Is there any club in the world that has seen more legendary players than FC Barcelona? Only a handful can even come close. A club with so much history of competitive football is bound to see its share of legends come and play for the club, and Barcelona’s list is one of the longest. Yet, despite this long and rich history, some people argue that the best version of the team to have ever existed is the one on the pitch today. For a team that’s been around since 1899, that’s saying something.
Like any club, there have also been a fair share of failed signings. Any player that passes through Barcelona will be skilled, that’s a given, but whether he’ll fit in to the special mindset of the Barcelona way is a different matter completely. We’ve seen some of the most world class players not have success in Barcelona, and that’s because their style of play is unique and difficult to master. For one reason or another, even some elite talents can’t adjust to the Barcelona way.
Enough talk, here are the ten best and ten worst players to ever play for Barcelona. While some of these ‘worst’ players were talented, we’re only considering their time at Barcelona for this list.
20. Best – Michael Laudrup
Michael Laudrup is a now retired Danish footballer that had a stint at Barcelona as a member of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”. He won nine trophies with the Club including four straight La Liga titles. In an unprecedented move in 1994, he moved to Spanish rivals Real Madrid, where he would win his fifth title in a row.
Laudrup was capable of playing anywhere although he was most often used as an attacking midfielder, known for his incredible pace and his effectiveness on the ball. Laudrup had initially made his move to Barcelona after a difficult season with Juventus, and he immediately bought in to Johan Cruyff’s philosophy, finding great success under his leadership and pushing to becoming the Barca legend he is today.
19. Worst – Javier Saviola
Saviola, since retired, is a former a Argentine footballer that played for FC Barcelona, much like his countryman Lionel Messi, although not nearly as good. The Argentine was a highly regarded player at his young age although his career never lived up to the potential. But in 2001, at age 19, he moved to Barca from River Plate on a £15 million transfer. He would stay with FC Barcelona until 2007, when he would sign for their league rivals Real Madrid.
Saviola found success in his first year at the Club but the rest were a bit of a struggle. Frank Riijkard became Barcelona manager at the start of the 2003-04 season, and unfortunately Saviola was not deemed good enough to be part of his ultimate plans, and he would be loaned for the following two seasons to return for one last season with the club in 2006.
18. Best – Luis Suarez
Nicknamed “El Pistolero” since joining Barcelona in the summer of 2014, Suarez has been great for Barcelona. Playing striker alongside Lionel Messi to his right and Neymar Jr. to his right, the trio has been one of the deadliest in football history. In just his second season with the club, Suarez would help Barcelona achieve the Treble in the 2014-15 season, scoring a most important goal in the Champions League Final over Juventus. He’s also scored a game-winner during an El Classico, automatically making him a fan favorite.
To sum up, Luis Suarez is a critical player for his team, perhaps the most critical striker in football today. His run with Barcelona also includes two consecutive matches scoring four goals, and he also became only the second player in Club history to score over 35 goals in a single season.
17. Worst – Alfonso Perez
Now long retired, Alfonso Perez is a former striker for Spain who played mostly for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid over the course of his career. FC Barcelona signed the striker at the beginning of the 2000-01 campaign, hoping he could bring success to the club and net some goals with his above average heading ability. He was 28 at the time and had experience playing football in La Liga with Real Madrid and Betis, and had found success with those two teams.
In Barcelona however, Alfonso had a hard time adjusting to the Camp Nou, and would only score two goals for the club over the course of the first season. Barcelona would then loan him to Marseille in the French Ligue hoping the Spaniard would regain his form, but that was unsuccessful as well. He would then be loaned out to Betis the following year and they ended up signing him at the end of the season, ending his stint with Barcelona.
16. Best – Neymar Jr.
An integral part of the MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar) phenomenon is Neymar Jr., the young, talented Brazilian who was one of Barcelona’s biggest ever signings. He was transferred in the summer of 2013 from Brazilian side Santos for a €86.2 million. Since then, Neymar has developed into one of the best players in the world and was even shortlisted for best player in the world on a list including only Messi and Ronaldo. At just 24 years old, Neymar is on pace to have more goals than Messi and Ronaldo if he keeps it up.
This is good to know for Barcelona, who know they’ll have the class of Neymar for years to come considering how the rest of Barca’s core is considerably older. Neymar’s style is truly unique in modern football today, and I’m sure he’ll continue to shine in a Barcelona uniform for years to come.
15. Worst – Alexander Hleb
Alexander Hleb is a center attacking midfielder who, at age 35, still plays professional football for the club Bate Borisov. Earlier in his career, when Hleb was in his prime at 27 years old, he joined Barcelona from Arsenal for €15 million on a four-year contract. Although Hleb had been a very popular figure at Arsenal under coach Arsene Wenger, so much so that Arsenal fans even invented a song for him to the tune of Johnnie Allan’s Rubber Dolly, “Alexander Hleb, Alexander Hleb, He’s good at football, Alexander Hleb”.
His success at Arsenal didn’t transfer to Barcelona, where Hleb had a hard time fitting in on and off the pitch. After signing in 2008, he would only make five appearances until March 2009. After just a year, Hleb was fed up, and was quoted saying “I am right in the best years of my career and I do not want to spend those years on bench. Bayern Munich is a special club, their interest in me is a delightful honor. Bayern is among the best teams in the world.” His next few years would be on loan after that, until the team parted mutually during the 2012 transfer window.
14. Carlos Puyol
Perhaps the best captain in club history and one of the hardest defenders to get through, Carles Puyol is a Barcelona man thick and thin. He played his entire career with the Catalan Club and is widely considered the best defender of his generation. For Barcelona, the Spaniard appeared in 593 official games and has 21 official titles with the club, notably six La Liga trophies and three Champions League titles. Ironically he had taken the captaincy from current coach Luis Enrique and would have it until he too retired.
Commonly referred to as “The Wall”, Puyol was praised for being one of the strongest, most rugged defenders, who never got injured because of his thick physique. Putting all of his talent and achievements aside, it’s his passion for the club that makes him one of the team’s biggest legends. It’s not often you see a player stay with the same team for his entire career.
13. Worst – Dmytro Chygrynskiy
Dmytro Chygrynskiy was one of Barcelona’s worst signings in the history of the football club. The Ukranian centre back still plays football to this day with Greek side AEK Athens FC. Chygrynskiy, who mostly resembles a man mountain that would be scary to try and get by to say the least, made waves as a defender when he first started playing with club Shakhtar Donetsk. He would play with the club unti 2009, when after long negotiations between Barcelona and Shakhtar Donetsk, he was signed for a fee of €25 million. He would sign for five years.
Unfortunately for Chygrynskiy and for Barcelona, the defender fared very poorly in his first season, playing just 12 games and scoring zero times, with poor performances defensively. Barcelona decided they had enough, and he was sent back to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2005 for a €15 million fee, meaning Donestsk made the easiest €10 million ever by simply selling and rebuying the same player a year later.
12. Best – Ronaldo Luiz Nazario
The second of three Brazilians on this list, Ronaldo is another sensation to have played for the Catalan Club. Nicknamed “El Phenomeno” because of how good he was, Ronaldo, in his prime, was particularly known for his amazing dribbling while at full speed, but most importantly his clinical finishing. As a pure striker, there was truly no one better. He was originally brought into Barcelona in 1996 for what was then a record-signing fee of €19.5 million.
He only played one season for Barcelona, scoring 47 goals in that span before being transferred to Inter Milan. Ronaldo was truly at his physical peak in Barcelona, and you can see it in the types of goals he scored; he would often run around the goalkeeper and just slot it in. Whether we’ll see someone so good play striker for Barcelona again remains to be seen, although Suarez is definitely giving him a run for his money.
11. Worst – Marc Overmars
In another questionable transfer from Arsenal, Barcelona decided to pay a €25 million fee to sign to be able to sign Marc Overmars. The move didn’t seem too bad at the time considering the fact that Overmars had been quite successful at Arsenal, and had been praised for his speed and skill down the wing. In the year 2000, after the Dutchman was kicked out of Euro 2000, there was speculation that Barcelona were interested in the winger even though Arsenal had started talks to re-sign him. Unfortunately for Overmars, the thought of playing for a world class team like Barca was too much to handle and he would sign with Barcelona.
He would stay with Barcelona for four years although featured very rarely on the first team, scoring only 15 goals for the club. He was rumored to be leaving the club due to his limited role although he kept telling the media he was happy as long as the team won. Injuries and a persistent knee problem also really hindered his success with the club.
10. Best – Andres Iniesta
We move on to Andres Iniesta, an integral midfielder in all of the success Barca has found in recent seasons. Iniesta has been with Barcelona for his entire career and currently serves as the team’s captain. A maestro in the midfield, Iniesta has been the prime beneficiary of Messi’s talents, assisting the bulk of his goals during his career. However, Iniesta is so fluid in the midfield that it’s said that it’s Messi that actually benefits from Iniesta’s genius.
Iniesta originally started as a defensive midfielder at Barca’s La Masia, but his inventiveness on the ball as well as his raw skill so him transition to an attacking midfielder much like his countryman Cesc Fabregas. And what a good idea it was, considering how deadly and precise Iniesta can be in the final third on the pitch.
9. Worst – Douglas Pereira dos Santos
Commonly referred to as simply Douglas, the Brazillian footballer is still a member of FC Barcelona, although he recently agreed to a deal to go on loan for La Liga side Sporting Gijon. He had officially joined the club in 2014 from Sao Paulo, for a €4 million fee. He made his debut on September 24 and was booked early. He would be heavily criticized for that performance, and was demoted to third string right back behind Dani Alves and Martin Montoya.
He only made three appearances for Barcelona before being shipped out on loan, so whether or not he’ll get another opportunity to play with the legendary club remains to be seen, although it really doesn’t look good for the defender from Brazil.
8. Best – Diego Maradona
The world of soccer has come to know Maradona as one of the greats, up there with Brazilian legend Pele, Messi, and Ronaldo when people discuss who the best player in the world was. However, I’m sure a lot of fans don’t know that Maradona was transferred to Barcelona for what was then a record signing fee of £5 million. He spent two seasons at the club, and his exit was eventful to say the least.
With Barca, Maradona would be successful and would even become the first ever Barcelona player to be applauded by fans at the Santiago Bernabeu. His last game came at the end of the 1983-84 season in the Copa Del Rey final, that ended in a massive brawl with over 60 people getting injured, and Maradona being right in the thick of things. Consequently, that would be his last match for Barcelona.
7. Worst – Thomas Vermaelen
We move on to the 30-year-old central defender from Belgium, Thomas Vermaelen. Currently playing (although not much) for FC Barcelona in Spain’s top league, Vermaelen had the most success in his career during his years with Arsenal. For five years, he played defense with Arsenal. He scored in his debut, and was even affectionately nicknamed “The Verminator” by the fans. However, consecutive horrid performances in his last games with the Gunners meant he would lose the starting role at Arsenal.
He therefore opted for a move to Barcelona, where he already knew his role would be a more limited one, with Pique and Mascherano being the ultimate starters in his position. However, he’s been plagued with injury since coming to the Catalan football club, and it doesn’t look like a very promising end to Vermaelen’s career. He is currently on loan at Roma.
6. Best – Ronaldinho
Another genius of football is Ronaldinho, the prolific Brazilian that played some of his best football in a Barcelona uniform. He’s technically with the club to this day, as he recently signed with them as an ambassador in September of 2016. As a player with the club, he achieved the highest honors, receiving the Ballon D’Or in consecutive years, winning La Liga twice, and the Champions League. Ronaldinho first joined the club in a €30 million, outbidding Manchester United for the young wonder from Brazil.
Ronaldinho was also spectacular with Brazil for a few years, winning the World Cup in 2002 in South Korea when they edged Germany in the final, Ronaldinho playing an integral part in the entire tournament. To this day, many may even tell you that he was better than Ronaldo and Messi, that he had a certain X-factor, similar to Messi’s perhaps. There aren’t many people that can do what he did, and football will be forever grateful.
5. Worst – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic has proven over the course of his career what a world class striker he is. He’s won at almost every level and has played with some of the best football teams in the world, including FC Barcelona. Ibrahimovic was originally brought in from Inter for Samuel Eto’o and a reported fee of £59 million. What could go wrong after you sign one of the best players in the world right?
For Pep Guardiola, who was manager of Barcelona at the time, Zlatan didn’t fit into his style of play at all. Zlatan was used to being to focal point at the teams he played for, and in Barcelona that was always going to be Messi’s role. Zlatan had a hard time adjusting to that to say the least. Also, under a Pep style of play where everybody puts in their fair share defensively, Zlatan was simply not. He was even quoted saying this about himself and Guardiona: “You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat.” Their relationship deteriorated quite a bit, and Zlatan’s time at the club was limited to a single season.
4. Best – Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff was a legend of the game who won the Ballon D’Or three times during his career. Where to start with Cruyff. What he’s most known for is perhaps being the face of philosophy of football called Total Football, a distinct style of football in which one player is never really in a distinct role. His style of football has been inspring players and managers for decades. What Cruyff brought to the sport is truly priceless.
His time at Barcelona was one of legend, as a player and as a coach. He would stay with the club as a player from 1973-78, and then returned as one of their most successful managers in 1988. He wasn’t successful because of the titles and trophes he brought in, but because of the philosophy and the style of football that is still unique to Barcelona to this day.
3. Worst – Emmanuel Petit
Emmanuel Petit had joined Arsenal in the same package that included Marc Overmars, and ironically, Petit was just as ineffective, another transfer from Arsenal that fared badly for Barcelona. Petit had originally joined Arsenal in 1997 and had formed a formidable defensive pairing with legend Patrick Vieira. They formed a defensive midfield partnership that found immediate success, and the Frenchmen won the double with Arsenal in Petit’s first season.
He was then sent to Barcelona, where he failed to find the same success as in Arsenal. Due to rash of injuries, he never managed to settle in and hold down a regular place in the squad. Interstingly enough, in Petit’s biography, he included a special chapter on Barcelona, in which he confessed that coach Llorenç Serra Ferrer didn’t even know what position he played when he joined the team. He spent one season with the Club before signing with Chelsea.
2. Best – Lionel Messi
The best player in Barcelona history, and in the world right now, is Lionel Messi. The five-time Ballon D’Or legend is a Barcelona man thick and thin, having moved to Barcelona back in the year 2000 at only twelve years old. It was quite unusual for a foreigner to be signed by a big club at such a young age, but to show their commitment to Messi’s greatness, first team director Charly Rexach wanted to sign him so badly that he offered him a contract on a paper napkin. It was the beginning of the legend that is Messi at the Catalan Club. The rest, as they say, is history.
The five-time Ballon D’Or winner is mesmerizing to watch and has been condoned by soccer’s greats as being the best footballer to bless the game. He has an astounding 524 goals for club and country, the record holder in both categories. He’s won every competition of note expect internationally, the only victories missing that would make the undisputed best.
1. Worst – Keirrison
Keirrison is widely regarded as being one of the club’s absolute worst signings. The Brazilian striker was transferred from Brazilian club Palmeiras for a £14 million fee. The 20-year-old at the time had been absolutely thrilled to join a club like Barcelona, eagerly telling the website that he hoped to one-day crack in to Guardiola’s starting 11. Unfortunately that never happened as Pep quickly announced that Keirrison would be loaned to Benfica to get accustomed to European football.
He unfortunately never dressed for Barcelona, spending all his years at the club not actually being with the Club at all but on loan. His contract with Barcelona was terminated in 2014 and he agreed to a contract with Brazilian side Coritiba. Not the best investment.
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