Under Frank Rijkaard's leadership, Barcelona (opens in new tab) slowly reasserted themselves in Spain, winning La Liga (opens in new tab) in the 2004/05 season with a team featuring the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, Carles Puyol and Samuel Eto'o.
The attacking verve with which they played and the wealth of talent in the Catalans' squad – with present stalwarts Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi not yet fully fledged members – made them the choice of neutrals, but the questions remained about whether they could translate their promise into actual results in the Champions League (opens in new tab).
Such doubts were put to bed when Barcelona swept to victory in Europe's premier club competition in 2006, overcoming the likes of Chelsea (opens in new tab) and Milan (opens in new tab) to face Arsenal (opens in new tab) in the final in Paris. Arsene Wenger's men took the lead, but the Spanish champions roared back to win 2-1. Eto'o and Juliano Belletti struck in the second half to cancel out Sol Campbell's opener for the 10-man Gunners, therefore writing themselves into the club's history with only their second-ever Champions League success...
Words by Kenneth Ho, Jeremy Lim, Dhaliwal A.S. and Jason Chua
For the best part of 14 years, Valdes enjoyed a standing at Barcelona as the club’s No.1 goalkeeper. During this time, he amassed a large amount of silverware which included six La Liga titles and three Champions League medals.
However, Valdes grew disillusioned with life at Camp Nou. Citing that there was too much pressure playing for the club, he sought a way out in 2014 and decided not to renew his contract.
He subsequently joined Manchester United (opens in new tab) but failed to dislodge David de Gea as first-choice goalkeeper. His time with the Red Devils was seemingly up in 2015, after Valdes refused to participate in a reserve game and was placed on the transfer list by former Barça and current Red Devils’ manager Louis van Gaal.
Yet the former Spain international failed to attract any suitors and instead was sent out on a six-month loan to Standard Liege in early 2016. He still plays for les Rouches and most recently won the Belgian Cup. – KH
Taking over the captaincy from current Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique, and making 593 appearances for Barcelona, one-club man Puyol finally hung up his boots after a long, drawn-out battle with a dodgy right knee.
His shaggy rock star mane suggests he might have looked right at home in the AC/DC lineup, but he is now the proud owner of his own football agency.
After his emotional retirement in 2014, he assisted Barça legend and former director of football Andoni Zubizarreta, but quit the role after the latter was sacked.
Puyol's business partner is 'Little Buddha' Ivan de la Pena, another Barça academy graduate. He probably doesn't need the money and could be sipping sangria soaking up the Spanish sun. Great work ethic, Carles. – JC
Probably the least recognisable member of this squad, the centre-back was known more for his political and philosophical expression than his exploits on the pitch.
An economics graduate who took time off training to complete his exams, Oleguer won two league titles as well as the Champions League with Barça before signing with Ajax in 2008. He ended his career in 2011, when he declared that he'd falled out of love with the game.
A strong purveyor of Catalan nationalist causes, he has written articles and even a book charting Catalonia's claim to independence. His views resulted in a termination of a boot deal with his sponsors and a fellow Spanish player describing him as an equivalent of doggy poo.
Oleguer strikes a chord with the Barça fans, of which a vast majority are Catalan, and is the antithesis to the glamour-seeking modern footballer, preferring a Volkswagen minivan to the commonplace souped-up Audis as his mode of transport.
Last we checked, he was a candidate in the Barcelona municipal elections. – JC
For a player who left his own indelible mark on Barcelona’s second Champions League victory, scoring the winner in the 2006 final that ended the club’s 14-year wait for the trophy, Belletti’s career at Camp Nou ended in comparative obscurity.
Heroically coming off the bench for Oleguer as the Catalans’ final change at Stade de France, he was expertly teed up by fellow substitute Henrik Larsson before placing the ball through Manuel Almunia’s legs.
It was overwhelming emotionally for the right-back who had just scored his first goal for Barcelona, but it failed to set the tone for the remainder of his stint there and he was released when Chelsea came calling a season later.
Belletti’s knack for crucial interventions never deserted him, however, and he retained his penchant for scoring decisive goals for the Blues – many of them spectacular efforts. Nevertheless, the heights of that night in Paris in 2006 were never replicated.
He is presently an ambassador for the Champions League in his home country of Brazil. – JL
Marquez was the first Mexican to win the Champions League, achieved with Barcelona in 2006. The 37-year-old also stands as the only player in history to captain his country in four World Cup campaigns.
Despite his advancing age, the defender is still part of the national team. Marquez is now playing for Mexican side Atlas, the first club he represented in his professional career in 1996.
He also has a charitable organisation known as the Fundacion Rafa Marquez that supports 700 needy children in centres located in Tonala and El Salto, Jalisco and Zamora in Mexico.
The aim of his foundation is to promote social inclusion, values and violence prevention through sports and healthy habits. – DAS
Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Van Bronckhorst could never have imagined where his career would take him, not after he spent three injury-laden years with Arsenal between 2001 and 2003.
However, then-Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard took a chance on him. The former Netherlands international arrived on loan from the Gunners before making his switch permanent in May 2004.
He later returned to childhood club Feyenoord and ended his playing career there, before going into coaching.
Van Bronckhorst served as Feyenoord’s assistant manager from 2011 to 2015 and was given free rein of the club in May 2015, after Fred Rutten chose to relinquish his role as manager at the end of that season. – KH
After watching Iniesta in action at the age of 15, former Barcelona midfielder Pep Guardiola (opens in new tab) once famously told his team-mate Xavi that the youngster would retire them. High praise indeed from a man who left his own mark on the club as a player.
Having made it through the ranks at Camp Nou, Iniesta featured regularly as a substitute in the 2004/05 season.
However, after Xavi tore his knee ligaments at the start of the 2005/06 campaign, Iniesta was asked to fill in the void and has never looked back since.
Iniesta still turns out for Barcelona and has repeatedly stated his desire to end his career there despite regular interest from other clubs. – KH
Mark van Bommel
Before there was Sergio Busquets and Yaya Toure, there was Van Bommel. The Dutch destroyer held down the fort in Barça's midfield, paving the way for Xavi, Iniesta and Deco to weave their creative webs.
Van Bommel's single successful season at Camp Nou would pave the way to a successful career with Bayern Munich, where he won two league and cup doubles, and a Champions League runner-up medal.
After his retirement from the professional game in 2013, Van Bommel worked on his coaching qualifications and eventually became an assistant to his father-in-law and former Dutch national coach, Bert van Marwijk, in the Saudi Arabian national team.
He has since returned to his first club PSV Eindhoven as a youth team coach. – JC
Deco, who was born in Brazil but represented Portugal at international level, has been managing players since retiring in 2013. It came after 17 years of football, where he won the Champions League with Porto (2004) and Barcelona (2006).
He was also the ambassador for Tiger Street Football in 2014 and 2015, giving him the opportunity to travel to different countries in Asia and promote the sport. The former midfielder said the role as an ambassador provided him with the platform to meet people and experience more of the culture on the continent.
Apart from that, the 38-year-old is also the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation ambassador. He has a charitable organisation, Deco Institute, in Brazil.
Deco was the first footballer to receive the UEFA Best Midfielder award with two different clubs. He joined Brazil club Fluminense in 2010 before announcing his retirement three years later due to numerous injuries. – DAS
A quiet contributor in Barcelona’s victorious Double-winning campaign, Edmilson functioned as the team’s crucial pivot in midfield, lending balance to the side to facilitate the attacking tendencies of Deco, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o.
Elevated to the starting 11 given club icon Gabri’s dwindling availability through injury, the lanky Brazilian went about his job regaining and recycling possession for Frank Rijkaard's awesome outfit.
The three-time Ligue 1 and 2002 World Cup winner was named in the starting 11 in the 2006 Champions League Final versus Arsenal, but was the first of three defensive options sacrificed by Rijkaard as they attempted to force the issue after going a goal down.
The now-39-year-old failed to make an impact at any of his subsequent clubs and retirement beckoned. Edmilson presently runs his own football foundation, which has collaborated with Barcelona on several projects. – JL
The period samba master Ronaldinho's reign in Spain and Europe was great, but it couldn’t last long.
A casualty of Pep Guardiola but mastermind of arguably Barcelona’s greatest era, for three years the Brazilian's feats in a Barcelona shirt went unmatched and he became a symbol of Catalan invincibility.
His off-field antics wore down the love affair with even his most ardent supporters, though, and a return to his homeland rekindled what appeared a career squandered away by nightlife antics.
Ronaldinho’s gaffes continued in Brazil but the fantasy of his game returned, which was more than sufficient compensation as he conquered South America with Atletico Mineiro in 2013. Always his own worst enemy, his motivation dwindled upon moving to giants Fluminense after a stint in Mexico and he rescinded his contract with the club.
As of March, the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year was still intent on playing and weighing up moves to the United States and China, according to his brother. – JL
Before playing for Barcelona, Giuly made his name in France’s Ligue 1, firing Monaco to their runners-up place in the Champions League in 2004.
He subsequently moved to Barcelona and made an instant impact as he helped the Catalans to their first league title in six years. Giuly will perhaps look back at the 2006 Champions League Final with regrets, after he was denied a goal as the referee had blown for a foul on his team-mate Samuel Eto’o.
The attacking forward would move on to Roma in Italy in the 2007/08 campaign before making a return to France.
His professional career came to an end in 2013, but he still plays for amateur club Monts d’Or Azergues. Off the pitch, Giuly is making a name for himself in the media industry by working as an analyst for a French broadcaster. – KH
At 35, Eto'o is still going strong and the Cameroon striker, who retired from international football in 2014, now plays for Turkish side Antalyaspor. He joined that team in 2015 after falling out with Italian club Sampdoria.
Eto’o also had a brief stint as interim player-manager with Antalyaspor after the previous coach Yusuf Simsek was sacked last December. He managed the side until Jose Morais was hired as Simsek's permanent replacement the following month.
The ex-Chelsea player managed the club in five matches in which they picked up two wins and two losses, drawing once.
Eto’o, a four-time African Player of the Year, scored a goal in both the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals en route to helping Barcelona to victories. He later achieved a Serie A title with Italian side Inter in 2010. – DAS
Henrik Larsson is managing his third club in Sweden since his semi-retirement in late-2009. The 44-year-old former striker has been with Helsingborgs IF since 2015.
The club finished 8th in the Allsvenskan League in the 2014/15 season and is currently 10th this term.
Although Larsson hasn't won any silverware, he was a proud father as his son, Sweden youth international Jordan, scored three goals last season.
Larsson is best remembered in Barcelona for coming on as a substitute and creating both goals in the 2-1 win over Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League Final.
In 2012, he came out of retirement for a brief spell at Swedish fifth-tier side Raa IF. – DAS
Having joined Barcelona at the age of 13, the club Lionel Messi will leave behind will be very different to the one he joined.
The driving force of the club’s modern ascent and arguably the greatest player the Camp Nou has ever witnessed, the Argentine talisman has been at the forefront of the charge, transforming the Catalans into an undisputed giant of European and world football.
Messi’s fourth Champions League winners’ medal arrived last summer, but the last of two members of the club’s 2006 vintage still plying his trade there begun his love affair with the competition then.
While his maiden European campaign was unfairly overshadowed for his role in getting Asier del Horno sent off in Barcelona’s last-16 clash with Chelsea, the then-teenager still dazzled audiences laying eyes on him for the first time, even if he was unfit for the final against Arsenal.
Even then, very few would have predicted his growth into one of the very best ever to play the game. But five Ballon d’Or victories later, in addition to a wave of success with Barcelona, and it's impossible to ignore Messi’s mark on the club. – JL
The Dutch legend was the coach who plotted Barça's resurrection after several dismal years under a slew of managers, including Louis van Gaal, who had a miserable second stint at the club.
Rijkaard built the team around Ronaldinho, preached an entertaining style of play, gave Lionel Messi his first-team debut and won the Champions League after 14 years.
Despite his success – particularly in his first three seasons at Camp Nou – Rijkaard didn't have it quite so easy during subsequent coaching stints at Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia, both projects ending with him receiving the sack.
After he finished his stint as manager of the latter in 2013, Rijkaard was appointed ambassador and advisor for an American soccer academy. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he co-founded Equihold, a company that developed a player performance tracking software targeted at professional football clubs.
The venture failed to take off, however, and resulted in a big-money lawsuit. Best to stick to football, Frank? – JC
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