When you’re dealing with the best club in the world, compiling any list of rankings is difficult. Now try compiling that same list, but having to sift through the entire comprehensive and illustrious history of that club, as well as each and every person that ever threw on the Barcelona uniform. That is precisely the task that I recently undertook, and while this list of the Top 10 All-Time Barça Players might not be perfect, it’ll have to do for now.
Although he was poached from Deportivo de La Coruña back in 1997 for a cool 4000 million pesetas (about €19.5 million), the Brazilian still left an indelible mark on the club for which he played six seasons from 1997-2002. The attacking midfielder, who became the first of many players whose surname terminated in “o” to shine at the Nou Camp, tallied an impressive 130 goals in all competitions during his Barça career and in 1999, won both the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and Ballon d'Or in guiding the Catalans to the La Liga title.
His career-defining moment at Barcelona came back in 2001 in the last game of the season against Valencia. In a 3-2 victory, Rivaldo secured a hat trick with an astounding bicycle kick from outside the box in the 90th minute that found the back of the net and sent the home supporters into an unbridled frenzy. Not only did the mesmerizing strike give the club a victory, but it also guaranteed Barcelona a spot in the following season’s UEFA Champions League. Oh, and it was also Rivaldo’s 36th goal of the year: a
season-best for the Brazilian attacker.
Uhhhh….who? The man whose birth certificate read César Rodríguez Álvarez, but who opted to be called by the singular praenomen, played for Barcelona in what might appropriately be referred to as the olden days (1939-1955), and amassed a supersized total of 235 goals in 351 games for the Blaugranes making him the club’s all-time leading scorer to date. Yes, the game was much different back then, and yes, in 1999 a fan's poll declared teammate László Kubala to be the best player to ever suit up for the Catalans, but you can’t formulate a list of the best players in Barcelona history without including their top scorer….can you?
The slender, Santpedor-born defensive midfielder served as the backbone of then manager Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team that won four straight La Liga titles from 1991-1994, including the double in 1992—the year the club captured its first ever European Cup when Guardiola was just 20 years old (he contributed significantly to the club’s second run at a European crown, too, when they lost to Milan 4-0 in the ’94 Final).
Being the current manager of the club at which he thrived during his playing days ensures that his legend at Barcelona will continue to grow, albeit from the sideline. But hearing players like Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta admit that Guardiola was their hero and a role model growing up, and then watching them strive to emulate their manager’s former style of play on the pitch week in and week out suggests that Pep the player’s influence at Barcelona has been both contagious and interminable; surely, without those two players, Barça would be far worse off.
The man who looks more like a golden retriever than a footballer has captained Barcelona for the last seven years and just might be the best defender in club history. The 32-year-old center back has been the undisputed leader of one of the most impermeable back lines in Europe since being handed the armband back in 2004 and has four La Liga titles (2004-05, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10) and two European Cups (2006, 2009) to show for it. And if last week’s 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid is any indication of how the rest of this season will play out, one more of each trophy could be on the way. It’s difficult to cement Puyol’s ranking on this list, seeing as how his career at the club is still on-going, and he is a defender—a position that is often overlooked—but make no mistake: no one is better suited to be the skipper of the world’s greatest football club. We’ll keep him at number seven…for now.
Another active player whose exact ranking on this list was tough to determine, AI8 is already one of Barcelona’s greatest midfielders ever, despite his still tender age of 26. Though hampered by injuries that limited him to just twenty starts last season, Iniesta capped off the 2009-10 campaign with the game-winning goal for Spain at the 2010 World Cup Final, and there are few that believe Barça’s 5’7” talisman is on the downward slope of his career. With shots like the last one fired in South Africa, and the one two seasons ago at Stamford Bridge—which knocked Chelsea out of UEFA Champions League Semifinals from 11 meters out—surely, he is still on his way up.
We must also remember that had Iniesta not made his crucial shot at Stamford Bridge (which just so happened to be Barça’s first of the night), the club never would have had a shot at Manchester United in the UCL Final, and therefore, never would have been able to complete their historic treble—the first Spanish club to complete the feat. And with the previous year’s team having failed in semifinals against Manchester United, who knows what changes would have been made to this presently unbeatable squad. The goal was a critical one for Barcelona, to say the least.
Couple his scintillating style of play and clutch goals in crunch time with the generous accolades doled out by his contemporaries (Samuel Eto'o and Wayne Rooney both have recently claimed that Iniesta is the best player in the world), and you might just have the most legendary midfielder in the game today. It’s just too bad the only one who really comes close to rivaling him is playing right next to him.
Thought by many to be the man who started it all for Barcelona, the Dutch international will go down in Catalan lore for centuries to come. Upon joining the club from Ajax back in 1973, Cruyff informed the papers that he had chosen Barça over Real Madrid because he could not play for a club associated with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (if that isn’t a microcosm for the dichotomy that is still prevalent in the Spanish political and cultural landscape today, which both clubs duly exhibit, then I’m not sure what is).
But it was on the pitch that the flying Dutchman did most of his talking. He scored 48 goals in 143 league appearances for the club, and in his first season guided Barcelona to their first La Liga title since 1960, picking up the Ballon d'Or in the process, and winning the prestigious award again the subsequent season.
However, most supporters will argue it was on the sideline where Cruyff crafted his enduring legacy at the Nou Camp. He became manager of the club back in 1988 and introduced the tiki-taka style of play that Barça continues to employ today. The short passing and patient movement as well as the maintaining of ball possession has been frustrating and vanquishing opponents ever since, and the organization has a former chain-smoker from Amsterdam to thank for it.
If there was ever a player that Barcelona may live to regret giving away, the Cameroonian forward might just be the one. In five seasons at the Nou Camp, Eto'o scored over 100 goals; won three La Liga titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues (becoming just the second player of all-time to score in two separate UCL Finals), and two African Footballer of the Year awards; and became the record holder for number of La Liga appearances made by an African footballer.
And had Barcelona decided against swapping him and €46 million for letdown Zlatan Ibrahimović two summers ago, it might have been them instead of Inter who owned the rights (and the trophies that came with him, I might add) to the first player in football history to ever win two consecutive trebles. Love him or hate him, Eto'o was (and still is) a magician of sorts and perhaps the greatest striker Barcelona ever had. Results of late may suggest the Catalans are fine without their former attacker, but what exactly was the problem with having Eto'o up front in the first place? Oh yeah, that’s right: he scored too many goals in big situations. Go figure.
I’m not sure if this player even merits a blurb; the name and picture should be sufficient. At just 23 years old, Messi is just about the greatest football player on the planet (I say just about because I happen to be one of the few who still believe Cristiano Ronaldo to be slightly more talented). He is the current holder of both the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or awards, he’s won four La Liga titles and two European Cups for Barcelona and, most importantly, HE’S STILL 23! In 235 appearances for Barça he’s already bagged 152 goals and dished out 64 assists in all competitions—numbers that are certain to balloon significantly should he maintain his rampant pace over the next several seasons.
There will be those who read this list and look on the number three attached to Messi with great resentment, feeling as though the little Argentine got the short end of the stick. To those people I say that by the end of his career, assuming he doesn’t succumb to a catastrophic injury or get sold away, Lionel Messi will undoubtedly be the greatest player in FC Barcelona history. But right now, I think third is appropriate, considering the growth he is still yet to experience. After all, had you fully reached your potential at 23?
Let’s be honest: at some point over the last ten years, we all wished we were Ronaldinho. Thanks to his dazzling style of playing while at Barcelona, it’s easy to see why.
During the majority of his career at the Nou Camp (which coincidentally turned out to be his prime), it was nearly impossible to name a more exciting player in the world of football. With exceptional dribbling, enthralling trickery, and emphatic finishing, the Brazilian forward wowed everyone who feasted their eyes on his superior quality. In five seasons for the Azulgranas, Ronaldinho tallied 95 goals and 80 assists, winning the FIFA World Player of the Year award two years in a row (2004, 2005), one Ballon d'Or (2005), two La Liga titles (2004-05, 2005-06), and one European Cup (2006), thus etching his name into the history books as a living Barcelona legend. Heck, when his current club AC Milan played Barcelona in an exhibition match earlier this season, Ronaldinho joined in on the Barça team photograph and flashed his signature bucktooth grin as if he had been there all along.
He may not be there anymore because he partied too much, but can you really blame him? If you were Ronaldinho, you’d have probably done the exact same thing.
The man whose disyllabic moniker has become a byword for class is currently, without question, one of (if not the most) gifted midfielders in the world. Even if you just started watching football last week and tuned in for Barça’s showdown with Real Madrid last Monday, it’d be difficult to say you weren’t incredibly impressed with the midfield magician’s performance. Xavi completed a La Liga season high 110 passes that night and notched the game’s opening and decisive goal on a deft flick past Iker Casillas after a whirlwind of passes torched the archenemy’s backline. It may have been a stellar showing, but it was just business as usual for Xavier Hernández.
Since the start of his career in 1998, he’s helped the club win five La Liga titles and two European Cups, and this January he is one of the favorites to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or as the world’s best player in 2010.
Xavi may not be the flashiest player on the pitch. He may not be the fastest either. He doesn’t score as many goals as some of his teammates, and rarely is in the spotlight. But anyone who knows football will tell you that the man that wears number six on the back of his jersey is the most instrumental player on the pitch at any one time for Barcelona. Messi and Villa may score the goals, but Xavi sets them up with his astounding vision and his eye for precise passing with pinpoint accuracy. He is the calm and composed orchestrator of the midfield for the best football club on the planet. Without him, there would be no Barcelona, at least as we know them today, and his legend is still growing as we speak.