Barcelona’s best starting XI of all-time
FC Barcelona have been truly blessed with some quality, quality players in their history. Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Miguel Nadal, Sergio Busquets, Andoni Zubizarreta … and these are just some of the names who DID NOT make XI!
This side has players from different eras of Barcelona’s illustrious history, from the side that dominated La Liga in the post-war years to Johan Cruyff’s dream team and Guardiola’s all-conquering stars.
The formation I chose isn’t exactly traditional as I opted for a very narrow 3-3-3-1 formation. What’s lacking in wing-play however is more than made up for in the skill and creativity centrally.
Here are 11 soccer legends.
Goalkeeper – The Winged Cat
Dubbed as the “Winged Cat” during the World Cup in 1950, Antoni Ramallets protected the Blaugrana goal for 15 years, winning the Zamora Trophy (for the best goalkeeper in Spain) five times, a record he shares with Victor Valdes. The peak of his career had to be the Champions’ Cup final against Benfica in 1961, but alas, that night in Bern ended up being his downfall, as he was heavily criticized for his performance in a 3-2 loss. Yet, his contribution to the first dominating Barcelona side was immense. After his departure, Barcelona went through a relatively barren run in the 1960’s until the arrival of a certain Dutch wizard in the 1970s swung the pendulum back.
Defense – Trio of Captains
You really can’t look beyond these three when mentioning great Barcelona defenders. Carles Puyol and his curly locks were a frequent sight to soccer fans all over the globe up until his retirement a couple of years ago as we saw him lift trophy after trophy for both club and country. Not blessed with the silkiest of skills, Puyol more than made up for it with his commitment and defensive awareness. At one point it seemed that he was only one in a Blaugrana shirt who knew how to defend, and every suspension or injury lay-off that he suffered was deeply felt.
On the other hand, there’s Ronald Koeman, the defender with the boots of a true goalscorer. Eighty-eight goals over six seasons in Spain is a truly remarkable feat for the center back, with his winning strike in the 1992 Champions’ Cup final still fondly remembered in Catalonia.
Completing this back three is Joan Segarra, who, along with Ramallets, was integral to the Barcelona side that won five trophies in the 1951-52 season. Segarra also had an eye for goal and, being left footed, slots in perfectly in this side.
Midfield – Tiki-Taka Generals
Pep Guardiola invented Tiki-Taka, Xavi Hernandez perfected it and Andres Iniesta is taking it to a new level. This is the trio who transformed Barcelona into a winning machine, game after game, season after season.
Guardiola was the heartbeat of the Dream Team, with his fantastic vision acting as the link between defense and the incredible talent ahead of him. It was in this “pivot” role that the current Bayern Munich manager excelled as he picked up six La Liga titles and a Champions League winner’s medal.
While Xavi and Iniesta both reached the peak of their careers under Guardiola, it was Dutchmen Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard respectively who gave them their first team bows and turned them into such vital cogs in the middle of the park.
For over 750 matches, Xavi passed, passed and passed again, ensuring that his side won the possession battle and territory. In Guardiola’s Barcelona, Xavi set up the orchestra and Iniesta played the music. You really can’t argue against the four Champions League and seven La Liga titles won by Barcelona since Iniesta joined his compatriot at the heart of midfield.
Guardiola famously told Xavi after he saw Iniesta strutting his stuff for the Barcelona U-15 side, “You’re going to retire me. This guy is going to retire us both!”
Attack – A Fearsome Quartet
Laszlo Kubala spearheads the attack in this side ahead of the likes of Romario, Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o, Patrick Kluivert and Julio Salinas. The Hungarian had everything: pace, power and a devastating right foot. He found the net 194 times in a 10-year spell which was temporarily interrupted by a bout of tuberculosis.
In the hole is Diego Armando Maradona, who admittedly is more known for his exploits for Argentina and Napoli. Still, how can you leave the legend out of any first XI? Despite suffering from a serious ankle injury and liver problems while at Catalonia, Maradona managed 38 goals in just 58 appearances, helping his side to a La Liga and Copa del Rey double in 1983.
Johan Cruyff is synonymous with Barcelona. As a player, he did things that were never seen before, while as a manager, he built a dynasty. He brought “Total Football” to Barcelona, and the result was and still is spectacular. His arrival marked the start of one outstanding and successful Barcelona team after another.
Finally, it’s the man himself, Lionel Messi. His stats are astonishing: 418 goals in 493 club matches, four Ballon d’Ors, three times the winner of the European golden shoe and has claimed 25 major trophies with Barcelona. And he’s still only 28! No need to say much else, really.
Barcelona Best XI