We pick out the greatest footballers to have represented the La Liga giants.
10. Josep Samitier
Many will not have heard of Samitier before, but his pre-war contributions to Barcelona are worthy of recognition. Despite being more of a midfielder than a forward (although it is worth pointing out that on-field positions and formations were very different in the 1920s), Samitier scored 333 goals in 454 appearances for his boyhood club, which helped Barca to 12 Catalan championships, five Copas del Rey and a La Liga title in 1929.
9. Hristo Stoichkov
Widely considered the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all time, Stoichkov is also one of the most talented players to have pulled on a Barcelona shirt – and that is saying something.
The 5ft 10in forward moved to Catalonia from CSKA Sofia in 1990 and immediately hit the ground running, scoring 21 goals in his debut campaign as Barcelona won La Liga. Things got even better for both player and the club the following year: Stoichkov finished second in the FIFA World Player of the Year vote after 22 goals in 43 games, while Johan Cruyff’s side claimed the European Cup as well as the Spanish title.
In total, Stoichkov won eight major honours and found the net on 109 occasions during his time at Barcelona, while he was also awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1994.
8. Johan Cruyff
Arguably the most influential person in the history of the game, Cruyff earned legendary status at Barcelona for his exploits both on the field and in the dugout. He first joined the club in 1973 and won the league a few months later, but the only other medal he earned with the Blaugrana came in the Copa del Rey five years later.
Nevertheless, Cruyff made an impression on Barcelona that extended beyond mere silverware. Together with Rinus Michels, his manager at Ajax who had moved to the Camp Nou two years earlier, Cruyff helped introduce the concept of Total Football to the Catalan outfit.
7. Carles Puyol
Born in nearby La Pobla de Segur, Puyol first joined Barcelona as a teenager in 1995 and would remain there for almost two decades. A rugged and commanding defender, he was referred to as “The Wall” by some Barca fans and, despite being only 5ft 10in, was able to carve out an extremely successful career as a centre-back.
As well as playing a key part in Spain’s success at the European Championship in 2008 and the World Cup two years later, Puyol won six La Liga crowns, three Champions Leagues and two Copas del Rey as a Barcelona employee.
6. Ronald Koeman
Koeman may not have played as many games or won as many trophies for Barcelona as Puyol did, but he just edges him out in this list. Nominally a defender, the Dutchman was so good going forward that he was routinely given the license to join the attack, which is part of the reason why he scored so many goals: a total of 88 for the club, including 19 in both 1989/90 and 1993/94.
His most famous strike came in the European Cup final in 1992, when the current Everton manager converted a free-kick against Sampdoria in extra time. A terrific passer of the ball, Koeman also won four Spanish titles and a Copa del Rey between 1989 and 1995.
It is difficult to know how to judge Ronaldinho, whose star shone extremely brightly but for a relative short period of time. Yet while it is hard not to regret the fact he was unable to sustain his brilliance for longer, it is more appropriate to simply celebrate his astonishing peak.
The Brazilian playmaker scored 94 goals and won two La Liga titles and the Champions League in Catalonia, but such figures do not really do justice to the impact he made. Ronaldinho proved he was one of the most naturally gifted footballers of all time with some stunning performances for Barcelona, most notably when he was given a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2005 after scoring twice in a 3-0 victory over Real Madrid.
4. Andres Iniesta
Iniesta is not quite the player he once was, but the fact the midfielder remains a key cog in the Barcelona machine at the age of 33 is testament to his enduring quality. A consistently creative presence regardless of his position on the pitch, the Spain international has won four Champions Leagues and been crowned a La Liga champion eight times – both of which are joint-club records.
“For me there’s no-one like Iniesta,” Spanish coach Juanma Lillo said in 2011. “He receives, he passes, he interprets, he evaluates the necessities of the team, he is constantly adapting… Messi produces the best moves in the world, but Iniesta is the best player.”
3. Laszlo Kubala
Seven years before Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas rocked up at Real Madrid in 1958, his compatriot Kubala was pulling up trees on the other side of the Clasico divide.
Kubala was a supremely talented second striker who was adept at both scoring goals and setting them up; although assist figures are not available from that era, only two men found the net more often for Barcelona than the former Ferencvaros man, who beat opposition goalkeepers on 194 occasions. During a decade at the club, Kubala won four league titles and five Spanish cups.
2. Xavi Hernandez
As well as being a tremendous footballer, Xavi is the embodiment of a style of play which has brought Barcelona so much success this century. The academy product did not become a first-team fixture until the 2001/02 campaign but went on to make at least 30 league appearances in 12 of the next 14 seasons, evidencing his importance to the cause over a substantial period of time.
A midfield metronome who brought control and structure to Barca’s passing game, Xavi won eight La Liga championships, four Champions Leagues and three Copas del Rey at the Camp Nou, before moving to Al-Sadd in 2015. No-one can match his tally of 767 games for the Blaugrana.
1. Lionel Messi
Messi’s consistent brilliance makes him one of the best footballers to have ever walked the earth and easily the greatest to have represented Barcelona. His 595 outings for the club have brought an astonishing 521 goals, which puts him comfortably above anyone else in the Catalan outfit’s all-time scoring list. An elite passer, dribbler and shooter all rolled into one, the Argentina international has won eight La Liga titles, five Copas del Rey and four Champions Leagues – and he is still just 30 years of age.
“We’d like to be inside Messi’s brain,” Pep Guardiola said earlier this year. “He is a genius, one of the greatest athletes of all time, not just footballers.”
By Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.