Barça have always had great played through their ranks and have been an international club for quite some time. We accept the difficult challenge of forming an all-time Barcelona XI, but with a twist: only a player per country is permitted.
Throughout the years, many legends have plied their trade at Camp Nou and have excelled. Even before the Bosman ruling, the Catalans had many international stars through their ranks and, along with Real Madrid, have had tremendous success with their leads. Brazilians skillers, with 35, and Dutch superstars, with 20, have represented the club more than any other nation besides Spain, of course.
With that in mind, it would be interesting to make an eleven out of all those nations. Only being able to choose one footballer from each country is the twist, though.
Goalkeeper: Marc-André Ter Stegen | Germany
A surprise addition to this eleven, Marc-André Ter Stegen beats the likes of Victor Valdés, Antoni Ramallets and Andoni Zubizarreta to feature in this line-up solely because of the two legends’ nationality. However, Ter Stegen is a world-class keeper and has climbed to stardom at Barça. In fact, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that, if the German wins more trophies with the blaugrana side, he might be considered in the debate about Barcelona goalkeepers.
While having spent less than 6 seasons at the club, Ter Stegen is destined to battle the likes of Valdés and Ramallets for the honour of being the best goalkeeper in Barcelona’s history | Photo by Imago
The former Mönchengladbach wonderkid is a superb shot-stopper and would not be out of place in this team with his incredible on the ball ability, which in a system as Total Football as this one, would be useful. The mental side of his game has helped him win a plethora of titles, and the German is now considered the best keeper in the world alongside Jan Oblak.
Defender: Dani Alves | Brazil
There is no debate here as Alves is arguably the best right-back in the history of the game and surely ranked as Barça’s highest ever. The attacking full-back joined from Sevilla in 2008 after winning back-to-back Europe Leagues and kept going from strength to strength the second he entered the culés‘ squad. His understanding with Leo Messi was perhaps the most essential part of Barcelona’s set-up in the early 2010s. A jovial character that prevailed on and off the pitch, Dani’s winner mentality meant he never gave up, and the Catalans had their most prolific years with the Brazilian starting at right-back. They are still searching for his replacement.
❛ Was I disrespected by the board of directors before I left the club last summer? Absolutely. Before I went to Juventus, I made a final promise to the board at Barcelona. I said: ‘You’re going to miss me’. I didn’t mean as a player. Barça have plenty of incredible players. What I meant was they were going to miss my spirit. They were going to miss the care I had for the dressing room. They were going to miss the blood I spilled every time I put on the shirt ❜
After a fall-out with Josep Maria Bartomeu’s board, by whom he was mistreated, he displayed his talents elsewhere and reached a Champions League final with Juventus before bowing out of the high-profile game by captaining Brazil to another Copa América title, being named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. His trophy cabinet is also littered with achievements and titles, and he’s one of the most decorated players ever with 43 medals. What a superb defender.
Defender: Rafael Márquez | Mexico
The eternal Rafael Márquez was a rock at the back for Barcelona, Mexico and every team he played for. The Mexican played in five different World Cup editions, and in 7 years at the Camp Nou he accumulated 163 league appearances, being a regular at the back alongside Carles Puyol, who isn’t in this eleven because of his nationality, much like Valdés. An important part of Guardiola’s treble-winning side in 2009, Rafa was heavily liked by all his managers and was a regular fixture in defence for seven seasons. He also possesses a glorious trophy haul with Monaco, Barcelona, León and Mexico, and was named CONCACAF best player in 2005.
Defender: Éric Abidal | France
Nineteen Frenchmen have represented Barça in their excellent past. From Laurent Blanc to Antoine Griezmann, passing by Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Petit, some excellent French internationals have plied their trade at Camp Nou winning the plaudits of the culés. However, the greatest Frenchman to have played for Barcelona is their current technical director: Éric Abidal. Part of Lyon’s incredible side that won seven titles in a row in France, Abidal then found himself at the Camp Nou in 2007. Despite a sub-par first year where the Catalans finished third in the league behind Juan Román Riquelme’s Villarreal, Abidal picked it up the following campaign under Pep and was the starting left-back, making 125 appearances with the azulgrana outfit during his difficult time there.
❛ Rocks on the road? Store them all. One day you will build a castle ❜
Of course, Abidal’s bravery is his best asset, and he will be remembered for winning the two most significant battles in his life in 2011 and 2012. The Frenchman was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and stood firm to win the battle a few months later, playing the full 90 minutes of the Champions League final against Manchester United in May 2011, being gifted the captain armband by Carles Puyol to lift the cup first. In 2012, he had to undergo a liver transplant because of unresolved issues after the previous operation. He won again and revealed that Alves offered to give part of his liver. A true hero, Abidal won every battle on the pitch. From dethroning Sylvinho to battling it out with Maxwell and Adriano for the left-back spot, Abidal had problems to solve on the field as well as off it. A deserved entry in this eleven, Abidal will be remembered for his heroic battles that he won and his superb footballing ability.
Midfielder: Xavi or Iniesta | Spain
It was tough to determine who was the best between Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, so we chose to make a double entry. Part of Pep’s dream team alongside Sergio Busquets, the two World Cup winners wrote Barcelona’s history with their uncountable achievements at the Camp Nou throughout two twenty-year-long careers for their boyhood club. Xavi and Iniesta were the two machines of the treble-winning squads they were part of and dominated world football for years, especially after Guardiola joined. Both on the Ballon d’Or podium in 2010, only losing to Leo, after a superb World Cup campaign in which Iniesta scored the game-winning goal in the final, the two legends wrote La Masía’s, Spain’s and Barça’s history and are this generation of midfielders’ idols, as Chelsea’s talented Billy Gilmour stated earlier this year. The duo won many titles together and, above everything, created indelible memories with their delightful style and understanding.
❛ If you are small, it doesn’t matter. Some of the best players in the world are small like Lionel Messi. When I get on the ball I move it quickly so I am two steps ahead. It was always El Clásico that I loved to watch when I was young. I loved watching Iniesta and Xavi. They were my favourite players. Looking at Xavi and Iniesta, that’s what I wanted to focus my game on ❜
Midfielder: Deco | Portugal
One of Pep Guardiola’s victims in 2008, along with Ronaldinho, Deco was nonetheless a superb character in midfield. An astute attacking midfielder who liked to play the killer ball, the Portuguese was an essential part of the dominant teams he played in. His trophy cabinet is littered with honours that he won at Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea before going back to his native country of Brazil to win some more with Fluminense. Also, he was part of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s feared Portugal squad in 2006, which only lost to France in the semi-final of the World Cup.
Attacking Midfielder: Johan Cruyff | Netherlands
This top-heavy formation is based on total football, a style of play that late Johan Cruyff played in with the Oranje in the 1970s reaching the final in 1974 to inexplicably lose to West Germany. The genius changed the game as a player and as a coach, revolutionising the game on multiple occasions and playing like a artist every time he graced the pitch. Perhaps the most intelligent footballer ever, he decided to combat Madrid by going to Barça in 1973 and taking the world by the storm there, after nine great campaigns at Ajax. The Dutchman reinvented the beautiful game by playing smart and attractive football at an impressive speed that made him superhuman.
Johan Cruyff revolutionised whole institutions like Ajax, Holland or Barcelona | Photo by Imago
As a manager, he returned to the Camp Nou, and there he won the first blaugrana European Cup title in 1992, with Ronald Koeman’s brilliant free-kick against Sampdoria gifting the culés the title. Cruyff is the genius behind everything that Barcelona stand for today. Without him, there would be no Pep or trebles at the Camp Nou. He was a sensational character who took Barça and the beautiful game to another level.
Right winger: Leo Messi | Argentina
Edging Diego Maradona as the Argentinean in this team, Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer ever. He’s undoubtedly Barcelona’s best at least, and has shown fantastic prowess during his time at Camp Nou. Diagnosed with Growth Hormone Deficiency when he was younger, his talent was undeniable, and Barcelona took a punt on him and nurtured him at La Masía. In 2004, he made his debut for the Catalan outfit and the rest, as they say, is history. He is Barcelona’s and Argentina’s record goalscorer and is currently captaining both club and country to greatness, tasting more success at Barça nevertheless.
Having arrived to La Masía aged 13, Leo Messi has gone on to become arguably Barça’s best footballer ever | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The Argentinean is the side’s lungs nowadays and has won six Ballon d’Ors in his career. Now 32, the winger has played alongside great forwards to form memorable trios. From Samuel Eto’o to Luis Suárez passing by Neymar and Henry, Messi has been the cornerstone of every Barça squad since 2008. A one-club man, the forward has proven loyal to his club for nearly two decades now, and he is the greatest ever azulgrana.
Left winger: Michael Laudrup | Denmark
While he would later leave to Madrid, Michael Laudrup was one of his generation’s best ever. The Danish playmaker was a talented forward for every team he played in, including the world’s best teams in Lazio, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. He was in Cruyff’s Dream Team from 1989 to 1994 and was one of the best performers for the Catalans as they went on to be a dominant force in Spanish football. Laudrup went on to win 5 La Liga titles in a row, four with Barcelona and one with Los Blancos, and destroyed every defender in front of him with his jaw-dropping technique, silky touches and killer balls. Named Denmark’s best player of all time, Michael was a tremendous magician in his day and his stint at Barça was a major success.
Striker: Luis Suárez | Uruguay
Luis Suárez is one of Barça’s most fabulous signings ever. The Uruguayan joined in 2014 from Liverpool and, in only six years, he now finds his name in the Barcelona hall of fame and the top 5 of Barça’s record goalscorers, dethroning some of the greatest to ever play in Blue and Red. An essential part of the treble-winning MSN trio, Suárez was superhuman and even beat Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish league Golden Boot in 2016, scoring and assisting for fun in a year where he dominated every team and was feared all around Europe. His partnership with Messi is nearly as great as Dani Alves’ with the Argentine genius. A superb competitor with an eye for goal, Luisito won it all at the Camp Nou and even notched up a Copa América title in 2011 with his national side.
Striker: Lázló Kubala | Hungary
West Germany’s biggest scalp ever was surely the mighty Magyars of the 1950s. Hungary is a historical side in the beautiful game, playing a brand of football similar to the Netherlands’ total football in the twentieth century. Their front line consisted of the great Madrid striker Ferenc Puskás, but it was another Hungarian man who changed the game forever with Barcelona. Lázló Kubala is one of Barça’s record goalscorers, and he never played for the country he fled because of the regime at the time and represented Spain on multiple occasions after getting dual citizenship. The forward is one of the greatest ever player in football history and was ahead of his time in terms of goalscorers. He destroyed teams left, right and centre and was six goals shy of 200 for Barcelona, but he sits third in the ranking of record scorers, with Luis Suárez breathing down his neck. Kubala won it all domestically at Barça and returned as a coach in 1961. He is one of the greatest ever blaugrana players, perhaps only behind Leo Messi.
Víctor Valdés (Spain), Antoni Ramallets (Spain), Andoni Zubizarreta (Spain), Carles Puyol (Spain), Joan Segarra (Spain), Migueli (Spain), Ronald Koeman (Netherlands), Gerard Piqué (Spain), Sergio Busquets (Spain), Pep Guardiola (Spain), Bernd Schuster (Germany), Luis Suárez Miramontes (Spain), Josep Samitier (Spain), Ronaldinho (Brazil), Rivaldo (Brazil), Romário (Brazil), Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon), Paulino Alcántara (Philippines), and an endless list of Barcelona legends.
Ricardo Zamora: The greatest between the posts
Guest Author: Amal Ghosh
Ricardo Zamora has a rollercoaster of a footballing career, flooded with controversies. Despite that, he is said to be arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
“He is alone, condemned to watch the match from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the two posts and the crossbar, he awaits his own execution by firing squad.” Eduardo Galeano perhaps wrote the most melancholic description of a goalkeeper’s life of solitude.
The memoir of a goalkeeper lies between the thin line of glorious feats and eternal damnation. There were not many of them in the yesteryears of world football that we still reminisce. In fact, many of those who survived the rushing cavalries of the opposition attack were shot, shun, or shaded by that one slip or misplaced dive.
At the beginning of the 1900s, when the game was a far cry from the sophisticated version of the present day, the football pitch was a grant arena to celebrate the sparring between the defence and offence. Stars and idols were born and illustrated for the knack to score goals or the flamboyant display on the pitch.
In 1916, a skinny sixteen years old from Barcelona, who had a fortuitous debut for Espanyol against Real Madrid, went on to become the first superstar in the history of Spanish football. Moreover, the first goalkeeper to make a name for his style and to become an inspiration for the generations to come. Ricardo Zamora Martinez was one of the greatest goalkeepers both in the history of FC Barcelona and La Roja. He was the first and finest of his kind and left a gargantuan legacy behind.
Born on 14th February 1901 in Barcelona, Zamora grew up and learned his craft in goalkeeping on the backstreets of the Catalan city. What started as a leisure activity in the neighborhood, it maneuvered Zamora’s interest in the game and transformed him into a guardian in between the sticks. Challenging and extreme measures to prevent the opposition from scoring often would end up in frayed clothes and bleeding elbows. His parents were unhappy about his pursuit to become a professional footballer as his father wanted him to inherit his field of medicine.
In 1913, Zamora was sent to attend university, which was a turning point in his life. Along with picking up nicotine addiction, he also joined a local team, Universitari SC, and started playing full-time football.
At the same time, the founder of Barcelona, Joan Gamper (Hans Kamper) was scouting for young and fresh talents across Catalonia to bolster the transitioning Blaugrana outfit. Gamper inadvertently encountered a young Zamora who was delivering a staggering performance in front of the goal. Enthralled by his astounding shot-stopping technique and anticipation along with the aplomb character on the pitch, Gamper encouraged him to pursue professional football. Despite acknowledging his talent, Gamper was unsure about recruiting him due to his age, which would make it difficult for him to serve as an immediate replacement at the club. However, at the age of fifteen in 1916, Zamora signed for the rivals Espanyol and made his debut at sixteen.
Pere Gibert, the starting goalkeeper for Espanyol was absent and the club approached young Zamora to accompany them on their trip to face Real Madrid. Zamora delivered an impressive performance against a Los Blancos led by Santiago Bernabeu. The match against Madrid announced the teenage sensational in the Spanish football and promised the starting spot ahead of Gibert. He safeguarded the Espanyol goal till 1919 and inspired them to lift the Campionat de Catalunya in 1918.
However, a dispute with one of the Blanquiazul directors resulted in him leaving the club and signing for the cross-town rivals Barcelona. Zamora dawned the garnet and the blue for the first time on 31st May 1919 in a friendly match against an international eleven consisting of players from the allied nations that had succeeded in the First World War (France, Belgium, and England).
The mere friendly match at the old Carrer Industria ground was in fact much more. It was a monumental instance for its symbolic representation of diplomacy and the introduction of two of the greatest players in the history of Blaugrana — Zamora and Josep Samitier. Both the players became the Blaugrana legends and defined the history of both Barcelona and Spanish football.
The 1920s witnessed the first footballing revolution in Spain. It was the dormant period for the political insurgencies in Catalonia, where the proletarian uprisings and anti-anarchist movements ceased temporarily. Instead, the populace was witnessing another revolution, the rise of the first golden generation at the Les Cortes. Moreover, it was the inception of the Spanish National Team as a major footballing power in world football. Zamora along with Samitier and Paulinho Alcantara were the three pivots responsible for the transformation of Barcelona in the 1920s. Zamora was selected to represent the Spanish national team in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
It was the first-ever Spanish team to compete in an international tournament. He made his debut in La Roja’s first international match with a 1-0 victory over Denmark. Though the rampant Spaniards defeated in the final against Belgium, Zamora’s performance throughout the tournament established him as the best shot-stopper in the world.
It was an eventful tournament for Zamora in some other ways as well, who also grabbed some unwanted attention on and off the pitch. He was sent off in the match against Italy for punching and breaking the jaw of an opposing player. Another time, airport customs officials caught him smuggling Havana cigars across the Belgian border which caused the entire team to get detained and searched before leaving for Spain.
At Barcelona, he earned the nickname El Divino (The Divine One) and his road to stardom surviving the assaults from opposition attacks bagged massive applause from the Culés. He possessed an immense threat in anticipation to charge down attackers in his own box and had all the physical attributes that modern-day football demands from a player. Enormous, build stature, and nonchalant character, Zamora wore the iconic high-necked polo jumper and a hard cap and stood in front of the goal to wait for the unleashing thunderbolts and storm. His style was imitated by many of his contemporaries, who could mirror all but that nerve-wracking stare at your soul.
At Barca, he moulded into one of the athletic goalkeepers of the time. His agility and quick reflexes along with the physical superiority often perplexed the attack. Zamora helped Barcelona to lift two Copa del Rey titles and three Campionats de Catalunya. He led a lavish and celebrity life; in fact, he was the first one to explore the scope of marketing the sporting stardom in Spanish football. The Spaniard spent his time with Tango singer Carlos Gardel, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and drowning in his favorite cognac tipple. Zamora and Samitier had famous night outs in the 1920s, at the time when Barcelona was becoming one of the fashionable cities in Europe. There were poems and songs flattering his honor, cocktails were named after him. Zamora even acted in a film called ‘Zamora Weds At Last’.
Zamora’s three-year-long stint at Barcelona came to an end under some controversial circumstances. It was reported that in June 1922, Zamora allegedly asked the Barca board for a wage of 50,000 pesetas. He wanted a move back to Espanyol and Barca was reluctant to approve of the transfer. Even though he managed to convince them for the transfer; in 1922, a yearlong ban from the association for deceiving the tax authorities about the transfer fee resulted in delaying his return. Zamora stayed at Espanyol until 1930, guiding them to win their maiden Copa del Rey title, and also played the first La Liga season in 1929.
In 1930, Zamora’s performance with a broken sternum in an international friendly against England at Estadio Metropolitano de Madrid was enough for Madrid to pick him up for an astounding 150,000 pesetas, of which he personally received an enormous 40,000 pesetas, making him the highest-earning player in Europe of the time. Zamora’s eventual move to Madrid resulted in a downfall with his once admired Barça fans, who suspected him of having allegiance with anti-Catalan institutions.
At Madrid, Zamora partnered with the stopper-backs Ciriaco and Quincoces to form one of the best defenses by conceding just 15 goals from 18 matches in the league and lifted the first LaLiga title with an unbeaten record. The following season Los Blancos signed his compadre and Barca teammate Samitier and retained the league title by conceding only 17 goals. In spite of the disappointments in the league in 1934 and 1936, he guided them to lift the 1936 Copa del Rey trophy by playing a crucial role in the final against Barcelona. It was inarguably one of the best and crucial performances of his career.
The Cup final tie played at Valencia between Barcelona and Madrid was the last competitive match before the Civil war. The match was going into the final minutes with Madrid leading 2-1 and Barca was pressing high and surrounded Zamora alone in the box. After receiving the ball in the final third, an inform Jose Escola who already scored one back, fired the ball hard and low aiming for the inside post. The dry pitch was covered with blinding dust and it was obscuring the view. The crowd was already screaming and started celebrating the goal. When the dust was cleared, Zamora stood there indifferently holding the ball in his hand. A photograph that was taken near the post, the dive he pulled off seconds before the stupendous save remains one of the iconic images of a goalkeeper in the world of football. A photograph that broke the heart and soul of cules.
The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936. Zamora who had a sound relationship with the Franco regiment was captured by the left-wing militia and imprisoned at the Modelo prison. However ABC, a pro-nationalistic paper reported the execution of Zamora and finding his lifeless body in a canal-side in Moncloa district. Nationalistic forces used this as an opportunity to strengthen their propaganda.
Zamora hailed as a gallant victim of the radical left violence. Nationalists were able to exploit the commotion caused by the alleged death of Zamora and in 1934 he was awarded a medal of the Order of the Republic by his namesake by then president of the second Spanish republic, Niceto Zamora. Whilst all this was happening, Zamora was in fact living his life with his regular three-pack cigarettes and cognac in the town of Nice in France. He was partnered with Josep Samitier who fled the country for the same cause, for the third time to play for the local club OG Nice.
Zamora returned to his native in December 1938 to participate in a benefit match between Spain and Real Sociedad, for the Francoist militia. He was later honored by the Franco regiment by the Great Cross of the Order of Cisneros in the 1950s, an evident validation for the great services to the regime. Zamora died in 1978, leaving behind a rather complicated and memorable career. La Liga honoured his majestic contributions by naming the award (Ricardo Zamora Trophy) for the best goalkeeper in the league after him.
“As with so many figures from the dark ages of football, it is difficult to separate the truth from the misty-eyed recollections, but everyone seems to insist that Zamora was the greatest, better than Yashin, Zoff, Banks, Arconada, and any others you care to mention”.Phil Ball | Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football (2003)
He remains one of the most important figures in the history of Barcelona and in Spanish football. He might have left on bad terms, but the Blaugrana still adorns the impact and legacy that Zamora left behind. The golden generation of the 1920s was the foundation that established Barça as one of the best sporting entities in Spanish football. His magnetic presence in front of the goal not only won them trophies but inspired the generations of talents to pursue the keeping role. The times when goalkeepers were overlooked for their contributions and presence on the pitch, It was the ‘the divine one’ sent by the heavens to finally write a new testament for those who guard the goal post.