An underrated position nowadays, but full of heroes nonetheless. Over the years, Barcelona has been lucky to have great talent under the 3 sticks. Let’s analyse the best Barça goalkeepers in the club’s history.
The goalkeeper position has always been one of the most important in this sport and one of the most underrated too. This is because it can be really controversial among fans. A goalkeeper can do everything well during a season, but a game, or some mistake, can cost these players a reputation. In the same way, a great performance can be enough to consider a goalkeeper as a hero and remember him forever for that save that gave the club a title. Fortunately, at Barcelona there have been highly talented goalkeepers, it hasn’t always been like that, but the vast majority of seasons culés had a brilliant keeper at their disposal. Let’s review the most memorable of them.
Ramallets played more than 500 games with the club in the 14 years he dressed as a blaugrana. Ramallets’ time as a starter also corresponded to a golden age for the Catalans, in which they achieved a multitude of titles. The Cinco Copas (1951–53) and the spell of Helenio Herrera as a coach (1958–60) were to triumphant periods for Barcelona. In addition, Ramallets has the absolute record, along with Víctor Valdés, of Zamora trophies achieved, with a total of five.
Antoni Ramallets, the cat of Maracanã | Photo by Imago
Antoni was a fast goalkeeper, agile and, above all, very clever. He had much more intelligent tactically than what was customary to see in players in this position. But, without a doubt, his best feature was that he could keep his concentration under pressure. He became known as one of the best in the world when he participated in the 1950 World Cup, held in Brazil. It was then that he was baptized with the nicknames El Gato de Maracanã and O guapo goleiro.
Just like any goalkeeper, Ramallets had a mistake that unfortunately led to his retirement. In 1961 Barça played its first final of the European Cup, today known as the Champions League. The azulgranas played against Benfica and lost by 3–2 after a game full of missed chances by the Spanish giants and in which Ramallets scored an own goal. However, he is still considered one of, if not the, best in the club’s history.
After Ramallets retired, the club and fans were concerned that they wouldn’t find a quality successor like their former goalkeeper. Luckily, Salvador Sadurní was the man in charge of keeping the team’s 3 sticks safe. He spent 15 years at the club and, since its beginnings, he earned the trust of fans, as well their affection. He didn’t win as many trophies as his predecessor, but was the hero of the Spanish Cup win in 1968. That final against Real Madrid is known as the Final of the Bottles, with the atmosphere very hostile at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Salvador Sadruní, Ramallets’ successful heir, beating Atlético de Madrid legend Luis Aragonés in a one-on-one | Photo by Imago
Sadurní’s best years as a professional were in his last years as a Barcelona player, where he was contemporary with Cruyff. Between 1973 – the year in which Johan arrived – and 1975, Salvador participated in the mythical 5–0 over Real Madrid, won a league in that period, as well as two Zamora awards in two consecutive seasons for being the goalkeeper with least conceded goals. In total, he won 3 Zamora trophies.
Tactically, his composure allowed him to maintain a great level consistently. He made saves with a high level of difficulty in a truly calm way. In addition, he possessed a good positioning, reflexes, intuition, and security.
He was the goalkeeper of Johan Cruyff’s famous Dream Team. Zubizarreta defended the Barça shirt for 8 years, becoming one of the best goalkeepers of his time. In spite of his undeniable talent, in what he stood out the most was his leadership. Andoni, on and off the field, proved to be a loyal man and a leader who motivated the rest of the team. He kept the group confident and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. Everything that he did was for the collective’s good, as he never cared for flattery and always preferred global success.
In terms of individual awards, Zubi only enjoyed one Zamora award. However, he was the protagonist and one of the reasons why Barcelona managed to win 4 consecutive leagues in the early 90s. In addition, the great performances he had in the club’s first European Cup title in 1992 were memorable, making him one of the best goalkeepers to play for the club.
In spite of being a fairly traditional keeper, Zubizarreta had to adapt to Cruyff’s revolutionary demands on the keepers’ footwork | Photo by Ferdi Hartung via Imago
Unfortunately, the last season of Zubizarreta with the club didn’t have a happy ending or a farewell worthy of a legend of this caliber. After making a masterful season in the 1993/94 and being characterised by the calm he transmitted, he made a mistake when the team needed him most. It was in the Champions League final in 1994 against AC Milan, in which the Italians won by 4–0. Fans attacked and criticised Zubizarreta for the huge errors he made, and it was one of the reasons why Zubi departed. Nonetheless, today we recognise him for his legacy at the club and not for that tragic night.
Here we have a more recent goalkeeper and, above all, better known by the culés. Víctor Valdés. The Spanish goalkeeper was a combination of quality and leadership, something that made him very special. It is true that he had the best defence in the history of Barcelona, with the likes of Puyol, Piqué, Alves, Abidal and Mascherano in front of him. But Valdés’ work is much more than about the protectors he had. When the defensive line had a bad night, Víctor was the hero of those matches with his incredible performances.
As Ramallets, he won 5 Zamoras. In addition, he won 6 leagues and 3 Champions League, making him the most successful goalkeeper in the history of the club. Moreover, Valdés had some brilliant skills: always well-positioned, a successful communication with teammates, agility, security, and an excellent 1v1. Over criticised for his errors, the number 1 still was a monster. The hero of the 2006 Champions League final, and of 2009 too. Without a doubt one of the most underrated players ever for the azulgranas. Unfortunately, Valdés had to leave the club in 2014 due to a knee injury that practically ended his career at Barcelona as he was nearing his retirement. He continued playing a few more years in Belgium and England, but he will always be remembered as a Barça legend.
Marc-André ter Stegen
Marc-André ter Stegen stands out for his professionalism. In his first two years, he accepted a minor role and was patient in achieving the much-deserved starting spot. Almost without question, he is the most talented goalkeeper of all the aforementioned. Perfect in one-on-one situations and with commendable flexibility, he can stop difficult shots thanks to his excellent arm stretch, good reflexes and positioning. It’s in part thanks to him that Barcelona has won the last leagues.
While Ter Stegen does not yet have the longevity of Valdés and Ramallets, it may not take him long to join or even surpass them | Photo by Imago
In his first year, without much experience and at an early age he was a starter during the Champions League campaign. Ter Stegen was key in winning that competition. Safety and cold blood in all the knock-out stages of the tournament, like against Bayern Munich. From that moment, he did something that every player has trouble achieving: earning the trust and love of the reluctant Barcelona’s fans. Perhaps he has not won as many titles as Valdés, who is considered the best goalkeeper in Barça’s history. Nevertheless, with the champions mentality that German Wall has, it is sure that he will win many more important titles as a culé. He’s 28 years old and still has some good years ahead as a professional. Only the titles are missing to get that crown that Valdés has.
Josep Samitier, the artist and hero of Barcelona’s first golden age
Josep Samitier was a surrealist artist on and off the pitch and a legendary midfielder that brought Barcelona its first successful era in the 1920s, as well as some controversy throughout his career.
Surrealism, a deceptive interrogation of reality that transcends the human subconscious to manipulate or alter the coherent understanding of existence. Josep Samitier Vilalta, or “L’home llagosta” (The lobster man) was the most surreal portrait in the history of FC Barcelona. He was called the ‘surrealista’, because his genius produced the illusions on the pitch that were perplexing to fathom as reality.
History is constructed up on the interdependency of figures and events. Samitier was one of those figures who created a rift in the annals of world football to produce the first reverberation of football in the streets of Barcelona. The footballing revolution in Catalonia peaked in the early 1920s, especially in Barcelona, as it was the beginning of the first golden age.
With the construction of the Les Corts stadium, the club assembled a group of talented, young players. Josep Samitier, along with Paulino Alcántara, Ricardo Zamora, Emili Sagi-Barba, Vicenç Piera and Agustín Sancho became the first generation of the club idols. Samitier, among others, was an integral part of Barcelona’s rebuilding of character and went on to become one of the most significant personalities both in terms of sporting and cultural relevance.
Samitier was born on 2nd February 1902 in a Catalan working-class family. As a young boy in the streets of Barcelona where the roads of passion and dreams lead to the grant Les Corts, ‘El Sami’ would kick the ball around waving at the passing commons.
After the club’s establishment, FC Barcelona had quite an attachment with the proletarian class. Especially at the time of industrial unrest, the institution always kept them close and the stadium was always packed with the same working-class populace. Young minds like Samitier who would grow up in the streets of Barcelona always had the ball on their feet and club in their heart.
Samitier started playing for FC Internacional before making his debut for Barcelona at the age of 17 in 1919. The club museum still preserves and cherishes his signing bonuses, a shimmering watch and a three-piece suit. By 1925, Samitier became the highest-paid player at the club and thus became the highest-earning player in the country.
The division of labour was evident in the early years of European football. Whilst the backline remained static to protect the goal, the forward line had to pick and fight the battle on their own. Samitier was among the key figures who created a paradigm shift from this prevailing ‘Basque style’, where the attackers held the sole responsibility to win the ball and navigate their own way to find a goal. Samitier was among the first players to orchestrate the game from the back. He was like a master of the opera performance where he controlled and navigated the rhythm and flow of the game.
Josep Samitier (middle), alongside teammates Emili Sagi-Barba (left) and Vicenç Piera (right) from the successful Barcelona team of the 1920s | Photo by FC Barcelona
Samitier was an exceptional player who could manipulate the ball like a wizard, and he dribbled the ball around the pitch like a ballet dancer. He was the first midfielder general in the history of Spanish football, whose role was the hybrid between a Pivote (central midfielder) and the Leñero (chopper) or sweeper. Samitier was the harbinger of the modern-day box-to-box role. Despite being positioned in a deep-lying role, Samitier was an outstanding goalscorer. It was rather unusual for a midfielder of that time to score an astonishing 184 goals for any club in Europe.
Even though Barcelona was graced with many prolific players, Samitier was the core of the magnificent Barça team of the 1920s. He would hack the ball from the opposition to carry the ball from the midfield to provide a line-breaking pass in the final third. His glorious days at Les Corts were filled with thrilling langosta (lobster) kicks which would eventually evolve into the modern ‘chilena’ or bicycle-kick. Samitier was an entertainer on the pitch. His ostentatious performance attracted the Catalans into the stadium.
His glittering thirteen years in a blaugrana shirt were decorated with 11 Catalan Championships, 5 Spanish Championships and the first Spanish league that began in 1928. Moreover, his time with Barça was embellished with title-winning goals in the Copa del Rey finals of 1922, 1925, 1926 and 1928.
Pepe Samitier’s momentous career at Barcelona transformed him from a sporting figure to a cultural icon in Catalan society. His reputation at the club produced a strong political outline for himself among the intellectuals in the society. It was an unprecedented period in the socio-cultural scenario of Europe. The entrée of subjective art and understanding by Salvador Dalí, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh among other artistic prominence overtook the existing concepts of impressionism and naturalism.
Samitier aligned with surrealism, indulging the spirit of subjectivity. He reflected this both in the game and in his outside loyalties. His acquaintances mostly consist of radical artists and political figures of the time, including the tango maestro Carlos Gardel, Mauricio Chevalier, Salvador Dalí and, in contrast to his idol figure in Catalonia, he also had a close relationship with the dictator Franco.
In 1933, after a dramatic feud with the Barcelona management, an ageing El Sami dropped from the first team. Real Madrid, then called Madrid CF, took advantage of this dispute and were able to convince him to join the club. However, it was his secret allegiance with General Franco that helped Madrid to accomplish the operation.
Even though his short stint at Madrid wasn’t really celebrated, Samitier did guide them to win the La Liga title in 1932/33 and the Copa de España in 1934. But he played a significant role for Madrid, not as a player but as a super-agent in a decade-defining transfer of Alfredo Di Stéfano, whose intended destination was Barcelona. This signing was the inflexion point for Madrid in the 1960s, as Di Stéfano would go on to score 216 goals and play an important role in their European domination. Although Samitier’s allegiance with General Franco was visible, this transfer saga threw the relationship open into society.
Real Madrid’s signing of Alfredo Di Stéfano (right) changed Real Madrid’s history forever | Photo by Staff / AFP via Getty Images
Before the Spanish civil war burst out in 1936, Samitier spent a brief time in managing Atlético de Madrid, succeeding Fred Pentland in the middle of the season, but failed to keep them in the first division. Nonetheless, the season was scrapped as soon as the civil war started and Samitier, who had strong ties with the nationalist side, found himself blacklisted and arrested by the anarchist militia.
Eventually, he was released by the militia and fled to France. His exile to France was later utilized by the Franco regiment to spread the anti-communist propaganda by portraying this event in a film titled ‘The Stars Search for Peace’, where Samitier enacted himself. During his time in France, Samitier joined OGC Nice as a player, where he would unite with his old teammate Zamora. He went onto score 47 goals in 82 matches. In 1939, he retired as a footballer and briefly managed OGC Nice in 1942.
After two years and 8 months, the civil war ended and the nationalists alliance under General Franco demolished the second Spanish republic to establish the new Spanish state. Josep Samitier returned to Spain in 1944, and he took charge of Barcelona. His homecoming was celebrated as he guided Barcelona to win their second-ever La Liga title in 1945 and lifted the Copa de Oro Argentina by beating the Copa del Generalísimo winners Athletic Club de Bilbao.
Subsequently, Samitier became the chief scout of the club and his keen vision in recognising the talent resulted in the discovery and recruitment of Ladislao Kubala, a player who went on to become a legend at Barcelona. The recruitment of Kubala was the status redemption for Samitier, who had lost its shine after the Di Stéfano transfer saga.
In 1972, Samitier rested his soul and left his showmanship and sorcery to cherish in the memories of Catalans. Despite serving Madrid and his close relationship with General Franco, he was given an honourable state funeral as a Catalan hero. Samitier was the most symbolic player in the history of the club. His close affiliation with both the cultural and sporting context of Barcelona formed an irrevocable stature of him in the Catalan society.
Samitier, as a footballing visionary, is a reference to the modern-day midfielders and, on the other hand, he was an imperative cultural icon who embraced a revolutionary socio-cultural movement in his life. Samitier’s journey from being an ambitious boy in the streets of Barcelona to a footballing legend remains one of the inspiring and reviving narrative in the history of the game. Even today, walking down the Josep Samitier Street, one could still gather an enigmatic chanting celebrating the greatest artist in the history of Barcelona.