There can be no doubt that Barcelona are one of the world’s biggest football clubs. The Catalan giants have won all there is to win in the game. And so with that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the club have featured some legendary captains. Barcelona’s current captain is their talismanic Argentine forward Lionel Messi. The multi-time Ballon d’Or winner took the armband when Andres Iniesta departed the club in 2018.
However, while Messi has been arguably the club’s greatest player, he has a way to go before he can be recognised as Barcelona’s best captain.
Here are the 5 greatest captains in Barcelona history.
#5 Jose Ramon Alexanko
Modern Barcelona fans might not recognise the name Jose Ramon Alexanko instantly. However, the man who was popularly known as ‘Talin’ is undoubtedly one of La Blaugrana’s most successful captains.
Alexanko signed for Barcelona in 1980, moving from Athletic Bilbao as a highly-rated 24-year-old. The central defender almost instantly became a key part of Barca’s squad, and by 1986, he was named as the club’s captain.
In his first season with the armband, he helped Barca to the 1986 European Cup final – where he unfortunately missed a penalty in the decisive shoot-out against Steaua Bucharest. After this, he remained club captain – and went onto lead the team in one of their most successful periods.
The period in question? The ‘Dream Team’ managed by Johan Cruyff from the late 1980’s into the early '90s. During this time, Alexanko captained Barcelona to three La Liga titles, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and in 1992, he finally lifted the European Cup.
At this stage, ‘Talin’ was beginning to wind his career down – and so he only made a cameo appearance in the win over Sampdoria in the final. A season later – after one final La Liga triumph – he hung up his boots as a Barcelona legend.
A classy central defender who was able to transmit calmness across the rest of the side, Alexanko ended his career at Barcelona with 518 appearances to his name. He should almost definitely be remembered as a legendary captain.
#4 Andres Iniesta
Widely known as one of the greatest footballers of all time, legendary midfielder Andres Iniesta is also one of Barcelona’s most successful players. However, a lot of his glory at the Nou Camp came in the years prior to his captaincy, as he had to wait a while to take the armband.
When he did become captain – succeeding his famed midfield partner Xavi in 2015 – he was an obvious choice for the role. Not only had he been at Barcelona for his entire professional career, but at the age of 31, he’d seen it all – and won all there was to be won.
The Spainish international captained Barca only for three seasons. But during that period, he led La Blaugrana to two La Liga titles and three Copa Del Rey wins. His final season as captain in particular was massively impressive, as Barcelona won the 2017-18 La Liga title by a massive 14 points.
In the 2015-16 season, in his first El Clasico as captain, Iniesta was so good that he became just the third Barcelona player to be given a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Bernabeu. He led Barca to a 4-0 victory, scoring one goal and creating another.
A Barcelona legend in every possible way, Iniesta’s style – heavy on movement and slick passing – arguably summed up their success in the 2000s and 2010s more than any other player. He departed the Nou Camp in 2018 after making 674 appearances for La Blaugrana, and stands as one of their greatest ever captains.
#3 Pep Guardiola
Barcelona’s most successful manager was also one of their greatest ever captains. The current boss of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola was produced by Barca’s famous La Masia academy, and broke into the first team in 1990.
He quickly became a key player for La Blaugrana, and playing under Johan Cruyff and Bobby Robson, won four La Liga titles as well as the 1992 European Cup. When new boss Louis Van Gaal arrived in the summer of 1997, Guardiola was quickly appointed as the club’s new captain, replacing the outgoing Gica Popescu.
The classy midfielder remained captain for the next 4 seasons, and while he spent the majority of his first season with the armband on the shelf, success soon followed.
The 1998-99 campaign saw Barcelona lift another La Liga title – Guardiola’s 6th overall and first as captain. This time, La Blaugrana won the title by a clear 11 points from their nearest rivals Real Madrid.
The following two seasons were not as fruitful – Barcelona ended them trophyless – but nobody could question Guardiola’s impact in the centre of the side’s midfield.
His style of play, based around intricate passing and an ability to nearly always find a teammate, proved to be instrumental in its influence on the club’s younger players. And his reliance on skill and technique rather than pace and power would eventually change the face of the Spanish game.
Barcelona might’ve had more successful captains than Guardiola in terms of trophies. But in terms of how beloved and respected he remains at the club, it’s hard to dispute his spot here.
#2 Johan Cruyff
Barcelona’s famous slogan is mes que un club – meaning “more than a club”. The phrase refers to the club’s standing in the Catalan community, and most notably its support for Catalan independence from Spain.
Barca have had plenty of Catalan players and captains over the years, but arguably, the captain who embraced that Catalan identity more than any other was actually Dutch. His name? Johan Cruyff.
Already recognised as one of the greatest players in the world, Cruyff joined Barcelona from Ajax in 1973 for what was a world-record transfer fee at the time. And it hardly took him any time to make a massive impact.
In his first season at the club, the 1973-74 campaign, Cruyff led Barca to their first La Liga title for 14 years. Along the way, he helped them to an incredible 5-0 win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu – earning a standing ovation from the Madrid fans in the process.
It was even written by a New York Times journalist that Cruyff had done more for Catalonia in those 90 minutes than politicians had done in decades of struggle.
The great Dutchman would stay at Barcelona for a further 4 seasons, becoming captain after just one year. While the club were unable to win another league title under his captaincy, he endeared himself to the Catalan fans in many more ways.
Cruyff’s son – who also went onto play for the club – was named Jordi, a Catalan name. And it was while the Dutchman served as captain that the traditional black armband was switched for a red-and-yellow one, the colours highlighting the club’s Catalan heritage.
Even after all of the success that Barcelona have had in the years that have followed, Cruyff remains arguably their biggest ever legend.
#1 Carles Puyol
It should come as no surprise to see the name of Carles Puyol at the top of this list. Not only is the tough central defender captain Barcelona’s longest-serving captain – holding the armband for a full decade – but he also led the club to arguably their greatest ever successes.
A native of Catalonia, Puyol signed with Barcelona as a child, and worked his way up from their youth system to make his first-team debut in 1999. After 5 years as a key player at the Nou Camp, he was first appointed captain at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.
The following season saw Puyol win his first La Liga title with the club, a feat that was repeated during the 2005-06 season. That campaign saw the defender make a total of 52 appearances in all competitions – practically making him an ever-present – as Barca also won the Champions League for the first time in over a decade.
Incredibly though, far more success was about to follow. After a pair of disappointing seasons following that Champions League win, manager Frank Rijkaard was replaced by former Barca captain Pep Guardiola.
The results were astonishing. Guardiola’s arrival signalled a change in Barcelona’s playing style and the tiki-taka revolution that followed transformed the game entirely. Under Guardiola, La Blaugrana won another three La Liga titles, as well as two more Champions Leagues.
But despite all of the plaudits being given to offensive players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, it was Puyol’s leadership from the back that ensured Barcelona’s defence was as tight as ever.
He continued to be an inspirational captain – capable of performing no-nonsense clearances and challenges as well as being able to pass the ball just as well as his illustrious teammates. When Guardiola departed the Nou Camp at the end of the 2011-12 season, Puyol kept the armband and helped Barca to another La Liga title in 2012-13.
Puyol’s final season at the club saw him make just 12 appearances, as injuries and his age restricted him. At the end of the 2013-14 season, he hung up his boots, having made nearly 600 appearances in Barcelona’s first team.
He never played for another club during his career, and still walked away with a whopping 17 major trophies to his name. In terms of Barcelona captains, there are none better.Published 30 Jun 2020, 20:40 IST