"Barcelona had history and culture, the coast, the weather, all wrapped around a wonderful football club that was the spiritual headquarters of a nation," Sir Bobby Robson said of the side he managed in the 1996/97 season.
Robson was right. Catalonia's unique blend of art and passion has come to be represented at Camp Nou. 'Mes Que Un Club' – "more than a club" – is painted on the stadium's seats and it's more than just hyperbole. This is not just a football team but an institution. So let's run through the greatest-ever half-century…
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50. Yaya Toure
It's strange to associate the Manchester City legend with any other team these days, isn't it? But long before birthday cakes and Etihad screamers, the Ivorian was a schemer in the Barca midfield for Pep Guardiola, even slotting in at the back for the 2009 Champions League final. Barca never saw the heights he'd scale – but he was still magnificent for them.
He signed for 275m pesetas and Abelardo became an unlikely backbone in two league titles and two European trophies. His positional supremacy was unbelievable, seeing out the Cruyff years at the back before he was hampered with injuries. he left in 2002 for Alaves.
48. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
A man who claims he doesn't particularly like football, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has been one of the best and most under-appreciated goalkeepers throughout his time in Catalonia. The German has been a pillar of reliability through Barcelona's financial crisis and looks like a building block of the Xavi era. He'll no doubt go down as a great when he leaves.
47. Giovanni van Bronckhorst
He's more talked about as Rangers manager these days – and who knows whether he'll face his former side in the Europa League – but Gio van Bronckhorst was one of the most underrated full-backs of a generation. Winning the Champions League at the expense of former side Arsenal was his highlight in 2006.
46. Gary Lineker
Crisp flogger extraordinaire and the thorn in Alan Shearer's side during FA Cup matches on the BBC, Gary Lineker is still well-loved by Barcelona fans. He arrived after a World Cup in 1986 that he'd scooped the Golden Boot at – partly because English sides were banned from Europe – and scored 21 in his first season, the high point being a hat-trick in the Clasico. Linksy won win the Copa del Rey in 1988 and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1989, before Johan Cruyff's penchant for playing him out right forced him to come back to Blighty.
45. Javier Mascherano
Javier Mascherano is not the most famous Argentinian to wear the Blaugrana colours – but he's one of the most important ones. A conventional Argentinian no.5 at Liverpool, the tenacious tackler adapted to become an excellent central defender and was a mainstay of the Barcelona side that swept all before them in the 2010s.
44. Lilian Thuram
One of the most intelligent and celebrated defenders of a lifetime, Lilian Thuram didn't even play 60 games for Barcelona. His displays were imperious at the back for the club, however, injecting a touch of class that he brought over from Serie A.
43. Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal turns 40 today! 🎉Just two months before the 2011 Champions League final, he underwent surgery to remove a tumour in his liver...He would go on to play the full match, and was given the honour of wearing the captain's armband for the trophy lift 🏆🙌 pic.twitter.com/VgpoCEQZH2September 11, 2019
Even Maxwell arriving from Inter Milan couldn't force Eric Abidal out of the Barca team under Guardiola. The Frenchman was a player you could set your watch by and was adored by fans and teammates alike: perhaps best surmised when Carles Puyol let him lift the Champions League trophy at Wembley in 2011, following a liver tumour and transplant. A fitting gesture for a fantastic servant.
42. Rafael Marquez
One of the longest-serving international footballers of all time, Barcelona got the best of Rafael Marquez, who started out as a centre-back before being moved into midfield and back again. Marquez was the last Frank Rijkaard signing to stay at the club into the Guardiola years, winning four LaLiga titles and two Champions League trophies in his time in Catalonia.
41. Jordi Alba
It's plainly obvious at Euro 2012: Barcelona had made a mistake. Somehow, Jordi Alba slipped the La Masia net to end up at Valencia – but the left-back has returned to his home city to play over 400 times for the club who let him go as a youngster. One of the most consistent, energetic and dangerous left-backs of all time, Alba has been a key component to Barca's success over the past 10 years.
40. Johan Neeskens
Dutch master Johan Neeskens is one of his country's favourite sons. He may have only won two cups in his five years in Spain – but he's a firm favourite with Barca fans, too. Johan Cruyff's right-hand man, Neeskens was always available wherever he needed to be with his positional sense and versatility hugely valuable to Barca. It's just a shame he wasn't there for the glory years.
39. Paulino Alcantara
Born in the Philippines, Paulino Alcantara is the youngest player to either play or score for the Catalan outfit. With 369 goals in 357 matches – a record that stood for almost a century, it's fair to call him the Messi of his day: every youngster through La Masia has had to match up to his excellence.
38. Hristo Stoichkov
He may have spent two months on the sideline during his first season for stamping on a ref's foot, but Hristo Stoichkov more than made up for lost time. The Bulgarian became the jewel of the Dream Team, helping Barca to four LaLiga titles and being the most fearsome forward in the first European Cup triumph. In 1994, he won the Ballon d'Or and World Cup Golden Boot.
37. Victor Valdes
🥳 Happy birthday, three-time winner Víctor Valdés! 2⃣0⃣0⃣6⃣🏆2⃣0⃣0⃣9⃣🏆2⃣0⃣1⃣1⃣🏆#UCL | #HBD | @FCBarcelona pic.twitter.com/Ifv4e2kQwKJanuary 14, 2021
The brick wall at the heart of Pep Guardiola's first (and arguably greatest) team. Victor Valdes may not have achieved quite what he should have at international level – owing to Iker Casillas keeping goal for Spain – but Valdes was supreme for Barca, playing nearly 400 times, winning six titles and three Champions Leagues.
Migueli – nicknamed Tarzan – played for Barcelona for almost two decades: there at the start of Johan Cruyff joining the club as a player and retiring when his former teammate took charge of the side. He would bully strikers and was a favourite with Cules, playing for the side almost 550 times.
35. Patrick Kluivert
It was Louis van Gaal, Kluivert's old Ajax coach, who brought his fellow Dutchman to Barcelona. The striker hit the ground running with 16 goals in his first season as Barca retained LaLiga and managed almost a strike every other game by the time he left for Newcastle, hitting 124 in 249.
34. Ivan Rakitic
While Luka Modric is the more celebrated of the two Croatian midfield geniuses, Ivan Rakitic is one of the simply one of the best in his position of his era. Stepping into Xavi's shoes, Rakitic was the cool antithesis to Andres Iniesta's passionate runs from midfield, always measuring passes with precision and knowing exactly where he needed to be. Four titles, four Copa Del Reys and a Champions League title is some haul.
33. Sandor Kocsis
Sandor Kocsis may have achieved more in his native Hungary with Honved but his arrival at Barcelona in 1958 was the introduction of a superstar. He scored on his debut, won back-to-back LaLiga titles during Real Madrid's Hollywood era and was desperately unlucky not to win the European Cup in 1961. After retiring, Kocsis opened a restaurant in the city.
32. Thierry Henry
G⚽️AL OF THE DAY🔥 The clásico is almost here😏 Henry pic.twitter.com/l4iCYMNullMarch 18, 2022
Lionel Messi said he dared not look Thierry Henry in the eye, knowing what the Frenchman had achieved in his career already. Barcelona helped Henry complete the set – the Champions League was the only major title that had eluded him at club or international level – and in a left-wing berth, he was reborn as one of a deadly front three with Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. Barca never saw the best of Henry: but even what they did see was excellent.
31. Josep Escola
A striker so technically proficient that he was known as 'The Professor', Josep Escola was Barca through and through. Escola managed an astounding 236 goals in 310 games in Barca colours in two spells and later coached youth teams. Three league titles and three Catalan Championships have his name all over them.
26. Gheorghe Hagi
"Romario said to me, ‘the keeper's way off his line. Have a go,’ so I did.”Barcelona's Gheorghe Hagi scores the greatest goal you can't quite see (1994) pic.twitter.com/E3g9H4HNbUApril 17, 2020
Gheorghe Hagi could score goals that even Gheorghe Hagi couldn't score. The Romanian is the greatest player ever from his nation and dazzled Catalans with silky touch and incredible power in his shots. In just two seasons at the Camp Nou, he lit up the turf with his genius.
He never had David Villa's pace, Lionel Messi's vision or Andres Iniesta's dribbling ability – but considering what he didn't have, Pedro gave so much to Barcelona. A workhorse of a forward, a brilliant presser and a man for the big moments, Pedro was loved by supporters for his work ethic and his ability to chip in with the vital contribution.
28. Carles Rexach
Carles Rexach spent 44 years at Barcelona. Breaking through in the mid-1960s, he was there for the Cruyff years, scoring important goals and finishing off his Dutch teammate's idyllic balls. A one-club man, he bled the Blaugrana colours and is one of the most important figures in the institution's history, on and off the field.
27. David Villa
If replacing Samuel Eto'o was a difficult task, David Villa didn't make it look so. The super striker had pace, a velvet touch and the eye for a goal – but most importantly for Pep Guardiola, he was unselfish enough to work for the team and share the limelight. He might just be the archetypal Barcelona striker, even now.
26. Evaristo de Macedo
Evaristo de Macedo scored five goals in a 9-0 win over Colombia, which earned him his move to Barcelona. In an iconic front three with Laszlo Kubala and Luis Suarez, he became the first hat-trick scorer at the Camp Nou and scored the winning goal to stop Real Madrid winning their sixth European Cup. Rivaldo is the only Brazilian to have scored more goals – and even so, Evaristo's goals may well be a little more celebrated.
🔙 1994Há 26 anos, @RomarioOnze dava show no #ElClásico marcando 3 gols.Um deles, esse antológico... 🇧🇷💫 pic.twitter.com/KKxNLC8To4January 8, 2020
Hristo Stoichkov made sure he wasn't late to training after late-night parties – and Barca fans are very glad he did. Romario is simply one of the greatest footballers of all time – Cruyff called him the best he'd ever coached – and with 30 goals in 33 games during his first season, he showed the world he was one of the best strikers in the world. His highlights included nutmegging Peter Schmeichel, scoring a hat-trick against Real Madrid and being named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1994: if anything, he was robbed of winning more trophies at Barca.
24. Luis Suarez
Barcelona was a rehabilitating move for Luis Suarez, who'd been banished to the naughty step by FIFA following his infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini. While in Catalonia, though, the Uruguayan became the best striker on Earth and more than repaid the faith in him. Four league titles and a Champions League trophy were punctuated by 147 goals in 191 games.
23. Dani Alves
A beautiful Iniesta pass found Dani Alves to score #OnThisDay in 2011 😍#UCL pic.twitter.com/OvrK8IvxHPApril 6, 2019
It was a Brazilian right-back, Juliano Belletti that scored the winning goal in the 2006 Champions League final for Barcelona: but this one was a different gravy. Dani Alves reinvented the position with an incredible engine, vision and defensive nous, helping make Barca's righthand side one of the greatest in the history of the game. And if he wasn't already adored, he certainly was when he came back during a much more difficult time for his glorious second coming this year.
The most expensive player of all time hasn't lived up to his Barca heights since leaving for Paris Saint-Germain – and that's saying something, considering he has 61 goals in 84 Ligue 1 games. Neymar was electric in Catalonia, with a combination of creativity and incision that's god-given. 105 goals from 186 is no measly return, especially considering the two players he shared that iconic front three with.
21. Luis Suarez
The other one. The Spanish Luis Suarez was the first Barcelona Ballon d'Or winner, pipping Real Madrid superstar Ferenc Puskas and one of the most exciting stars in one of Barca's most celebrated teams. Two titles, two Copas and two Fairs Cups made it a return of a trophy every season during his stay in Catalonia before a big-money move to Inter Milan.
20. Josep Samitier
He was nicknamed 'The Surrealist' but Jose Samitier's record of 184 goals in 13 years set the tone for an entire football club in black and white. Playing between World Wars, Samitier reinvented the position of a midfield general and is still the fifth-highest Barca scorer ever. The star of Englishman Jack Greenwell's side, he later coached and scouted for the club.
19. Pep Guardiola
If this was a list of Barcelona managers, there would be no one above Pep Guardiola – as it is, he was a blooming good footballer, too. The deep-lying playmaker was Johan Cruyff's brain on the pitch, leading the Blaugrana with intelligence and bite. He was strong, his passing was excellent and even back then, he was a leader quite unlike anyone else. He was a fulcrum in the Barca side that won the 1992 European Cup, too.
🇧🇷 Rivaldo with an all-time great against Valencia. 🚲 pic.twitter.com/ixkm4Nls7LDecember 19, 2020
Sir Bobby Robson persuaded Barcelona to sign Rivaldo ahead of Steve McManaman, who ended up on the other side of El Clasico – and what a stroke of genius that was. 19 goals in his first season, 24 in his second and a Ballon d'Or, however, all pale into insignificance, with his hat-trick against Valencia – sealed with a 20-yard bicycle kick – seared into the memory of all who saw it.
17. Gerard Pique
At his peak, he may well be the most talented defender of all time. The rock at the heart of everything brilliant that Barcelona have achieved, Gerard Pique cemented his place in Barca hearts with a pay cut during the hard time, too. Strong, vocal, a brilliant passer and a taker of a great selfie, there are few centre-backs quite like him.
16. Luis Enrique
Cules were cautious of Luis Enrique for daring to defect from Real Madrid. In his eight years in Catalonia, however, he managed to play in virtually every position, captain the side and even celebrated wildly when he netted in the Clasico. Enrique was a player of deftness and intensity in equal part, managing to fulfil a coach's wishes whatever the scenario, winning two titles, two Copas and a Cup Winners Cup.
15. Laszlo Kubala
A master at finding the net: from anywhere at all. Laszlo Kubala was cool, calm and could dribble his way through any defence, turning Barcelona into a world force alongside fellow Hungarian refugees, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor. His record of 131 goals in 186 league games would be incredible even these days: he helped set the bar for Barca stars that would follow his path.
14. Andoni Zubizarreta
Andoni Zubizarreta only missed four matches in as many LaLiga title wins and was between the sticks for the Catalans' maiden European Cup win. It summed Zubi up: he was never one for the spectacular, finding himself in the right position to make saves more often than not. He had an air of composure that few could match and with over 400 appearances in goal for Barcelona, he's still one of the best signings they ever made.
Ronaldo was only at Barcelona for a season: it just happened to be the most spectacular single season at a club that anyone had ever seen. The Brazilian struck 47 in 49 games of Barca's treble-winning season, with his absence contributing to the club not lifting four trophies that campaign under Bobby Robson. Not even a stint at Real Madrid later on could erase the memories: the most amazing of which being his sumptuous solo goal against Compostela (opens in new tab). Even Robson was bewildered.
12. Carles Puyol
Mr Barcelona? It seems strange to attribute such a title to a no-nonsense defender, given the club's adoration for ball-players – but if the cap fits…
Carles Puyol was incredibly commanding for his 5'10 stature, leading several Barca defences to glory. He was pacy, aggressive and had almost robotic concentration at the back. In 682 appearances, he won six titles and three Champions League trophies.
11. Sergio Busquets
Andres Iniesta and Xavi were flashier, for sure, but Sergio Busquets might well be the greatest defensive midfielder of all time. The La Masia graduate has come to define Guardiola's 'Pivote' no.6, with vision, physicality and brilliance at breaking up play that arguably no one has ever matched. He's been integral for every title and cup he's been a part of and 700 appearances later, he's perhaps as underrated as he ever has been.
10. Michael Laudrup
Michael Laudrup joined Barcelona because he adored Johan Cruyff when he growing up. The Dane would become one of the most exciting footballers on Earth under his hero's tutelage – before falling out with him and completing a controversial move to Real Madrid.
But that shouldn't take away from the fact that Laudrup was one of the most elegant and effortless footballers of a generation in any position that he played. He was one of the most technically gifted of the Dream Team, with vision, speed and passing that was on a different plain to so many of his contemporaries. Without him, Cruyff's side would maybe still have won four LaLigas, the European Cup and plaudits from all corners – but it would've felt a little emptier: like it was missing one of its most influential artist's strokes from its canvas.
9. Cesar Rodriguez
Cesar Rodriguez was perhaps Barcelona's very first superstar. He managed reach double-figures in goals in 11 seasons and whether he was helping keep the team in the league or leading them to titles, he was vital.
A key member of the side that won five trophies in 1951/52, he managed to help drag Barca from the bottom to the top too, like no other player has done since: and reports say he dazzled, with an ability to score corners and a prolific touch that no one had ever seen in Catalonia. 232 goals in 351 appearances makes him one of the greatest to ever do it in Blaugrana colours.
8. Ronald Koeman
He's maybe underrated, simply for his poor stint as manager but it's hard to imagine Barcelona in its modern form without Ronald Koeman.
And not just because the Dutchman scored their first-ever European Cup win. A sweeper with unbelievable vision and incredible shooting from distance, Koeman is the top-scoring defender in world football with 90 goals in all competitions at Barca. He added style to Cruyff's team after signing from PSV and is quite simply one of the most outstanding all-round footballers to ever play.
7. Samuel Eto'o
Samuel Eto'o was the complete striker. So few could be so deft on the ball, so intense off of it. And he was utterly perfect for Pep Guardiola: he helped inform the direction that the Catalan would go in with his attack.
Widely considered the greatest African footballer ever, Eto'o had put Barca on his back long before Pep arrived, guiding them to the 2006 Champions League final and being the consistent spark of brilliance through the darker periods. He was an integral member of the front three he formed with Messi and Henry, too, showing the selflessness and intelligence to give the other two space when needed.
6. Diego Maradona
He's arguably the greatest footballer of all time. He's worshipped at Boca Juniors and Napoli. But though Diego Maradona trashed the Camp Nou trophy room, got in fisticuffs with opposing players and didn't live up to his majestic heights at Barcelona, he's still one of the most otherworldly presences to ever grace their team.
In just two years at Barca, he created moments to become mythologised: becoming the first player ever applauded by Real fans in a Clasico, reducing training sessions to the rest of the team standing and watching him and winning three cups in 1983. Maradona ensured that Barcelona was a place for the truly spectacular. His return of 38 goals in 58 Barca games isn't quite testament to quite how much genius he sewed in Spanish football.
On this day, 2005:Ronaldinho scored *that* goal against Chelsea 🤯An all-time classic 💥 pic.twitter.com/nsCO6AszM6March 8, 2019
The showman Ronaldinho was the last of the Three R's to light up the Camp Nou. He did it quite unlike the other two.
A £21m signing from PSG, Ronnie was expected to inject a bit of fun back into the Barca side – and though he was always there for a flick, a trick, a back-heel or even a hip wiggle (prior to that goal againt Chelsea), his output was hugely underrated. This wasn't just a performing seal from the Nike ads.
Ronaldinho became one of the best playmakers on Earth during his time in Catalonia, leading Barca to their first Champions League trophy in 14 years in Paris and scooping a Ballon d'Or for good measure. He is still as adored now as he was back then.
4. Johan Cruyff
Pundits, analysts and football nerds fawn over the Dream Team, the diamond midfield and Johan Cruyff's contribution to coaching so much that they sometimes forget just how much of a genius he was on the pitch.
It's similar to how the Cruyff Turn is replayed at every World Cup – yet the flying backheel (opens in new tab) he scored to meet a cross with against Atletico Madrid is perhaps the greatest goal you've never seen. And the Dutchman was full of these moments. He had vision, versatility, guile, passing ability and the eye for something that no one had ever witnessed: he was quite simply one of a kind and the marriage of football's greatest artist with a city of such culture was a match made in heaven.
Were it not for his on-pitch exploits, the history of Barcelona would look very different indeed. Johan Cruyff changed football – and the Camp Nou was blessed to be his stage for so many of his most wonderful moments. Just two trophies in his playing days there don't do justice to quite what a force he was.
3. Andres Iniesta
"He has masterminded some of football's finest heists, but his fingerprints are rarely found at the scene," author Musa Okwonga once said of Andres Iniesta. It's the perfect description of a man who scored fewer goals at club level than John Terry.
The Spaniard first made himself known to European audiences by coming on in the 2006 Champions League final and changing the game. His directness, dribbling, touch and movement has become legendary, with mentor Pep Guardiola assessing that "his mastery of the relationship between space and time," is second to none.
Because though Iniesta was rarely the full stop at the end of the move, he was everything that Cules hold dear. He was beautiful to watch, looked after the ball like his life depended on it and played the game with such grace that he made it look like ballet. Plenty have tried to replicate him: none ever truly will.
Xavi might well be La Masia's proudest product: the complete midfielder in its considerably cultured image. A metronome of the game who was schooled in the Barcelona way from the age of 11 and stood on top of the world to represent the club.
Giving the ball to Xavi was basically a cheat code: he would unlock any defence with a feint, a shoulder drop and the most perfectly measured pass. His vision has become legendary that the fact that he so rarely relinquished possession has almost become underrated. Quite simply, he always put the ball in a better place than the place he received it.
Jorge Valdano once said that "If football was a science, Xavi would have discovered the formula." There may never be a footballer with quite such a combination of intelligence, delicacy and awareness. He is the very model of everything the club aspire to.
1. Lionel Messi
The numbers of his career have to be seen to be believed. 672 goals in 778 appearances for Barcelona. 228 assists on top of that. 10 domestic titles, four Champions Leagues, seven Ballon d'Ors, six European Golden Shoes and eight hat-tricks in Europe (a joint record with you know who).
We often talk of Messi's achievements through pure numbers – and perhaps that's how he sees the game, crunching the angles as he glides through defenders. But it doesn't do justice to the magic that he's given to Barca fans along the way. The last-minute Clasico goal in which he held his shirt aloft at the Camp Nou. Putting Jerome Boateng on his backside. The Getafe goal. The move to false nine. The 2011 Champions League final performance. The countless moments he did something that no one else could.
And that's just a few. He's not only Barcelona's greatest player ever, he's the most talented person to ever lace up their football boots, having changed the game one shoulder drop at a time.
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