FC Barcelona has existed as a sporting institution for more than 100 years, experiencing the highs of the “Dream Team” and the lows of the Franco era. Great players passed through the club’s ranks long before famed names like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Here are 10 legends from Barcelona’s history that you really should know a thing or two about. Please note that persons currently still playing (even elsewhere) or recently retired players were not included.
Decades before Leo Messi was born, heck, even before La Liga existed, FC Barcelona fielded a fierce striker by the name of Paulino Alcantara. He scored 200 goals in 177 appearances for Barca. Even if the standard of play was much poorer, that’s a good tally by Saturday league standards. Could he have scored even more? Maybe. He retired at the age of 31 to become a doctor.
Samitier was one of the first stars of Spanish soccer just as La Liga formed and professionalization took root. A hardworking midfielder with a thunderous strike, he appeared in over 400 games for Barcelona. He also is widely credited as the grandfather of the “Scorpion Kick”, although his spectacular overhead goals were called “Lobster Kicks” (“langosta”).
For all the talk of tiki taka, immediately after the Civil War, FC Barcelona fielded a former soldier that would make Ruud Van Nistelrooy look delicate. Cesar, a broad-shouldered forward with sick aerial abilities, feasted on crosses and ate up centerbacks by the handful. He was a battering ram, and knocked in 192 goals in 287 appearances for Barcelona.
Luis Suarez, Spain’s first ever Ballon d’Or winner, was a mixture of the passing majesty of Xavi and the decisive goals of Iniesta. He could rocket a diagonal ball 40 yards one moment and then spend the rest of the game playing one-two’s with his own centerbacks. He helped lead Barca to a memorable triumph over Real Madrid in the 1961 European Cup, although the team eventually fell in the final to Eusebio’s Benfica. He was eventually sold to Italy’s Juventus.
Franco kept a close eye on Barca’s “socis” and rigged the club’s leadership, but he also let them sign Hungarian refugee Laszlo Kubala. The hulking attacking midfielder combined the grace of a ballerina with the shoulders of a bricklayer. He was as mercurial as he was talented, seemingly motivated to train and play well by the changing of the wind. He is credited with perfecting the “folha seca” (dry leaf) free-kick technique, similar to the knuckle ball in MLB, which today remains a favorite of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Although the position of goalkeeper has long been a weak link for FC Barcelona, it certainly wasn’t from 1986 to 1994. Basque goalie Zubizaretta was a fixture between the posts for the “cules” and appeared in over 300 matches. He won four La Liga titles as part of Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, and also captained Barca to its first ever European Cup win 1991.
Cruyff the player was a hero to cules both for his marvelous play and also his “jodete” attitude towards Franco. In 1975, he spearheaded Barcelona to a 5-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, their biggest win there ever. He also named his son “Jordi”, a Catalan name allegedly banned by the Franco authorities. When his family was stopped by immigration authorities after a return flight for Jordi’s birth, Cruyff refused to change anything.
Koeman’s nickname in the Catalan media translates to the “White Gorilla”, a reference to a similarly pale primate at the local zoo. As far as I’m concerned, it may be perhaps the first (and only) non-offensive monkey-to-human comparison in the history of sport. He was slow (like, really slow), but Cruyff liked his passing and, in 1991, he scored a stunning freekick to hand Barca its first ever European crown.
The quintessential Brazilian trickster, Romario could smell a goal a mile away. His movement off the ball was lethargic at times and he seldom hustled to finish off crosses, but with the ball at his feet he was simply unstoppable. His slick turns, tricky feints and exquisite finishing resulted in 34 goals in 46 appearances for Barca. Cruyff hated his attitude, but there was no denying his skill. He even notched a hat trick against Madrid in a 5-0 massacre at the Camp Nou.
If Romario was lightning, then Stoichkov was thunder. The Bulgarian was a one-man wrecking crew, relentlessly hounding down defenders like Samuel E’too in his prime. He had a rifle of a shot and was also a force in the air. In total, he scored 84 goals in 177 appearances for Barcelona. He also won every trophy possible at the club: La Liga, the European Cup, the European SuperCup, the King’s Cup and the Spanish Super Cup. If any man knows the taste of champagne in a trophy, it’s Hristo.
—Elliott writes about soccer at Futfanatico.com. He is the author of “Real Madrid & Barcelona: the Making of a Rivalry”, available on iTunes.