Football Features

Best Barcelona players in modern history? We ranked our top 10

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:50, 10 May 2023

Barcelona have been one of the greatest clubs in the Champions League era.

The Blaugrana actually won the last edition of the old European Cup in 1991/92, starting the new era as champions. And while it took them over a decade to really find their footing on the continent, domestically they’ve been incredible in that time.

Even allowing for a six-year title drought, Barcelona have won an astonishing number of titles in the Champions League era, including 14 La Liga titles (with a 15th pending), nine Copas del Rey and a further four Champions Leagues.

This era has been marked by some spectacular players, some of the very best to play in the game in the modern era. But who is the best? Who is even among them? Well, we’ve had a go at ranking the top 10 Barcelona players of the modern era.

Some truly world-class talents have been left out, but when longevity and impact with Barcelona have been considered, even something like Ronaldo’s amazing 1996/97 season can’t stack up. This is the very upper echelon of football here. Who made the cut?

10. Rivaldo

  • Barcelona appearances: 235
  • Barcelona goals: 129
  • Barcelona trophies: 1997 UEFA Super Cup, La Liga (2), 1997/18 Copa del Rey

Barcelona’s recent woes seem epic but consider that the club once went six years without winning a trophy. In all that time Rivaldo did his best to carry the club on his back, performing miracles to keep Barcelona in the hunt. It is for that, struggling through adversity, that he takes his spot at No.10 ahead of the likes of Neymar, who knew only times of plenty.

9. Luis Suárez

  • Barcelona appearances: 283
  • Barcelona goals: 198
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (4), Copa del Rey (4), Supercopa de Espana (2), 2014/15 UEFA Champions League, 2015 UEFA Super Cup, 2015 FIFA Club World Cup

Samuel Eto’o was more ferocious but there can be no arguing that Luis Suárez was objectively better than the Cameroon striker in Barcelona colours. Suárez’s first two seasons were works of dizzying artistry and his third was pretty great too; then he had three years where even though he struggled, he scored. He scored and scored. Only Lionel Messi and Cesar Rodriguez have scored more than he has for Barcelona.

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8. Dani Alves

  • Barcelona appearances: 408
  • Barcelona goals: 22
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (6), Copa del Rey (4), Supercopa de Espana (4), UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (3), FIFA Club World Cup (3)

Dani Alves played right-back for Barcelona, but he was so much more than a right-back. Simultaneously a full-back, a winger and a midfielder; the Brazilian was also the life and soul of a dressing room that went on a relentless winning run playing perfectionist high-wire football each and every week. There’s a reason Xavi has brought him back to the club even at the age of 38; his will was iron and Barcelona needed that focus back in the side, but also his never-ending sense of fun and joy.

7. Carles Puyol

  • Barcelona appearances: 593
  • Barcelona goals: 18
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (6), Copa del Rey (2), Supercopa de Espana (4), UEFA Champions League (3), 2009 UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup (2)

Carles Puyol was there for it all. The bad times, the good times, the great times, the barely believable times. Injury limited his impact as Pep Guardiola’s project reached perfection in 2011, but he remained the greatest leader the club could ever ask for. His decision to have Eric Abidal lift the Champions League trophy in 2011 after his recovery from cancer remains a high watermark in the history of that competition.

6. Gerard Piqué

  • Barcelona appearances: 616
  • Barcelona goals: 53
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (8), Copa del Rey (7), Supercopa de Espana (6), UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (3), FIFA Club World Cup (3)

The greatest centre-back in Barcelona (and Spanish) history. Yes, that’s correct. No, I know you don’t like it, but it’s true. A tall, skilled defender blessed with only average pace, Piqué played his whole career in a system designed to expose his every flaw and he was so damn good for so damn long that his mistakes turned into memes. This man won three Champions League finals for Barcelona and never once played with an actual central defender and only once with a full-back who could be considered “defensive” (Eric Abidal in 2011). Piqué faded before retirement but from 2009 to 2019 he was an absolute colossus.

5. Sergio Busquets

  • Barcelona appearances: 719
  • Barcelona goals: 18
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (8), Copa del Rey (7), Supercopa de Espana (6), UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (3), FIFA Club World Cup (3)

Often forgotten, usually overlooked, still underrated, still the most hated. Sergio Busquets will never get his flowers because he spent his entire career either playing with better midfielders or, y’know, the greatest player of all time. But while everyone looks at how they helped Busquets, no one ever considers how Busquets helped them; how it was Busquets’ introduction into the Spain and Barcelona sides that supercharged the passing and pressing game to a near superhuman level. Was brutally exposed by nonsense coaching since 2017, but his exploits with Luis Enrique and Spain show that when in the right system there is literally no midfielder who can stand up to him. Busquets will leave the Blaugrana this summer as the player with the third-most appearances in the club’s history and another league title.

4. Ronaldinho

  • Barcelona appearances: 207
  • Barcelona goals: 94
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (2), Supercopa de Espana (2), 2005/06 UEFA Champions League

Sometimes it’s not all about winning trophy upon trophy and dominating everyone. Sometimes it’s about magic, about hocus pocus, sometimes football is about being a shining light in the dark. Everyone was comparing Ansu Fati to Lionel Messi but the man Fati should be looking to is Ronaldinho. The man who, in 2003, taught an entire club to believe again. Who lifted Barcelona out of the mud, ending their trophyless streak and turning them into one of the three best sides in the world with mesmeric, magical, magisterial football.

Ronaldinho’s peak coming pre-Twitter was one of the few great disappointments of his career because he genuinely did stuff that would have made an iconic gif every single game. Yes, his peak only ran for two years and it was all downhill after the Champions League win in 2006, but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It was a privilege to watch him.

3. Andrés Iniesta

  • Barcelona appearances: 674
  • Barcelona goals: 57
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (9), Copa del Rey (6), Supercopa de Espana (6), UEFA Champions League (4), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (3)

Perhaps the best way you can sum Andrés Iniesta up is that in two (2) distinct seasons he received standing ovations at almost every single away ground in Spain all through the year. And in both seasons he walked away with La Liga, as well. A habitual winner and perhaps the only man who can rival Zinedine Zidane in terms of the reliability that he would show up in the big games. Iniesta was liquid on the pitch, capable of the most devastatingly dynamic football all while carrying the physical presence of a small child. And yet no one begrudged him, no one disliked him. Again: two seasons of ovations from opponents. Two!

2. Xavi

  • Barcelona appearances: 767
  • Barcelona goals: 85
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (8), Copa del Rey (3), Supercopa de Espana (6), UEFA Champions League (4), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (2)

No footballer has ever dominated club and international football the way Xavi did from 2008-2013. In that time Xavi was the beating heart of the best club side ever and perhaps the best international side ever. With Barcelona and Spain, Xavi was ridiculous. Even with just Barcelona, this was a prodigy given his debut by Louis van Gaal in the 90s who persevered through the dark periods, beyond a brutal ACL injury to become the figurehead, the standard-bearer for Guardiola’s Cruyffist revolution. A coach on the pitch, Xavi dominated every game he was in, and now he’s back as a coach on the sidelines and is leading Barcelona to a league title.

1. Lionel Messi

  • Barcelona appearances: 778
  • Barcelona goals: 672
  • Barcelona trophies: La Liga (10), Copa del Rey (7), Supercopa de Espana (8), UEFA Champions League (4), UEFA Super Cup (3), FIFA Club World Cup (3)

There can be no question about who takes number one for Barcelona. The greatest player in the club’s modern history is also the greatest player in their history full-stop as well as arguably the greatest player to ever play the game. That he only ever gets compared to Pelé and Diego Maradona kind of says it all as to how good Messi was (is?) and how lucky Barcelona were to have him.

Messi’s magic allowed the club to cover up a thousand different flaws, hiding the fact that the club has been in sporting decline ever since 2013 when Tito Vilanova left. Messi’s magic was especially evident after Neymar left in 2017, dragging the team to title upon title and you feel that with just a bit more help from his teammates (or, indeed, his last three coaches) then he’d have levelled with Paco Gento on 12 La Ligas, instead of two behind, and he’d have five or maybe even six Champions Leagues.

Even still, the trophy count is brutal, as is the fact that Messi has won over half the league titles he’s competed for (10/17). Or the fact that technically he won the 2017/18 title without losing a game as he didn’t play in the Blaugrana‘s only defeat that year. The man-of-the-match displays in the latter rounds of the Champions League, like his barely believable brace in the Santiago Bernabeu at the height of the Clásico war with José Mourinho’s Real Madrid, mark the era. Also his wondergoals (yes, plural) in the Copa del Rey finals. Or all of the stunning assists, and should-have-been assists after team-mates wasted his passes. Or the fact that he did these things across a span of 17 years.

There’s no way to fully sum up the legend of Messi at Barcelona. If you were lucky enough to witness it, you were blessed. If you missed it then YouTube and other such platforms are your best friend. We will never see his like again; a one-club man carrying his club through thick and thin until they reached such a low point that they literally could not afford to keep him. Like all the greats he went out sad, but that doesn’t make the rest of his time with Barcelona anything less than joyous. Simply the best (and there could yet be a return).