The Captain and his heir apparent
Here we go again. After compiling lists of the ten best strikers and midfielders in the history of FC Barcelona, I felt compelled, or better yet, I was assigned to create a list of Barca’s finest defenders.
Rating or even ranking the contributions of the individuals on this slideshow is an impossible undertaking; if you ask me, it’s quite insolent as I am not old enough to give a proper assessment.
I rather prefer to create a timeline, therefore if you see player xyz coming in at no. 1 – it’s not a reflection of his status in the history of FC Barcelona defenders. He just happens to be the most recently (or in some cases, still) active defender on this list.
It’s more than likely that I have forgot or missed some great defenders, but judging a striker or midfielder is far more easy than a defender. The fancy, attacking players of a team are always recognized by the big and glamorous award ceremonies, and usually you can look up the stats in the books but how to measure the contribution of a defender when you haven’t seen him in action?
Paolo Maldini, the greatest defender to ever grace the pitch anywhere in the world (yes he is, I don’t even entertain the idea that someone could be mentioned in the same breath), never won the Ballon d’Or.
Of course, there is an exception to every rule. Fabio Cannavaro won both, the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player award in 2006. He won it largely due to his imperious displays in Germany, is he a better defender than Maldini? No way.
Every defender on this list warrants to be mentioned among the finest defenders to have ever worn the shirt of FC Barcelona; whether they are worthy enough to be in the top ten of all-time, that is up for debate.
Is there a better way to start the list of Barca’s greatest defenders than opening with “the great captain” himself?
The captain of the “Barca of the five trophies” played a massive 528 games for the Blaugrana.
“He was brave and dedicated and would never stop yelling encouragement to his team mates.” – www.fcbarcelona.com
Does that sound familiar? When I think of those characteristics, they could’ve described another captain of Barca.
Let’s find out if he made the cut.
The left-back was a regular under all his coaches during his time in Barcelona, his one and only club. Even by today’s standard’s he was playing a massive amounts of games each season.
The official Barca website quotes around 50 games per season, during the 50’s and 60’s when you had not the service of physios or excellent medial team that has become the norm today.
I wonder if Arjen Robben could have even become a professional footballer then.
Hercules Alicante, the team that staged an upset against title-holders FC Barcelona also produced one of the finest defenders in the history of Barca, Antoni Torres. During his active career he was playing in the now, de-facto, vanished position of a libero.
According to the official website, Torres was part of “los once hombres justos” (The right eleven men), in reference to the team that won the 1973/1974 league title.
He may have started as a Herculean player but he will always be remembered as a genuine Blaugrana legend.
The centre-back who was nicknamed Tarzan – your guess is as good as mine – is the record-holder in terms of appearances for the Blaugrana.
It’s a testimony to his quality and longlivity that he spent nearly two decades in Barca’s first team. While players didn’t switch alliances as often then, as they do now, his commitment to the Blaugrana is still a remarkable feat.
FC Barcelona and the Dutch go hand in hand, the inclusion of Ronald Koeman therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise. Another former Ajax Amsterdam player who would become a Barca legend.
If Gerard Pique is a centre-back with the soul of a striker (according to Fernando Hierro), then we must invent a new term for Ronald Koeman.
His all-time goal record is 225 league goals in 647 official games. Just to put it in perspective, Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka isn’t even remotely close to score as many goals in his whole career.
It’s a safe bet, that Ronald Koeman would command a transfer fee north of the 40-million plus, Manchester United paid for Rio Ferdinand in today’s market place.
As a free-kick specialist, he would score 106 goals during his six-year stay with FC Barcelona. But not only was Koeman a dead-ball specialist, he was also revered for his pin-point long-balls which would set-up an attack or directly assist a goal.
His stats would even put the best of attacking midfielders, and strikers, to shame and he could be easily mistaken as a midfielder but he really was a defender.
Barca’s current defenders and midfielders haven’t scored 106 goals combined, Koeman did that in six years!
His inclusion might come as a surprise to some, but while he was never able to enforce his position as an undisputed starter, he was reliable enough to stay in Barcelona for no less than seven years. Reiziger is also among the most featured foreigners in the history of the club.
Much like his fellow countryman Patrick Kluivert, he endured one unhappy year in Milan before he spent his eventual peak-years in Catalunya. And just like Kluivert, Reiziger would spend one year in the English Premier League after leaving FC Barcelona in 2004.
Captain Catalunya, The Caveman, The Legend!
Affectionately dubbed the Caveman, Captain Catalunya, Carles Puyol is the very heart and soul of FC Barcelona. Nobody is more committed to the colors of Barca than the Catalan centre-back, who joined the La Masia academy relatively late as a 18 year old.
Originally starting his Blaugrana-career as a right-back, he has been named into the UEFA Team of the Year no less than five times.
His by far the most decorated and successful Barca captain of all-time. Even though he is entering the final stage of his career, he is showing no signs of being tired of the beautiful game.
Puyol may have lost a yard of pace, but there’s no other defender (Pique included) I rather see between a rushing forward and Victor Valdez. The long-haired Catalans’ versatility to play anywhere across the back four makes him an invaluable asset.
Pretty much a living legend, Puyi will never be known to be a flashy player but one of the fiercest centre-backs to have ever played the game.
He may as well be remembered as the captain of the greatest Barca side of all time (perhaps even the greatest squad in club football), his contribution and importance to his very team cannot be overstated.
When he finally calls it a day, Gerard Pique, his heir apparent, will have some massive shoes to fill.
The captain of the Mexican national team, became the second player from Mexico to play for the Blaugrana. Even with the emergence of Jonathan dos Santos, it is almost certain that no other of his countrymen will ever match his success with FC Barcelona.
A centre-back very much in the mold of Ronald Koeman, minus he freakish goal exploits, he is a very fine footballer on and off the ball. Like Koeman, Marquez’s ability to provide the Blaugrana with long-balls proved to be valuable asset when Barca’s midfielders were marked out of the game.
Marquez is also an excellent free-kick taker, a fact easily overlooked since Barca have never been short on free-kick specialists.
He also holds the distinction of being the most-capped non-European footballer in the history of FC Barcelona.
In my mind, Rafa Marquez is a Barca legend. When a traitors like Michael Laudrup or Luis Figo are recognized as such, than Marquez definitely is.
The Human Dynamo
Football’s wild-child, expectations were high when FC Barcelona made him their then-most expensive signing ever in the summer of 2008. Every cent of his 40 million Euro transfer fee (34 million Euro plus 6 million in add-ons) has been repaid in full by the performances he displays on the pitch.
Much like Duracell’s Energy Bunny, the Brazilian never stops running. In partnership with Lionel Messi, Alves formed the most lethal right-flank in all of world-football.
As of now his future in Barcelona is under much uncertainty, but judging by his performances his commitment to the Blaugrana is still evident.
Sandro Rosell and his administration must realize that Dani Alves is a one-off, before burning through millions and millions of Euro, they should recognize Alves as the best in his position and reward him accordingly.
Because if the whole Ibrahimovic debacle has taught the Blaugrana one thing, it’s that not every player, no matter how big the reputation might be, is suited to play for FC Barcelona. Meanwhile, Dani Alves IS very much the perfect right-back for Barca.
His understanding with Xavi, Iniesta and Lionel Messi in particular is second to none. Unless Barca find an even better right-back, which I highly doubt, it would be wiser to hold onto Alves. But judging by the apparent lack of foresight on Rosell’s part I wouldn’t be surprised if Dani Alves chose to leave.
He couldn’t break through the, what was then, best defensive partnership in all of world-football; the imposing figures of Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Nowadays, he is considered to be among the finest centre-backs in the world. What happened to the player fans affectionately call “Piquenbauer” in reference to the great German defender Franz Beckenbauer, in between 2008 and now?
Trophies, a whole lot of silverware. When Barca reacquired his services for as little as 5 million Euro, no one expected him to blossom into the player he is today. Martin Caceres arrived to a lot more fanfare and a bigger transfer fee in Catalunya. It was expected that Caceres would become a regular in Barca’s first team, not Pique.
But Caceres habit of making brash and dangerous tackles, along with injuries to Marquez and Diego Milito, provided the grandson of former Barca Vice-President Amador Bernabeu with opportunities to make a case for himself.
Not only did he meet the (moderate) expectations in him, he exceeded them and became an undisputed starter by the end of the 2008/2009 campaign. In an interesting twist of fate Pique would be a starter in the 2009 Champions League Final against none other than his former team Manchester United.
He is widely regarded to be Carles Puyol successor, both in the national team and FC Barcelona. At 23 years of age he has almost won everything in club- and world-football, the only trophy that is eluding him is the European Cup. But being a part of the current Spain set-up I wouldn’t put it past him to win this trophy too.