102 goals. With a defender scoring like that, it's no wonder Barcelona's dream team was so good.

Julio Cesar Benitez

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    Though most defenders are known for their ability to, well, defend, many in today's game are also well-known for their ability to get forward and become part of a club's offensive strategyl.

    In the early stages of the beautiful game, defenders were defenders. At one point, defenders discovered that they could go forward and offer even more on the pitch. Uruguayan full-back Julio Cesar Benitez was one of those.

    Before joining Barcelona, Benitez featured heavily as a forward or an attacking midfielder. When he joined the Catalans in 1961, however, the Uruguayan was shifted to full-back but kept his offensive eye.

    At the time, an attack-minded defender was a rare thing and a very valuable asset to a team fortunate enough to have a player of that calibre. Benitez was a fiery player and always showed his emotions.

    In 1968, Benitez tragically passed away at just 27 years of age due to gastroenteritis. Barcelona fans and football lovers worldwide mourned the loss.

    Here is to your memory Julio Cesar Benitez.

Michael Laudrup

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    After an unimpressive stint at Juventus, Denmark international Michael Laudrup became a star upon joining FC Barcelona in 1989.

    Laudrup was a member of the fabled dream team, pre-dating Xavi as the team's midfield visionary. The Dane was regarded as the greatest passer on the planet during his time at the Catalan club.

    Michelino was also a dangerous scorer, finding the back of the net 93 times in his six seasons at Barcelona. By the time he left the Camp Nou, Laudrup had won nine trophies including four consecutive La Liga titles.

    Laudrup and the Barcelona staff began to have problems in 1994, and the Denmark star left the club and signed for rivals Real Madrid. Though some viewed Laudrup as a traitor, many fans still hold him in very high regard to this day.

Ronaldo

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    To many, Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima is the greatest striker to ever play the game. Due to his success with the Brazilian National Team and dominant play at club level, it is hard to argue against such claims.

    Ronaldo joined Barcelona in 1996, but spent only one season at the Camp Nou. It wasn't a long stay, but it was a year to remember.

    Known as "The Phenomenon", the Brazilian scored 47 goals in just 51 appearances for La Blaugrana. Nearly every goal was a piece of brilliance and his presence in the squad helped the club win several trophies.

    It is hard to imagine what would have happened had Ronaldo stayed in Catalonia longer. The 20-year-old eventually left after problems with the board, but his time at the club will be remembered forever.

Hristo Stoichkov

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    Hristo Stoichkov is, simply, one of the greatest players in FC Barcelona history. The Bulgarian joined the Catalan club in 1990 and was a big part of the dream team.

    Stoichkov was the epitome of versatility. His ability to play nearly anywhere on the pitch, as well as use both feet, made him invaluable and very dangerous. 

    The Bulgarian won several personal honours during his time with club while also leading the team to countless trophies. Fans loved him, and his desire to lay it all on the line earned him respect from everyone who watched him play.

    When Stroichkov left the club for good in 1998, he had scored over 80 goals.

Samuel Eto'o

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    A former Real Madrid player, Samuel Eto'o would go on to become a hero for Barcelona—scoring goals in two separate Champions League finals for la Blaugrana.

    The Cameroonian target man led Barcelona's attack for five years and was able to win several trophies, including two Champions League titles. His link up play with the likes of Messi and Henry was legendary and fans still have fond memories of those days.

    When Eto'o left Catalonia in 2009, he had scored an incredible 152 goals. A nightmare for any defence or keeper, Samuel Eto'o was a true legend.

Romario

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    Like all of the other great Brazilians that have dominated the Camp Nou, Romario da Souza was extremely fast, could dribble past anyone and score goals aplenty.

    The striker joined Barcelona in 1993 and was yet another brilliant piece for the dream team. All the team was missing at that point was someone who could score a lot of goals, and that is exactly what Romario brought.

    In his first season in Catalonia, Romario scored 30 goals and captured the hearts and minds of the Barcelona fans.

    While a Barcelona player, Romario was part of the Brazil squad that won the World Cup in 1994. However, his time at the club was short-lived. The Brazilian striker exited in 1995 after creating problems with the board by taking too many days off.

Ladislao Kubala

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    Hungarian star Ladislao Kubala will always be remembered as one of the greatest Barcelona players of all time.

    Kubala often played in the midfield or just behind the striker and was a huge hit when he joined the Catalan team in 1951. Just one season later, Barcelona would win every trophy possible.

    The Hungarian was a king among men and the outright leader of the greatest team of a decade. Injuries did plague his career, but Kubala never stopped producing brilliance.

    He retired in 1961, having scored over 130 goals for the club. During his career he also featured for the Catalan XI, and three different national teams.

    Kubala would go on to manage both Barcelona and Spain, though his skills as a player did not translate as well to the coaching realm of the beautiful game.

Paulino Alcantara

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    Up until a few days ago, Paulino Alcantara had scored more goals than any other player in Barcelona's rich history. The striker from the Philippines had ended his time at the club with 369 goals, a record only broken by Lionel Messi last week.

    Alcantara was one of the first idols of FC Barcelona. He joined the Catalans in 1918 and the fans fell in love. His ability to dribble the ball and shoot from anywhere made him dangerous and unstoppable.

    He could also kick the ball so hard that he once actually ripped through the netting when he scored a goal.

    Alcantara is one of the true legends of the beautiful game. He eventually retired from Barcelona in 1927 to become a doctor, later returning to the Camp Nou to join the board of directors in the 1930s.

Ronaldinho

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    Ronaldinho Gaucho may very well be the most beloved player to have ever worn the Blaugrana shirt. The Brazilian not only won over fans with his play on the pitch, but he was genuinely happy about life all the time.

    The Brazilian joined Barcelona in 2003 from France and quickly became the focal point of Frank Rijkaard's squad.

    Ronaldinho dazzled everyone with his dream-like dribbling and silky touch on the ball. In truth, no one has ever quite matched his ability with the ball at his feet.

    During his five seasons at the Catalan club, Ronaldinho achieved it all. He lifted La Liga titles and the Champions League trophy as well. Interestingly, he was also applauded off the field by Real Madrid supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu after scoring a brace.

    Ronaldinho stood out as the type of player fans would never see again. His genius helped nurture a young Lionel Messi, and the club still reaps the benefits of his influence today.

Johan Cruyff

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    Johan Cruyff is the father of the modern-day Barcelona. The Dutchman not only excelled as a player, but saw even more success as coach after retirement.

    The masterful man from Amsterdam joined Barcelona from Ajax in 1973 and helped the club gain immediate success. His brilliance was unparalleled and his efforts saw Barcelona quickly start lifting trophies.

    Cruyff would eventually leave Barcelona in 1978, but his time at the club was not over. 

    The player returned as coach in 1988 and ushered in a golden age of football at Barcelona. The dream team was built by Cruyff and moulded by his vision of how the game should be played.

    Tiki-Taka, as we know it today, was the brainchild of Johan Cruyff. His ingenious ideas and incredible philosophies lead Barcelona to countless trophies and have remained an integral part of the club even today.

    Cruyff further strengthened his relationship with Catalonia further when he returned to coach the Catalan national team in 2009.

Lionel Messi

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    By and large the greatest player to ever pull on a Barcelona shirt, Lionel Messi has become an icon and a legend at just 26 years old. 

    The little boy from Rosario quickly made a name for himself after joining Barcelona's youth ranks in 2003. Despite his diminutive stature, Messi possessed blazing speed and the ability to do things with the ball that other kids couldn't dream of.

    Messi soon joined the first team and has gone on to win absolutely everything possible multiple times, breaking countless goalscoring records in the process.

    Beyond his goalscoring exploits, which last week saw him become Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer, Messi is the only player to have ever won four Ballon d'Or trophies, and he did so consecutively. 

    The Argentine is arguably the best to have ever played the game. The unbelievable thing being that he is still in his prime and there is still so much more for him to achieve.