A recent study conducted by the Centre for Research on Spanish Football History and Statistics has named Raúl the best La Liga player of all-time. Almost immediately after the release of the results, fans and pundits began to debate the selections from the top choice all the way down to 150. These lists are usually entirely subjective, with people making their own criteria mixed with personal emotion. In the spirit of the exercise, I have decided to make a list of my own, welcoming all of the criticism and name calling that will come with it. In the 116 year history of FC Barcelona, we have had the pleasure to watch and enjoy some of the greatest footballers to ever grace a pitch. Whether live at the stadium, by television, or some YouTube video in terrible quality, we have truly witnessed greatness. With that said, I have compiled my own personal list of the top 10 Barcelona players of all-time.
To formulate this list I have come up with a few categories that I believe make up ones greatness. First, I factored in statistics (goals, assists, clean sheets, appearances, etc). Secondly, success on the pitch (winning %, trophies, sustainability). And lastly, meaning to the club (longevity, exudes Barcelona’s values, world-wide profile, marketing capability).
Disclaimer* Some of the videos posted are only able to be viewed on YouTube. Sorry for the inconvenience, but after a long and exhaustive search, I believe they are the best I could find.
10. Carles Puyol (1999-2014)
Position: Central defender | Goals: 18 | Appearances: 593
Looking more like someone you would find in the middle of a mosh pit at a Metallica concert rather than a football pitch, Carles Puyol was the ultimate example of hard work and dedication. Despite many desperate attempts, Puyol was not admitted to La Masia until 1995 at the age of 17. Originally a winger who had converted to right back, Puyol eventually settled to become one of Barcelona’s greatest central defenders. Although not the most technically gifted, Puyol had something you couldn’t measure with statistics — heart. He bled blue and claret and was instrumental in guiding Barcelona through the clubs most prosperous era in its history. He won 21 trophies in total and will always be one of the poster boys for what “Mes Que un Club” represents.
9. César (1942-1955)
Position: Forward | Goals: 232 | Appearances: 351
Smooth, instinctive and fantastic in the air, César Rodriguez possessed the natural gift for scoring goals. Having joined Barcelona at a very precarious time for the club, the Spaniard amassed what was at the time an incredible 232 goals in 351 games, good for a Barcelona record that lasted all the way until 2012 when some guy named Leo Messi broke it. Teaming up with the likes of Basora, Kubala, Moreno and Manchon, César amassed 13 trophies with the club, including 5 La Liga crowns; the most of any Spanish club during his tenure.
8. Pep Guardiola (1990-2001)
Position: Midfielder | Goals: 12 | Appearances: 366
Slender, elegant and tactically aware, Pep Guardiola served as the linchpin of 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. An extension of his coach on the pitch, Guardiola relied on a combination of creativity, technique and ball movement, rather than physicality and pace. Captaining the team from 1997-2001, Pep was the chief inspiration for other La Maisa legends with similar characteristics such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas. And oh yeah, he just so happened to manage the club as well, guiding Barca to 14 trophies (2008-12) and it’s most prosperous stretch in club history.
7. Rivaldo (1997-2002)
Position: Midfielder | Goals: 130 | Appearances: 199
After the stunning departure of his compatriot Ronaldo in the summer of 1997, Barcelona were desperate to acquire a player that could replicate the flair and devastating finishing ability that made the Brazilian a legend in just one season. In stepped Rivaldo, equipped with a wonderful left foot, spectacular dribbling ability and a cannon ball like shot. But what really got the supporters roaring was his dead-ball specialties, which included exquisite bending free kicks and deceptive penalty taking. His most productive season may have come in 1999, when he won both the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and Ballon d'Or in guiding the Catalans to the La Liga title, but his most memorable moment came in 2001 in the last game of the season against Valencia. All tied in the 90th minute, Rivaldo secured a hat trick with a extraterrestrial bicycle kick from outside the box sending the Camp Nou into unfiltered bedlam. Not only did the world class strike secure his side the victory, but it also guaranteed Barcelona a spot in the following season’s Champions League.
6. Johan Cruyff (1973-1978)
Position: Forward | Goals: 61 | Appearances: 184
A player that will always be synonymous with Barcelona and vice-versa. After having decided to leave Ajax back in 1973, Cruyff was a wanted man, especially by the two biggest clubs in Spain as the ban was lifted on Spanish clubs signing foreign players. With his decision made, Cruyff informed the papers that he had chosen Barca over Real Madrid because he could not play for a club associated with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Already a club legend on this decision alone, the flying Dutchman furthered cemented it during his inaugural season with the club. Because of legal issues, he couldn’t join until the end of October with Barca one off the bottom. Finally free, he scored in his very first match against Granada and Barca didn't lose again all season. He guided the Catalans to their first La Liga title since 1960, picking up the Ballon d'Or in the process, and winning the prestigious award again the following season. For as good as he was on the pitch, Cruyff’s greatest impact was felt on the touchline as manager of the “The Dream Team” and as the man who introduced the tiki-taka style of play.
5. Ronaldinho (2003-2008)
Position: Midfielder | Goals: 94 | Appearances: 207
Quite simply, the most exciting player in the world during his Barcelona tenure. After a barren four years for the club, Joan Laporta decided to embark on a new project with its cornerstone centered around the enigmatic Brazilian. Turned down by Real Madrid because his face was “too ugly for their brand”, Ronaldinho almost immediately proved them wrong with his play. He was brash, powerful, tricky, and an uninhibited play maker. His arrival restored Barcelona back to the elite, winning two La Liga titles, a Champions League (2006) and a Ballon d'Or (2005). He was so mesmerizing that in a match at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid, the Brazilian made the team in white look like a bunch of toddlers en route to scoring two breath-taking goals that earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. Unfortunately, his nightlife stories became almost as legendary as his play, shortening the prime of a player who had the potential to be one of the greatest of all-time. Although there will always be the question of “what if” when it pertains to Ronaldinho’s tenure in Catalunya, his legend will always be solidified and remembered by those years with La Blaugrana.
4. Andrés Iniesta (2002-Present)
Position: Midfielder | Goals: 55 | Appearances: 600
The man from Fuentealbilla who just seems to know exactly the right time to do everything on a football pitch. Whether going forward or dropping back, watching Iniesta work is like Picasso painting his canvas. Blessed with eagle like vision and mystifying touch, he often is able to create space that you didn’t even know existed. Along with Xavi and Busquets, he formed arguably the best midfield in football history at the height of their powers, capturing 4 Champions league crowns and saving his best performances for the biggest of stages. He came on at half time to change the game against Arsenal in Paris in 2006; his incredible late winner at Stamford Bridge catapulted Barca to the 2009 Rome final; he starred in the 2011 final at Wembley, and set up the first goal in Berlin in 2015. With 29 trophies at the club, his accolades and trophy cabinet continue to grow making him one of Barcelona’s greatest ever winners. Oh, he also scored the biggest goal in Spanish history as well.
3. László Kubala (1950-1961)
Position: Forward | Goals: 194 | Appearances: 256
The man with the bronze statue outside of the Camp Nou. László Kubala’s story is the stuff legends are made of. He escaped communist Hungary dressed as a Russian soldier and very well could have died in the 1949 air disaster that killed the genius Torino side of the forties. He was supposed to be representing them in a friendly against Benfica in Portugal but pulled out at the last second for family reasons and it saved his life. Eventually, Kubala signed with Barcelona in 1950 although he was not permitted to play in league games until the following season, but boy was it worth the wait. He scored 39 goals across all competitions and in the process led Barca to the league double. As his legend grew, so did the amount of people that wanted to see his talents with their own two eyes. Playing in the 60,000 seat capacity Camp de les Corts just wasn’t big enough anymore, so Barcelona began construction on a new 93,000 seat Camp Nou which still to this day remains the largest football stadium in Europe. Although injuries somewhat interrupted a glowing career, Kubala won 14 trophies in all and was Barcelona’s first true megastar at a time they desperately needed one to combat Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano.
2. Xavi (1998-2015)
Position: Midfielder | Goals: 85 | Appearances: 767
17 seasons, 59,000 minutes, 767 games, 25 trophies. At almost any other club Xavi would be number one on this list, but this isn’t most clubs. Instead, he’ll just have to settle for being the greatest Spanish player of all time. Relying largely on his ability to find and exploit space as a play-maker, Xavi was the maestro in the Barcelona orchestra. He was constantly pulling the strings and setting the table for all of his teammates to receive the glory. Formed in La Maisa at the age of 11, he represented everything that Barcelona is about from its values all the to way to their style of play. He may have never been the flashiest or the fastest, but nobody was smarter.
1. Lionel Messi (2004-Present)
Position: Forward | Goals scored: 461 | Appearances: 539
Was there really ever any doubt? Considered by many to be the greatest player in history, let alone in the modern era, Leo Messi has been dazzling us since the very first time he stepped on the pitch. Whether it was scoring a hat-trick against Real Madrid at the age of 19 or pulling off the closest thing we have ever seen to Maradona’s “goal of the century” against Getafe, the Argentine wizard continues to invent new ways to amaze. Tactically a genius, Messi posesses the ability to feature at nearly any position on the field and be the best at it. At only the age of 29, he has already scored 461 goals in 539 games , won 5 Ballon d’Or titles, broken nearly all club and La Liga records, won 29 titles and did I mention, he’s only bleeping 29!? If he continues on his current trajectory, Messi has enough time and talent around him to become the most decorated club player in football history. What the future holds for him and the club is anybody’s guess, but one thing is for certain. Leo Messi is the greatest Barcelona player of all-time, and there may never be anyone greater again.
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