When you sit down to consider the amount of footballing talent that has passed through Barcelona over the years, it really is quite something.
Ballon D’Or winners, World Cup winners. The Dutch, Brazilians and Argentinians. Students of the game that changed our outlook on the game. Some truly world class exponents have regularly peppered squads across the decades. In truth, the lure of the Catalan club has always been very seductive and an easy sell.
It’s rich heritage and reputation for attacking and inventive football are just a couple of reasons why some of the best players to have ever graced a football pitch have done so in Blaugrana. To pick a best XI from each of the last six decades is a lot harder than it sounds when you have such a pool of talent to pick from.
With only 11 slots to fill, there will invariably be players that are missing from this list for whom you could make a fairly sound argument to be included.
Let’s see who made the cut…
Ladislao Kubala was widely acknowledged as being the first Barcelona superstar.
The Hungarian enjoyed much success during a golden era in the 1950s but a succession of injuries saw his form begin to wane. Luckily for Barca however, he enjoyed something of a renaissance during the early 1960s to cement his place as one of the greats. FCBarcelona.com described him as having:
“Phenomenal physique, technical ability, extraordinary vision of play and by the fact he was a free kick maestro and a leader on pitch.”
His memory still lives on with a statue erected in his honour directly outside the main entrance to Camp Nou.
Prolific Brazilian Evaristo gets the nod alongside Kubala, a phenomenal 70 goals in 114 appearances cementing his place. Sat just behind on the left side of midfield is the only Spanish player to ever win the Ballon D’Or.
Luis Suarez picking up the honour in 1960 ahead of such greats as Ferenc Puskas, Lev Yashin and Alfredo Di Stefano. Perhaps his defining Barça moment came in 1961. In front of 84,000 baiting Los Blancos supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu, he coolly dispatched an 88th-minute penalty to sneak a draw in the first round (first leg) of the European Cup.
A 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in the return would see Barça knock Real Madrid out of a competition that they had won every year since it’s inception in 1955. Barça fans won’t want reminding that Suarez’s sale came just five days before the 1961 European Cup final, which they lost to Benfica.
Eladio, Julio Cesar Benitez and Gallego were mainstays of the team throughout the 1960s, and they are easy picks. As is Joan Segarra, captain of the Barça of the “Five Cups” during the fifties and still going strong in the next decade.
Another captain, Josep Fuste, spent 10 relatively successful years at the club, a victory over Real Madrid in the Copa De Generalissimo in 1968 a particular highlight of his 197 appearances. Joaquim Rife started as a striker for Barça, but he eventually converted to an attack-minded defender, via a stint in midfield.
A true utility player, Rife amassed 535 appearances, per FCBarcelona.com, at Camp Nou before hanging up his boots and becoming a member of the coaching team. Five-time winner of the Zamora trophy, Antoni Ramallets was one of the best goalkeepers ever to wear the Blaugrana. No other keeper in the era comes close to matching his excellence between the posts.
This decade wasn’t all about Johan Cruyff but it’s entirely fair to say he left his imprint all over Catalonia.
After the Dutchman signed in 1973, he inspired Barcelona to their first La Liga title in 14 years. The part he played in a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, and his “impossible” goal, are still talked about to this day.
The latter was so called because the ball was already well wide of goal and heading out of play until Cruyff managed to swivel in mid air, take the ball at head height with his right foot, stretching as he did so, and guide it into the net. He would, of course, go on to shape Barcelona’s future forever with the “Dream Team,” but Cruyff‘s love affair and influence began well before. Migueli, or Tarzan as he was affectionately known, was the epitome of a “hard as nails” defender. Think Carles Puyol and then some.
In the 1978-79 European Cup Winners Cup Final, he even played part of extra time against Fortuna Dusseldorf with a broken collarbone!
Hans Krankl could genuinely be described as the best Austrian to have ever played football. Barcelona signed him at the height of his powers in 1978 and he certainly repaid their faith with 34 goals in 46 games and a Pichichi trophy in his first season.
Pepe Reina’s dad Miguel was first choice goalkeeper during the early part of the decade and held the record for the amount of minutes without conceding a goal (824), until it was surpassed by Victor Valdes in 2011. In another sign of the Dutch influence around the club at the time, Johan Neeskens joined compatriot Cruyff, and it was only once he was moved to the midfield that Cules really took to him and treated him as one of their own.
Charly Rexach, who would later become instrumental in the signing of Lionel Messi, enjoyed a mixed career at Barcelona.
His good days certainly outweighed the bad and man-of-the-match in the 1978 Copa del Rey final with two goals to boot was as good as it got.
One of the most sensational football stories of the 1980s, perhaps ever, was the kidnap of Barça striker Quini.
After a 6-0 demolition of Hercules on March 1, 1981, Quini was captured at gunpoint and held for 25 days.
Eventually released unharmed, the striker went on to score two goals against previous employers Sporting Gijon in the Copa del Rey Final and secure the cup for Barça. Unfortunately for him, and Barça, the league was beyond them. Coasting toward the title before his capture, the Blaugrana could only manage a single draw and three losses during his absence.
Bernd Schuster in particular was very affected by the situation and, as noted by Gemma Simolo of Inside Spanish Football, he was adamant he would not play in matches until Quini‘s safe return.
His combative nature extended to his own dressing room and a falling out with a succession of managers wasn’t unexpected. For all his faults however, Schuster remained a fantastic competitor and brilliant footballer, often single-handedly dragging Barça through a game.
63 goals from central midfield speaks volumes for a player who should be remembered as one of the best captains of the club. Alongside Quini is the player dubbed “Archigols” by an adoring Camp Nou faithful.
Steve Archibald was signed from Tottenham Hotspur by then Barça manager Terry Venables and 15 goals in his debut season were a chief reason why Barça won their first La Liga title in 11 years.
Injuries curtailed his progress and by the time he reached peak fitness again some 18 months later, UEFA had introduced rulings on the amount of foreign players in a side. Venables had since signed Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes, so Archibald’s time at the club eventually petered out.
One of Barça‘s most successful and well-loved midfielders was Jose Maria Bakero, who joined Barça from Real Sociedad towards the end of the decade in 1988. He was immediately taken to by the supporters who enjoyed his non-stop work ethic and ability to score important goals from midfield.
His most important contribution wouldn’t come until the early 1990s, however, a last gasp goal against Kaiserslautern in the European Cup, allowing the club to continue on the path that would end with success at Wembley. Alexanko too, was the captain of the so called “Dream Team” and had the honour of lifting Barça‘s first ever European Cup in 1992.
By that stage he was 36 years old and had enjoyed a glorious Barcelona career stretching right through the decade after his transfer from Athletic Bilbao in 1980. FCBarcelona.com noted:
He was the typical central defender who transmitted calm to the rest of the team with his intelligent and elegant style of play.
His team-mates began to look to him for leadership and he quickly became team captain.
Gerardo, Sergi and Miguel Soler complete the defensive line up, the latter winning the European Cup Winners Cup in his first season with the club in 1988.
One of the players to best symbolise the La Masia academy system during the decade was Guillermo Amor.
Latterly to become youth football director and “complete the circle,” Amor started in the youth ranks in 1980 and still as a youth team player, replaced Diego Maradona on the day the Miniestadi (Barça B’s stadium) was inaugurated, according to FCBarcelona.com.
The engine of the side eventually settled into a central defensive role but still got forward on occasion to great effect. And so to Diego Armando Maradona. Perhaps a controversial addition to a “best of” squad but how can one of the best players of all time be left off the list? A hepatitis scare at the start of his career in Catalonia was ill-timed, but Maradona was soon into his stride and even had Madrid fans applauding one of his goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.
His short-lived Barça career would come to an end just a 18 months or so after his then world record capture, and the “Butcher of Bilbao” Andoni Goikoetxea would have much to do with it.
In September of 1983, Maradona‘s leg was broken in a vicious and deliberate act for which Goikoetxea would receive a 16-match ban. The Argentine noted, per goalsoul.net:
I hadn’t seen him coming on the pitch or I would have dodged him as I had on so many other occasions with so many other kicks.
But I just felt the impact, heard the sound, like a piece of wood cracking, and realised immediately what had happened.
As fate would have it, the two were in opposition again towards the end of the season but what transpired in the 1984 Copa del Rey final effectively ended Maradona‘s Barça career. Beaten 1-0 by the Basque’s, Maradona went hunting for revenge after the final whistle, and the disgusting fight which followed was witnessed by the King and Spanish Royal family.
Signed for the equivalent of €1.7 million, then a record for a goalkeeper, “Zubi” was consistency personified, missing just four games in six years.