As La Liga’s return approaches, let’s have a bit of fun by configuring the best Barça team with recent transfers, but with a limited budget of 200 million euros.
Barcelona have always been big spenders. Even in La Masía’s best years, big-name stars have signed for the blaugranas and have dominated Europe. Recently, the spending has become excessive, and lesser-known players have signed for astronomical fees.
This line-up consists of the best value-for-money players considering their transfer fees when they signed for the culés. Of course, the La Masía graduates who have spent all their careers at the Camp Nou do not count. That means no Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández or Lionel Messi. To be able to make a reasonable eleven, we have set a limit of 200 million euros, with the fees of their transfers being taken from Transfermarkt. Also, to keep the values relevant, all signings were made in the 21st century.
Marc-André Ter Stegen | €12 million
Succeeding a club legend is always a hard task, but to be able to reproduce what Víctor Valdés did for Barça is one of the toughest jobs ever. Marc-André ter Stegen was a bright youngster at Borussia Mönchengladbach before signing for the Catalans in 2014. Bought for 12 million euros, the German took one step at a time before becoming one of the best keepers in the world. For Barça, no one would be more fitting than the German. His outstanding footwork, along with his superb saves, make him one of the best sweeper-keepers in the world and talks of him signing a new contract shortly has delighted the culés.
Dani Alves | €30 million
Dani Alves is arguably the best right-back of all time and undoubtedly Barcelona’s best ever. The attacking full-back’s connection with players like Lionel Messi made him look like a La Masía graduate, and the attacking threat he posed did wonders for Barça’s golden era. A competent defender, his ability in attack, dribbling and inventiveness helped his team win many games and dominate in the final third. Also, his weapon of a right foot traumatised many keepers, even Iker Casillas.
Already one of the best right-backs in the world at Sevilla, at Barcelona Dani Alves would become the best one in history | Cristina Quicler / AFP via Getty Images
Gerard Piqué | €5 million
When Pep Guardiola was assembling his team in 2008, he needed a centre-back. The former midfielder opted for an inexperienced ex-culé defender in Gerard Piqué. Piqué’s Manchester United career was over after a few games according to Wayne Rooney as he was deemed not good enough by coach Sir Alex Ferguson. However, it did not scare Pep, as he spent 5 million euros to bring Piqué back to Barcelona. The defender has since become a mainstay in the azulgrana eleven and has excelled for more than a decade at the Camp Nou. A bargain.
❛ Bolton away more or less finished Gerard Piqué’s career at United. He was young and got bullied there, and I think that’s when Fergie [Sir Alex Ferguson] decided that, physically, he wasn’t right for the Premier League ❜
Éric Abidal | €15 million
Éric Abidal is another legendary addition to this side. The defender left his native France in 2007, and although he had a quiet first year at Barça, he excelled for the Catalans as a left-back and could play at centre-back too, if needed. After Pep Guardiola came, Abidal developed his game and left Barcelona as one of the greats, even with all his health struggles. Abidal, like a true warrior, never gave up after a setback and recovered from cancer to lift the Champions League title just a few months later.
Jordi Alba | €14 million
Much like Piqué, Jordi Alba decided to leave his boyhood club early before coming back for a great stint. After starring for Valencia and Spain at the 2012 European Championships, Jordi Alba drew interest from Barcelona. They snapped him up for 14 million euros in 2012, and the left-back has gone from strength to strength ever since. His understanding with Messi is, at times, unstoppable and he hasn’t stopped being a threat in attack, even if sometimes he’s not efficient enough. In this team and alongside these players, Alba would add some pace offensively and would cause all kinds of trouble on his left side.
Seydou Keita | €14 million
They don’t make them like this anymore. Seydou Keita was perhaps one of Pep’s favourite players ever. The Malian international came with Dani Alves from Sevilla in 2008 for a considerably lower fee. The perfect impact sub, Keita never complained about his playing time or anything else and in his four years at the Camp Nou he managed to rack up more than 100 league appearances. A tireless midfield machine, the Malian always sacrificed himself through his commendable work rate while his passing and shooting ability was incredible as well. The way he broke pressing lines was admirable and spending €14 million on a player like this was a steal.
Yaya Touré | €9 million
Yaya Touré is one of the modern generation’s best box-to-box midfielders. Deployed even as a centre-back at Barcelona, Yaya could play further up the pitch and destroyed the Premier League with Manchester City. At Barça, he replaced Carles Puyol perfectly in the 2009 Champions League final and then left Catalonia. At City, he was the king of the Premier League. One of the few brilliant midfielders to score 20 goals in a single campaign, he lifted the Citizens to a league title against a fierce Liverpool side. For only 9 million euros, signing Touré would bolster the midfield massively.
Ronaldinho | €32.25 million
It would be blasphemous not to include Ronaldinho Gaúcho in this eleven. The Brazilian is the line-up’s most expensive player, and he’s worth every penny. Coach Luis Fernández benched the attacking midfielder at Paris Saint-Germain, and a few years later, Ronaldinho signed for Barcelona. Already a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, in which he scored an incredible free-kick chip against England’s David Seaman, he cemented his place as one of his country’s best when he later destroyed the Spanish La Liga and conquered Europe.
After his time at PSG, Ronaldinho would go on to change Barcelona’s history and dynamics with his signing in 2003 | Photo by Imago
He’s also one of the few Barça players to receive a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabéu against fierce rivals Real Madrid. His skills that day made him look like a god, and he reached his peak that year. A Ballon d’Or winner in 2005, the Brazilian will always stay in the culés‘ minds as one of the best to ever play for them.
Juan Román Riquelme | €10 million
Juan Román Riquelme is another elegant midfielder, but he did not achieve half of what Ronaldinho did with Barça. Nevertheless, the Argentine’s delicate style of play made him a fond character for neutral fans and his price tag of 10 million euros makes him a very cheap option. Besides, his achievements with Villarreal were impressive, and he deserved the plaudits he received while playing for the Yellow Submarine. An Argentina regular, he starred for them for several years as he was named the Argentine footballer of the year on four separate occasions. An excellent addition to a team to add flair alongside Ronaldinho.
Thierry Henry | €24 million
Thierry Henry is Arsenal’s best player ever, but the Frenchman also made it with Barça. Bought for 24 million after several impressive campaigns for the Gunners in the Premier League, Thierry was an excellent centre-forward and winger at a team that was dominating the game. Titi is one of the few players to have won it all with his teams, other than the Ballon d’Or.
Furthermore, he proved his worth in the French national team as he was part of Raymond Domenech’s set-up at the 2006 World Cup, in which he scored against Brazil. Henry is one of the greatest players in the 21st century, and his addition to this squad was needed.
Samuel Eto’o | €27 million
Samuel Eto’o undoubtedly is one of the best strikers to ever play for Barcelona. Few players have achieved what the Cameroonian has at club level in terms of goal, trophies and playing style. The only player to win two trebles in a row, Samuel Eto’o was of the main men of the two teams he dominated with.
❛ I love him as a coach, but not as a person ❜
on Pep Guardiola
At Barça, he formed an outstanding partnership with Leo Messi and Thierry Henry and scored 36 goals in the historic 2008/09 treble season for a manager he disliked in Pep Guardiola. Swapped for Zlatan Ibrahimović in 2009, Samuel Eto’o showed Pep what he was missing as he destroyed the Serie A with Inter and beat Barcelona in the semi-finals to win the Champions League in 2010. All that playing while for Pep’s arch-nemesis in José Mourinho. For €27 million, Eto’o deserves to complete this squad.
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.