This is a guest post by Isaiah. You can follow him on Twitter as @rockofthune.
There have been some great comments regarding my list of most influential Barcelona players and I wanted to respond to several of them at some length, so I felt that that warranted an actual post rather than one off replies in the comments section. I won’t be addressing these to individuals because of the longer form of these responses, but you know who you are and I appreciate your feedback and thoughts.
Samuel Eto’o: It crossed my mind to include Samuel Eto’o as at least an honorable mention given his prominent status as both a major goalscorer for the club as well as the guy who shouted “Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeon!” from on top of a boss while celebrating the 2006 Champions League final victory (in which he scored the tying goal; he then scored the winning goal in the final in Rome 3 years later). That’s pretty influential, sure, but with only 10 spots, you have to cull someone at some point. And sure, I could have added him to honorable mentions, but I didn’t simply because he is one of about half a dozen players I consider about equal in their influence. In fact, I actually did have Samuel Eto’o as an honorable mention, but I was running out of time to write the thing and if I started adding players like Samu—who, for the record, I loved and still love in spite of his move to Chelsea—I was also going to have to add players like Rivaldo and Romario. And those are just fairly recent strikers. I briefly mentioned Laudrup, Koeman, and Txiki and it would be hard to argue that Eto’o’s goals were more influential than Koeman’s goal in the 1992 Cup final that brought the whole Dream Team thing to its climax and cemented the standard view of Barcelona as a team of style and results.
Furthermore, while I wanted to include Samu, it didn’t make sense in the greater thematic approach I took to Honorable Mentions:
1. Oleguer: not as talented as many of his teammates (to put it kindly), but he was the defining voice of a generation of Barcelona fans;
2. Maradona: One of the all-time greats that couldn’t be included on the list simply because of his lack of time with the club. As opposed to (original) Ronaldo, Maradona wasn’t really “one that got away” but was rather “one that failed to mesh with the club and then also got into the most insane fight in club history and was basically totally nuts.”
3. Zubizaretta: A major player, but one who did not define a generation in the same way as others on his team; like Oleguer in a lot of ways, but without the politics.
4. Ronaldo: The one that got away.
The honorable mentions list was not meant to be comprehensive, which is why it was Honorable Mentions. Perhaps I should have noted that, but I didn’t, so some questions about it are understandable. It was more that there simply wasn’t enough room to discuss all the players I wanted to discuss or thought merited mention. I was also trying to highlight multiple generations of teams; without looking, I’m pretty sure that none of those 4 played together, so that was a factor as well.
A full list of “honorable mentions” would be a mind-boggling endeavor, so I cut it down. I didn’t even mention Tello, after all.
Luis Figo: There was mention that he should have been dropped for someone like Eto’o, but his inclusion is one that I will defend for a long time. Whatever Samu’s positives, he was never the focal point of a Barcelona team, he was never The Sacred Son, and he certainly was never Judas to an entire generation of fans. Figo was all of those things and it is hard to overstate how much it hurt and what kind of a mark it left on the club when Madrid paid his buyout clause. The differences between someone like Luis Figo and Javier Saviola are fairly massive, for instance. Figo was so influential that I’m surprised that I put him at #9 and not higher. Only the fact that his influence was somewhat of a negative can account for why he was so low. That and my love of the other players, possibly.
Which brings us to…Ronaldinho: my first draft had Ronaldinho tied for 3rd. I dropped him to 7th after some serious revisions and the decision that Messi was too good to be in the 8th spot where he was originally or the 7th spot where he moved after I dropped Oleguer from the very first draft, swapped in Figo, and dropped Gamper from 6th to 8th. Luck would have it that Xavi got #6. But Ronnie really was massively influential. He defined a team, created the modern Barcelona brand, and drew hundreds of thousands of fans to the team. He was not just a World Cup winner, he was that samba guy, that free spirit, that laughing clown who made you the butt of the joke. The arguments for other players, however, seemed to simply overshadow his; specifically, it struck me as hard to accept that Messi could be both the greatest player of all time as well as less influential on a club than a player who won trophies but flamed out after 5 years. Statistically, Ronaldinho was very good (94 goals in 207 appearances), but he only won 3 trophies with the club (2 La Liga and 1 CL) so while he did launch the current brand, he did not sustain or further that brand like Messi has, like Xavi has (who won a World Cup during his tenure and changed how a huge number of people saw midfielders and the club itself).
Another player who deserves mention is Ronald Koeman, but he, like Eto’o, was only the most visible face of a greater whole during important games; they both scored decisive goals, but were not indispensable in a lot of ways. Koeman was, possibly, more important to his teams than Eto’o was to his—FCB did go on to win the Champions League just 2 years after Eto’o left the club, while Koeman continued to win trophies on a domestic level—but I don’t think it could be argued that Koeman was more important to his teams than any of the others on my list were.
Someone who, in my estimation, was indispensable was Guardiola. He may never have played a truly exception role statistically, but there’s a reason that Cruyff trusted him to be the lynchpin of his system and, more tellingly, the next series of coaches also trusted him to do the same for their teams. He wasn’t a flash in the pan: he played for 10 years and won 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Reys, a CL, and a Cup Winner’s Cup. That is no small haul in a decade. Beyond that, though, Guardiola was not only the player at the center of the solidified “Barça system,” he was also a political and social revelation for Barcelona and Catalunya as a whole. You do not inspire Xavi and Iniesta without something to offer the greater Barça universe and I stand by my #2 ranking.
It is interesting that no one mentioned Iniesta‘s exclusion from this list. He was mentioned only in passing in Xavi’s write up.
It was very hard to rate players I never saw play. So here’s a quick ranking of my favorite players that I have seen, with no commentary:
10. Dani Alves
9. Victor Valdes
7. Yaya Toure
6. Samuel Eto’o
5. Carles Puyol
4. Andres Iniesta
2. Lionel Messi
And man does that leave out some good ones, especially from the Rivaldo era.