Pep Guardiola and 10 Great Barcelona Central Midfielders

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IDecember 16, 2014

Pep Guardiola and 10 Great Barcelona Central Midfielders

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    Can Pep Guardiola's legend ever be surpassed?
    Can Pep Guardiola's legend ever be surpassed?Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    December 16 is a significant date in the Barcelona calendar for it represents the anniversary of Pep Guardiola's debut as a player.

    It was in 1990 that Johan Cruyff gave the young midfielder his first game against Cadiz, and a debut that Pep was happy with, according to an interview he gave to FCBarcelona's official website:

    I’m really happy with the way I played, though I can improve. The great advantage for me was to be surrounded by players of such quality that it’s hard to play badly.

    Amor will play again in the next game and I will be back in with the reserves. I’m sure they will be demanding even more of me from now on, but I’ll accept that challenge. I aim to continue to show I can be of use to the first team.

    The rest is history.

    Let's take a look at who are some of the greatest central midfielders, both offensively and defensively, to have graced the Blaugrana over the years... 

Pep Guardiola

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    Pep Guardiola served the club with excellence throughout his career.
    Pep Guardiola served the club with excellence throughout his career.Cesar Rangel/Associated Press

    Once Pep Guardiola made his first-team debut against Cadiz, everyone connected with the club knew that he would eventually become a mainstay of the club.

    Whilst at Barca B, Pep nominally played on the right side but as legend has it, Johan Cruyff saw a game in which Pep was playing and asked his then-manager Charly Rexach to move Pep centrally.

    The role of pivot allowed Pep to see the entire game developing in front of him and when he eventually made debut there, Cruyff noted at the time, via FC Barcelona.com“It’s as if he’s always played with us.”

    Intelligent, a great reader of the game and constantly asking questions, the young Pep became the embodiment of Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team" and its total-football philosophy, eventually captaining the side throughout the 1990s.

    Simply put, one of the best players ever to wear Blaugrana.

Johan Neeskens

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    Johan Neeskens was often the foil for the other Johan (Cruyff) in Barcelona's system.
    Johan Neeskens was often the foil for the other Johan (Cruyff) in Barcelona's system.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Known as Johan Segon (the "Second Johan," after Cruyff), Johan Neeskens' discipline in central midfield allowed Cruyff to be at his destructive best.

    A decent engine gave him the opportunity to regularly exhibit a tireless work ethic, something which would endear him to Barca's notoriously hard-to-please support, even at a time when the team wasn't winning trophies.

    Technically adept, he managed to weigh in with his fair share of goals, 35 coming in his five-year career in Catalonia.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Diego Maradona

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    Barcelona legends past and present.
    Barcelona legends past and present.HO/Associated Press

    Joining for a world-record fee of £5 million just after the 1982 World Cup, Diego Maradona's tenure in Barcelona was difficult at times, but he still remains one of the best ever to wear the famous Barca shirt.

    Thirty-eight goals in 58 games over two seasons hit by injury and illness is still a fine return.

    To put his contributions into some perspective, his team-mate Lobo Carrasco noted during an interview, via Footie Central:

    He had complete mastery of the ball. When Maradona ran with the ball or dribbled through the defence, he seemed to have the ball tied to his boots.

    I remember our early training sessions with him: the rest of the team were so amazed that they just stood and watched him. We all thought ourselves privileged to be witnesses of his genius. 

    Although disgracefully involved in the infamous "Battle of Bilbao," his legend burns brightly at Camp Nou.

Bernd Schuster

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    Bernd Schuster was a formidable opponent.
    Bernd Schuster was a formidable opponent.PFEIL/Associated Press

    A real formidable central midfield dynamo, Bernd Schuster was spiky and short-tempered but superb.

    Barcelona's official website note him as a "midfielder of exceptional quality" and the "driving force" of the side during the 1980's.

    An energetic and combative box-to-box type player, opposition players very rarely got the better of the German, a real fan favourite.

    Like Maradona before him, what a shame that his time at the club he served so well ended in acrimony.

Guillermo Amor

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    Guillermo Amor was one of Barca's most influential midfielders.
    Guillermo Amor was one of Barca's most influential midfielders.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Another player synonymous with the Dream Team era, FC Barcelona's website describe Amor as "one of the most important players in the entire history of FC Barcelona."

    Given the sheer amount of quality exponents that have passed through the doors at Camp Nou, that is some endorsement.

    The tenacious midfielder made his debut by coming on for Diego Maradona whilst essentially still a youth player, on September 23, 1982.

    A player that learned his trade at La Masia, he played over 500 games for the Catalans.

    Understated but in no way underrated, he later returned as Head of Youth and then Technical Director.

    Steeped in Blaugrana.

Jose Mari Bakero

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    Jose Mari Bakero was much loved by the fans.
    Jose Mari Bakero was much loved by the fans.Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

    Jose Mari Bakero will forever be remembered for his last-gasp goal against Kaiserslauten which took Barca a further step forward on their journey to eventually winning their first European Cup.

    At 3-2 down on aggregate and the clock running down, Bakero managed to outjump everyone at the first post and nod home the free-kick to silence the home crowd.

    But Bakero was about so much more than that one iconic snapshot.

    His Blaugrana career was lengthy and successful, goals peppering his high-octane performances.

    Despite his small stature, a robust nature meant that he was more than capable of holding his own, and almost 300 games for the club during one of their most successful periods speaks volumes. 

Michael Laudrup

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    Michael Laudrup enjoyed a stellar career in Blaugrana.
    Michael Laudrup enjoyed a stellar career in Blaugrana.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    The silky skills of Michael Laudrup lit up the Dream Team era at Barcelona.

    It's doubtful that Hristo Stoichkov et al would've been so prolific had they not had the great Dane to load the bullets for them.

    Far and away the best player ever to have come out of Denmark, Barca were lucky to enjoy him at the peak of his powers.

    The ease and grace with which he played the game was pleasing on the eye and won him many admirers.

    FIFA.com noted Franz Beckenbauer's comments: “In the 1960s, the best player was Pele; in the 1970s, it was Cruyff; in the 1980s, it was Maradona; and in the 1990s, it’s Laudrup.”

    And those of former Juventus colleague Roberto Galia: “I played against Maradona, Platini and [Roberto] Baggio, but the one player capable of the most incredible skills was Michael Laudrup."

    Despite leaving for arch-rivals Real Madrid after falling out with Johan Cruyff, it didn't damage his credibility with Barca fans or former colleagues, who still hold him in the highest esteem.

    That tells you all you need to know about the player.

Andres Iniesta

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    Andres Iniesta is the magician.
    Andres Iniesta is the magician.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    World Cup-winning goal, last-minute Champions League semi-final equaliser and more moments of exquisite skill than you care to recall, Andres Iniesta's career has always been played at the very highest level.

    The moniker of "El Illusionista" or The Magician if you prefer is well deserved.

    The way he glides across the Camp Nou pitch with the ball seemingly attached to his feet is magic indeed.

    Iniesta is the type of player that holds you in his thrall every time he is in possession of the football.

    A very special footballer indeed.

Javier Mascherano

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    Javier Mascherano excels in his natural habitat.
    Javier Mascherano excels in his natural habitat.Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Generally utilised as an emergency centre-back in his time at Barca, owing to a lack of foresight by the club to acquire central defenders, Javier Mascherano has still excelled.

    However, it's in his natural habitat of defensive midfielder where we see his best work.

    Immaculate timing in the tackle, industrious work-ethic and accuracy in the pass are all qualities that Mascherano possesses in droves.

Xavi Hernandez

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    Barcelona will be much the poorer when Xavi hangs up his boots.
    Barcelona will be much the poorer when Xavi hangs up his boots.Alex Caparros/Getty Images

    The master of the "tiki-taka" game that has become Barca's hallmark over the years.

    Although his performances have been more sporadic than usual this season, when Xavi plays well, Barcelona play well.

    A player with the knack of always being available no matter how congested the midfield, his appreciation of timing, space and positioning is unsurpassed in the modern game.

    Champions League appearance record-holder is one of many accolades that Xavi has deservedly earned in a stellar career.

    Barney Ronay of The Guardian sums up Xavi's contribution nicely:

    Xavi who stands out above all, an astonishingly relentless, unexpectedly definitive presence who, all things considered, has been the best player in the world for the last five years, and whose broader influence probably matches that of any player in any era.

    No footballer has ever played such a decisive role in victory at three major international tournaments, or defined so clearly the dominant club team of the age.

    Xavi has won 25 major trophies, made more than 180 assists for more than 50 team-mates at Barcelona, and has over the last six years passed the ball more than anybody else, run more than anybody else, and basically played more football than any other human being anywhere.

    Can't really top that, can you?!

Sergio Busquets

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    Is there a more complete central midfielder than Sergio Busquets?
    Is there a more complete central midfielder than Sergio Busquets?Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Has there ever been a better defensive midfielder in world football than Sergio Busquets?

    Perhaps the measure of a player is how well he is perceived by his contemporaries. Sid Lowe of The Guardian quotes a number of colleagues and managers when interviewed on the importance of Busquets to Barca, and the verdict is unanimous.

    Vicente Del Bosque: 

    If I could be any player in the world, I would like to be Sergio Busquets.

    He does everything; he always helps the team, he is generous, and he is the first to get the team moving. When he plays, the football is more fluid. With Busquets in the team, our football is better.

    Xavi Hernandez:

    Fundamental.

    Busi sees you quickly, he always takes the simple option. He reads the game well and moves the ball with precision, in as few touches a possible.

    Johan Cruyff:

    He is a gift for any coach. The speed of his passing is perfect and he is the kind of player you don't need to explain anything to.

    You just put him in his position and he performs.

    "Simplicity is genius" is a quote that can be perfectly applied to a player that is still only 26 years old.

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