Paulino Alcantara: Barca's Filipino goal machine who paved the way for Messi

It took Lionel Messi the best part of a decade to knock Paulino Alcantara off his perch as the leading goalscorer in the prestigious history of Barcelona, but it may well be the case that there will never be an ASEAN player who makes such a mark overseas as the Filipino hotshot. 

Even when it comes to Asia as a whole, rivals for Paulino's achievements and standing are thin on the ground.

Hidetoshi Nakata and Park Ji-sung won titles and plaudits in Italy and England respectively early in the 21st century, but Alcantara, who was born in 1896, was making waves in Spain almost a hundred years earlier.

There is no rival to him. He has the ability to score whenever he wants. He scores as naturally as he breathes

It is hard enough to compare the efforts of those Japanese and South Korean icons to their predecessors Yasuhiko Okudera and Cha Bum-keun, who went to Germany in the late 70s.

Looking back two or three generations prior to that reveals dusty articles and murky photos, but with Alcantara, one thing is still crystal clear: his goalscoring record was just phenomenal.

Born in Iloilo province, regarded as beautiful even by people of this stunning archipelago, he moved to Spain with his family – his father was a Spanish military officer – as a young boy.

In 1912, when both he and Barcelona FC were still in their teens, the striker made his debut for the club. The story is that he was discovered by Joan Gamper, the Swiss-born founder of the Blaugrana.

The first game went like a dream as he netted a hat-trick. Had that happened a century later, the headlines would be unimaginable. Alcantara was to go on and score 354 more times throughout a long career.

It wasn't just Spain where he was feared. Not long after making that famous debut, he was heading back home.

In 1917 he helped the Philippines thrash Japan 15-2 in the Far Eastern Championships, a result that remains a record for both nations, for different reasons, until this day.

The Vietnamese star commented recently that he can't put his finger on why the region struggles to produce strikers in the modern era

Yet he also managed to represent Spain and Catalonia and it was for the former where he earned his literal nickname of the 'netbuster'. A shot against France hit the back of the net and just kept going.

Paulino eventually called time on his playing career in 1927 with 357 goals to his name.

Le Hyunh Duc, one of Southeast Asia's greatest strikers, is another blessed with the ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

But even the Vietnamese star commented recently that he can't put his finger on why the region struggles to produce strikers in the modern era.

Alcantara was different.

His coaches at Barcelona certainly thought so. One once said “There is no rival to him. He has the ability to score whenever he wants or we need him to.

Park is one of the most successful of the more recent exports

“He scores as naturally as he breathes.”

The diminutive destroyer stands out with his records.

We are not talking Asian records, but records that only Messi, one of the best players ever in history – some say the best ever – could break.

Modern technology has helped to ensure the striker's story is once again swapped around the islands of his homeland

In ASEAN terms, there is simply no one that has gone to Europe and scored goals consistently. There are very few that have gone to Europe at all.

Yet despite such exploits – and in comparison to every European move of modern South Korean and Japanese stars which are broadcast, discussed and dissected at home – Alcantara's name was in danger of becoming forgotten in his homeland.

Partly because of the fact it was so long ago and so far from home since he shone and partly because of the lack of football culture in the Philippines, only the hardcore knew who the 'netbuster' was and what he did.

That is changing, thankfully. Modern technology has helped to ensure the striker's story is once again swapped around the islands of his homeland, through Southeast Asia and much further afield.

It is deserved.

In terms of Asia's best ever export, that is a never-ending debate. This was a time way before Okudera and Cha had their German adventures.

Only Messi has scored more in those famous stripes

Cha was especially successful, with the South Korean scoring a goal every three games over almost a decade in the Bundesliga.

At that time, Asian players just did not go to Europe.

There were none of the trappings that players enjoy now: internet, varied Asian food even in provincial European supermarkets and restaurants, their games beamed around the world and all the rest. Settling off the pitch really was tough.

It was surely easier for the likes of Park, Nakata and Shinji Kagawa and their exploits are known around the world, as are the trophies they won.

For Alcantara, we can only speculate but going to Europe at a young age and then having Spanish family must have made the transition fairly smooth.

Yet he took punishment on the pitch that the likes of Shinji Okazaki could only have nightmares about.

Defenders did not take kindly to this Asian player scoring goal after goal and his Filipino backside, one that was noted as being useful for getting into position to turn his defenders, was kicked from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Pitches were almost as heavy as the tackles and the tackles were lighter than the balls. It took a special determination to score over 350 goals.

Debate can rage as to who is the best player Asia has sent overseas, but the fact Paulino Alcantara would be part of that conversation – the only player from the region who would – is accolade enough.

Main image: FC Barcelona