Barca v Real: Top 10 legends of the Camp Nou
In anticipation of Sunday’s ‘El Clasico’ showdown between Barcelona and Real Madrid, The Sport Review counts down the 10 greatest-ever players to have dazzled in Barcelona’s famous navy and claret striped shirt.
10. Luis Enrique (1996-2004) – In a move that shocked the country, Luis Enrique ran down a five-year contract at Real Madrid to move to Barca on a free transfer. Despite past allegiances, he won the hearts of the Cules (Barca fans) and went on to captain the side. During his spell at Barca, he won three La Liga titles, including a back-to-back triumph, three Copa del Rey trophies, and the Cup Winners’ Cup – scoring 109 goals in 300 appearances. He was voted by Pele as one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers at a FIFA ceremony in 2004.
9. Michael Laudrup (1989-94) – The great Dane was voted as the best foreign player in Spain over the last 25 years in 1999 after winning an incredible four successive La Liga titles and a European Cup under Johan Cruyff before his infamous move to Real Madrid where he won a fifth straight title. Laudrup was regarded by many as the most technically-gifted players of all time and was renowned for his skill and elegance. His almost telepathic link-up play with Hristo Stoichkov was considered to be the main factor behind a period of unprecedented glory for the Catalan club.
8. Rivaldo (1997-2002) – Considered as one of the finest playmakers in the modern history of the game, Rivaldo won both World and European Player of the Year while wearing Barca colours in 1999. The honours came during a period that saw the Catalan club clinch a La Liga double and a Copa del Rey triumph. He was also named by Pele as one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers in 2004. The Brazilian of exuberant talent scored an impressive 130 goals in 235 appearances on either the left flank or in the hole behind the strikers and was the talisman for the 2002 World Cup-winning Brazil side.
7. Romario (1993-95) – Only the second player to have achieved the phenomenal feat of scoring 1000 career goals, standing alongside arguably the greatest footballer of all time – Pele. He was awarded the title of World Player of the Year and won the Golden Ball as he led Brazil to World Cup success at USA ’94 while he was on Barca’s books. The prolific striker notched 53 goals in 84 games – hitting 30 in just 33 matches to finish 93-94’s La Liga-winning campaign as top scorer – before returning to Brazil with Flamengo. He has also received the honour of being selected among FIFA’s 125 Greatest Living Footballers in 2004.
6. Ronald Koeman (1989-95) – An imperious centre-half during his time at Barca, Koeman is renowned for his rocket of a right foot and has scored a number of spectacular goals, notably from free-kicks, including the winner in the 1992 European Cup final. He is another of the mesmeric ‘Dream Team’ that secured four straight La Liga titles and has an extraordinary record of netting 85 times in 264 appearances from the back.
5. Hristo Stoichkov (1990-95) – The prodigious Bulgarian was noted for his explosive style on the pitch and was regarded as one of history’s greatest dead-ball specialists – firing home an array of outrageous free-kicks. He was an integral member of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ that claimed four successive La Liga titles and the European Cup in 1992. Stoichkov enjoyed a sensational 1994, winning European Footballer of the Year and jointly-won the Golden Boot at USA 1994 as he led his nation past Germany into the semi-finals. He returned to the Camp Nou in 1998 after a season at Parma to claim an astounding fifth title in navy and claret. The fans’ favourite is another in the long list of former Barca players to have been named in FIFA’s 125 Greatest Living Footballers in 2004.
4. Ronaldinho (2003-08) – Widely regarded as the most gifted footballer of his generation, the flamboyant and unique Ronaldinho recaptured the imagination of world football after joining the Catalan club from Paris Saint-Germain. He won his first La Liga title in 2004 and, in the same year, was named World Footballer of the Year. The list of individual honours the silky Brazilian received is extensive and includes a second World Footballer of the Year and European Footballer of the Year in 2005 following Barca’s second successive La Liga title and a European Cup win. During that campaign, Barcelona defeated Real 3-0 in the Bernabeu with Ronaldinho scoring twice, resulting in him being given a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of Real fans as he left the field – a feat to be marvelled at given the intense rivalry.
3. Johan Cruyff (1973-78) – Now known as the Godfather of Barcelona, Cruyff enjoyed greater success as coach of the club but did lead them to a first La Liga triumph in 14 years, defeating Real Madrid 5-0 along the way, after joining as a player in 1973. He endeared himself to the fans by snubbing a move to Madrid after stating that he could not play for a club tied to Dictator Francisco Franco. He was voted European Player of the Year twice while in navy and claret and three times in total which is a record matched only by Michel Platini and Marco van Basten. Widely regarded as one of the best footballers of all time, the Dutchman who invented the ‘Cruyff Turn’ was elected as European Footballer of the Century and finished second to Pele as World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History. He was to go on to assemble the ‘Dream Team’ as coach in the 90s and lay the foundations of the football philosophy that the club adopt with great success to this day.
2. Ladislao Kubala (1950-61) – Voted by fans during Barca’s centenary celebrations as the best player to ever have played for the club in 1999, Kubala scored an awe-inspiring 196 goals in 256 appearances. He is another former Barca player regarded as one of history’s finest dead- ball specialists and was also noted for his speed, power and composure in front of goal. During his first season, the Hungarian forward bagged 26 goals in 19 games in what was to be one of the club’s most successful seasons until last year’s treble-winning side. Barca clinched five trophies, including La Liga title, Copa del Generalisimo, Latin Cup, and Copa Eva Duarte. Tuberculosis threatened to end his playing career in the following year, however he made a miraculous recovery to return and help Barca to La Liga and Copa del Generalisimo success – scoring in the final. He went on to inspire the club to two more La Liga titles, three more Copa del Generalisimo trophies, and three other domestic cup successes.
1. Diego Maradona (1982-84) – Considered to have been arguably the greatest footballer of all time; he finished first in an internet vote for the FIFA Player of the Century award of which he shared with Brazilian legend Pele. It would be impossible to conclude any other of the gifted players that went before and came after the diminutive Argentine as the greatest- ever player to wear the famous claret and navy shirt. After arriving in 1982, Barca and Maradona won the Copa del Rey, beating Real Madrid along the way, and triumphed in the Spanish Super Cup. A bout of hepatitis and then a broken leg, suffered after an ill-timed tackle, jeopardized his career. The Skilful forward possessed a gift of colossal proportion but failed to showcase the best of his talents during a difficult tenure at Barca following frequent disputes with directors that culminated in a demand for a move away from the Camp Nou. Despite the troubled spell, Maradona scored 34 goals in 52 games for the club.