Top 10 All-Time Barcelona Midfielders: Do Xavi and Iniesta Make The Grade?
FC Barcelona and Spain are both currently enjoying one of the best spells in their respective histories – winning trophy after trophy. It’s not a coincidence that both these teams call on the services of what is dubbed as the best midfield pairing in all of world football, Xavi & Iniesta.
Without the diminutive midfield maestros, the Blaugrana’s and La Furia Roja’s free-flowing possession football aka “tiki taka” wouldn’t operate as smooth as it does. As Sir Alex Ferguson so eloquently proclaimed: "I don't think Iniesta and Xavi have ever given the ball away in their lives."
Having won every major trophy available to them, let’s see how the dynamic duo rank among the all-time greatest midfielders of FC Barcelona, and if they make the list anyway.
Johan Cruyff (1973-1978)
The, then chain-smoking, Dutch ambassador of total football is perhaps the single most important individual in the history of FC Barcelona. Others might have won more titles during their time as Blaugrana players but nobody has shaped the (football) identity of the club more than Cruyff.
He endeared himself to the Culés and all Catalans when he proclaimed “he could not play for a club associated with Francisco Franco” when he chose FC Barcelona over Real Madrid. He even picked a Catalan name for his son when speaking the language was prohibited (except for the Camp Nou).
During his stay as a player he only won La Liga and the Copa del Rey once. It was in Barcelona where he would win his second European Footballer of The Year award.
But it was his spell as a manager of FC Barcelona where his ideas and theories would forever reshape the identity of the Blaugrana. As the manager of the “Dream Team” he would guide the club to its maiden Champions League trophy and four consecutive La Liga championships among other honors.
He might be the single most revered and important figure in the history of FC Barcelona but he is not the greatest midfielder to have ever featured for the Blaugrana, let alone player of all-time.
His days as a footballer made him hugely popular with the fans but it was his stint as a manager that truly made him immortal among Culés.
If there is an ongoing debate anywhere on this planet about who is the greatest player of all-time, it usually comes down to two names, the incomparable Pele and the Argentinean genius Maradona.
In 1982 he transferred from his beloved Boca Juniors to FC Barcelona for a then-world record fee of £5.000.000. Always being the magnet for controversies and off-field drama, it wasn’t long before he exited the club (in another record transfer) for Napoli where he is held in the highest regard by almost everyone (except the IRS).
Maradona could’ve led the Blaugrana to even more glory (and trophies) than he accumulated during his time in Italy but it just wasn’t meant to be. What is left is the bittersweet memory that the perhaps greatest player of all-time, wore the shirt of FC Barcelona without realizing his maximum potential.
His only major honor with FC Barcelona were the 1983 Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana of the same year.
Bernd Schuster (1980 – 1988)
“Der Blonde Engel” aka The Blonde Angel. The German is much more adored in abroad than he is in his native country. Maybe it is because he transferred to Spain at the (then) early age of 20 and subsequently stayed there during his prime.
In any case, Bernd Schuster is one of the finest players Germany has ever produced. Not as popular as Franz Beckenbauer nor as superhuman as Gerd Müller he stands out as a player who didn’t play the majority of his career in the Bundesliga.
He managed to win the Don Balon award for the best foreign player on two separate occasions, in 1985 and 1991. As a Blaugrana player he won almost every major trophy in club football bar the Champions League.
For whatever reason he tarnished his Blaugrana legend when he transferred to Real Madrid. A feat he would repeat when he left the Merengues for Atletico Madrid two years later.
Guillermo Amor (1988 – 1998)
The first, but not last, La Masia graduate, Amor has the third most club appearances in the history of FC Barcelona.
A member of Cruyff’s Dream Team he was an unassuming player who did his job quiet but effective while his more illustrious teammates were bestowed with lavish praise.
Michael Laudrup (1989 – 1994)
If Xavi is compared to Pep Guardiola, then the player Iniesta most likely be compared to would have to be the Danish export. The Dane was an elegant player who had an excellent vision which enabled him to play the most outrageous passes.
Even his excellent vision and imagination didn’t prevent him from signing with Real Madrid, after falling out with Johan Cruyff. His departure in 1994 coincided with the end of the all-conquering Dream Team. He went on to win the 1994/1995 La Liga thus marking the end of Barcelona’s domestic dominance, and making him the only player in La Liga history to win 5 consecutive titles with two different teams.
He took a cue from Bernd Schuster’s playbook when he opted to put a stain on his otherwise flawless Barcelona record and left for Real Madrid.
Josep “Pep” Guardiola (1990-2001)
La Masia poster boy and current manager of FC Barcelona, he is quite literally the gold standard for a academy graduate. Originally a right-sided midfielder, it took the close observation of Johan Cruyff to transform him into a modern-day pivot.
Under the tutelage of the Dutchman he would eventually captain the side which would come to be known as the Dream Team in Barca folklore. Very much a hero among his fellow Catalans he has also been the idol of La Masia alumni’s such as Xavi, Iniesta, Mikel Arteta or Cesc Fabregas who modeled their game after Guardiola.
He wasn’t blessed with soaring pace or incredible power, but so are most La Masia kids, but read the game better than most of his compatriots and embodied Barca’s philosophy of receive, pass and offer to perferction.
With virtually no experience at managing a top-flight team, let alone an European giant, Guardiola took over the reins of FC Barcelona in 2008, replacing Frank Rijkaard. In his first full-season as a La Liga manager he guided the Catalan team to the first ever treble in Spanish football, the fifth overall. At the end of 2009 his trophy-haul swelled to an unprecedented six cups, a record in club football that cannot be bettered.
Two years into his managerial career and Pep Guardiola is recognized as one of the finest managers in the game. He is one of the very few professionals who can claim to have won the Champions League, both as a player and manager. Pep might be the only individual who can boast to be formed at that very club. Carlo Ancelotti for instance, won the CL with AC Milan as a player and manager but he received his football education from AC Parma.
In 2010, still very much in charge of FC Barcelona, Pep has to tackle his toughest challenge, or better yet, opponent so far – Jose Mourinho.
Luis Enrique (1996-2004)
“Lucho” as he is affectionately called by fans, is either loved or loathed, depending on where your alliance lies. If you are a Real Madrid supporter it is more than likely that you hate the guy, but if you identify yourself as a Culé, chances are that you embrace him for what he is, a genuine Barca legend.
I was lucky enough to spent a couple of days in Barcelona, Catalunya and found out first-hand that the Barca fans consider Lucho to be one of their own. His deflection from their archrivals did little to harm his standing with Culés. Some of his then teammates felt inspired enough to deflect from FC Barcelona to Real Madrid.
In his final years as a Barca player he even became the captain, now that’s an accomplishment.
Nobody said it better than Enrique himself at his presentation as manager of FC Barcelona B: “I have come home", and "I finished playing here and now I will start coaching here.”
Xavi Hernandez (1998-????)
Perhaps the greatest midfielder FC Barcelona has ever produced, he even improved on Pep’s record as a player and added European & World Championship glory to his resume. In both tournaments he proved to be an integral part, he might be very well Spain’s single most important player.
He was crowned as the best player of the 2008 European Championships and was in consideration for the same award at 2010 World Cup. When he is absent FC Barcelona & Spain’s game isn’t as fluid and free-flowing, a testament to his importance.
He is not the most flashiest or spectacular player to watch but he is one of the most effective. While it has become customary for his club & country to dominate possession it’s is quite interesting to find out that Xavi sometimes out-passes whole teams by himself.
Together with his partner-in-crime Iniesta, Xavi forms the best midfield pairing in all of world football. Some pundits argue that he might be the greatest Spanish footballer and center-midfielders of all-time, based on his contribution to the Spanish game, and football in general, there might be some validity to it.
Once he retires, Xavi will enter the history books as one of the very few footballers who have won every major title in football.
San Andres, the Saint of the Stamford Bridge, who made the impossible possible. If it wasn’t for his equalizer right at death there might’ve not been a treble in the first place. The unassuming, media-shy Spaniard is so closely associated with FC Barcelona is hard not to identify him as a Catalan.
Once described as an Anti-Galactico by the Spanish press he is very much the anti-thesis of a Galactico. He doesn’t do much talking outside of the Press Room in the Camp Nou. On the pitch the pint-sized playmaker isn’t afraid to run at the meanest of defenses and more than capable to create havoc in the opponents half, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United can attest.
His current market-value is in the region of 50 – 60.000.000€, not bad for a player who scores a goal every once in a blue moon.
According to his other half, Xavi, San Andres is the most complete Spanish player there is. Quite the praise considering that Xavi himself is dubbed Spain’s best.
The man Jose Mourinho once championed as a world-class player, by his own account Luis Felipe Scolari’s worst mistake (by not calling him up to the Brazilian national team) joined the club in 2004 in exchange for 15.000.000€ and the rights for Ricardo Quaresma.
As essential as Xavi is to Lionel Messi, Deco was for Ronaldino. While Ronaldinho dazzled and ran riot in the attacking third, Deco was pulling all the strings in midfield.
Deco in his prime must have been the most arrogant midfield player around, but he had the skill-set to back his arrogance up. It’s is no coincidence that the Brazilian (I really don’t care if he had played for Portugal) won the Champions League in the span of two years with two different clubs.
- "Deco is the barometer of our season, when he is in form the quality of the game rises, when he is not so good the team as a whole performs less well."
Former Barça Coach Frank Rijkaard