Best Barcelona XI of the 21st century
115 years of football throughout Catalonia have produced some of the greatest ever players that football has ever seen, from world cup winners to South American magicians, Barcelona Football Club is one of the greats in world football. From the hundreds of players to embrace the maroon and blue jersey of this iconic club, I will try and establish the best ever 11 players to represent the Catalans on the football pitch over the last 14 seasons.
This will be a selection of the best players in each position who I feel made the greatest contributions towards the team, in recent years, when they played for Barca and not just their playing career in general. Obviously there is a massive pool to choose from, as the club have had a prolonged spell of success over the last 14 years of football. Rijkaard and Guardiola, fantastic Barcelona midfielders turned managers, have led the Catalan side to one its best eras yet; winning 4 La Liga titles in 5 years under Guardiola, as well as two UEFA Champions League trophies.
Starting off in the net, there is only one man in between the posts since the new millennium, and that man is Victor Valdes. He has spent his whole professional career at Barcelona, and a triumphant 12 years at the club culminated in 21 major honours in his time. He may not have been the best ever Barcelona goalkeeper to grace the pitch, but he was a solid player who made very little mistakes.
Moving on to the back three, yes, only three due to the number of creative players that will have to be fitted into this side. The first centre back, a born leader and a master of his trade through his 15 year tenor he spent at the club, is Carlos Puyol. He played 593 times for Barca in all competitions, and won 6 different major trophies with the club. Any aerial battle would be won by Puyol, he was a ruthless defender and a fantastic leader through Barcelona’s glorious years in the 2000s.
In the middle, one of the greatest defenders to be produced from the Netherlands, Frank De Boer. Although he had a short tenor at the club in the 2000s, it was a very successful time. The De Boer brothers of Frank and Ronald signed for the club in January 99’ for £22million combined. Barca went on to win the La Liga title that year, and Frank De Boer finished up with 215 appearances for the club, scoring 14 goals in all competitions.
The last of the three is a great companion of Puyol’s, a man who came back to the Nou Camp after a spell in England, in Gerard Pique. After Barcelona re-signed him in 2008 for £5million, he became a starting centre-back for the club in one of their most successful periods. Born in the city, Pique had signed his first professional contract at Manchester United after playing in Barcelona’s youth teams.
After returning, Pique has played a lot of games for the Catalan club, 281 to be exact, while picking up 15 major honours in what is now his 7th season in the first team. The best of which being the treble winning 08-09 season, in which Barca defeated Pique’s old club Manchester United to win the Champions League in Rome.
Onto midfield, and it has to start with the playmaker and the pacemaker, Xavi. The ‘master’ came through the famous Barcelona academy, La Masia, at the age of 11 and has played for them ever since. He has made an astounding 741 appearances for the club, as of 26th December 2014, in which he has lifted 7 La Liga titles and won 3 Champions League medals. He is an iconic figure of Barcelona’s tiki-taka style under Guardiola, and passes the ball like no other.
Next to Xavi, I have placed his manager for that period, ‘Pep’ Guardiola. Although he only played one season after the new millennia, Guardiola was a key figure in the nineties and a fantastic ball-playing midfielder. He also managed the team through one of the best periods in the late 2000s, and did it while ensuring Barcelona played the most attractive football in the worldwide game. He was an incredible midfield maestro, who played 479 games in 12 seasons for the Blaugrana, where he won 12 trophies.
On the left hand side of midfield, a team-mate of Xavi’s under Guardiola, Andres Iniesta. A tricky little Spaniard, Iniesta came through Barca’s youth academy, La Masia. He made his first team debut in 2002, and has become a first team regular since the 04-05 season. He was a vital part of the successful team in 2009, who were the first side to win six trophies in one season, an incredible feat.
So far, Iniesta has played 523 times, scoring 52 goals in total. He often drifts into pockets of space without the opposition knowing, providing a lot of assists for his teammates. He is an exciting midfielder to watch in modern football.
Just behind the front three, I have placed Rivaldo, the Brazilian attacking midfielder who had a fantastic goal scoring record. After moving to the club in 97’ for $26million, he excelled at his first season with the club, scoring 19 goals in 34 matches and finishing as the second highest goal scorer. In the 2000-01 season, Rivaldo finished the season with a hat-trick against Valencia, which is renowned as one of the greatest ever hat-tricks.
After scoring a trademark free-kick and a strike from 25 yards out, the Brazilian was then able to complete the scoring with a bicycle kick from the edge of the area in the last minute, ensuring Barcelona won the game 3-2. He made 235 appearances and scored 130 goals, an incredible record for an incredible player.
The front three was a very difficult choice due to the number of fantastic attacking players Barcelona have had over the years. I will start on the left, with one of the most skilful players of the last decade, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho. Moving to the Catalan club in 2003 for a reported €30million, he was an exciting investment from Paris St. Germain.
His first season was hampered by injury, but once he returned he managed to lift Barca from 12th to 2nd, scoring 15 La Liga goals in the process. He was named FIFA World Player of the Year at the end of 2004, and also at the end of 2005, becoming only the third player to have won the award more than once. Barcelona teammate Eidur Gudjohnsen described his flair on the pitch perfectly by saying,
“When you play with him and see what he does with a ball, nothing surprises me anymore. One of these days he will make the ball talk.”
He was a total wizard with his feet, and danced around players with incredible ease. He had fantastic success with Barcelona, winning 5 major trophies with the club and picking up a large number of individual awards. He played a total of 207 times in all competitions, scoring 94 goals in what was a magnificent 5 years at the club.
The spearhead of the attack will be the first and only African in the side, Samuel Eto’o. The man from Cameroon enjoyed 5 successful seasons with the Blaugrana, winning a host of major trophies. He is a very quick forward who could finish the large majority of chances that he was supplied with. Although he started with Barca’s greatest rivals, Real Madrid, the Cameroonian barely featured as he was loaned out during his time there.
After having a successful time at Mallorca, Barcelona bought him in the summer of 2004 for €24million. In his second season, he narrowly beat Valencia’s David Villa to win the top goal scorer in La Liga with 26 goals. He won the La Liga title three times, and the Champions League twice, finishing with 129 goals in 201 appearances in all competitions. He was a perfect fit in the Catalan’s side, with all the creative talent he could put the ball into the net with great ease and was an integral part in their success.
One man to complete the side, Lionel Messi. Arguably the greatest player ever to grace the football pitch, he has won almost everything both individually and with Barcelona.
The 4 time Ballon d’Or winner started his football in Argentina, moving to Spain at the age of 11. After watching him play, Barcelona’s sporting director, Carlos Rexach offered him his first contract on a napkin with no paper at hand. What a decision that turned out to be. Rijkaard gave Messi his league debut at 17, and later on that season he was the youngest player ever to score in a Barca shirt in La Liga.
The figures speak for themselves in his career and he has broken nearly every record there is to break. He is the highest ever Barcelona scorer with 374 goals in official competitions, as well as the all-time La Liga top scorer, all-time Champions League top scorer and he also has the most hat tricks in La Liga with an incredible 21.
For Barcelona, he has won 21 major honours during his time with the club, and has been compared to Maradona in his style of play. He has been leading the line at Barca for a number of years in which he has been a magnificent forward and great servant for the Catalans.
A marvellous player during a fantastic era for the side completes the 11. Barcelona have seen many great players over the last 14 seasons, who have played in some of the most successful years for one of Spain’s greatest football clubs.