FC Barcelona - More than a club

The Barcelona tour returned to the United States, where the Spanish club was scheduled to play three friendlies in early August. Interest in the tour, part of its long-term agreement with Major League Soccer, increased when high-scoring Barca swept the 2009 UEFA Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey.

Futbol Club Barcelona isn't just a club. It is an institution, the symbol of Catalan pride dating back to the early part of the last century.

Control of FC Barcelona - and its name - became a major issue during the Spanish Civil War. President Josep Sunyol, a Catalan militant, was executed a month after the start of the war in 1936. Two years later, Nationalist forces bombed and destroyed FC Barcelona's headquarters.

Players toured the United States and Mexico to raise money for the club.

As political tensions eased in Spain since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, FC Barcelona exerted itself as a powerful supporter of Catalonia.

In the last 50 years, Barcelona has also become one of the great soccer clubs of the world, attracting many of the world's best players and becoming one of the best producers of homegrown talent to rival its archenemy, Real Madrid.

Here's a look at the men - the players, coaches and presidents - who have made Barcelona what it is today.

JOHAN CRUYFF. Perhaps no person has had a greater impact on Barcelona's success than Cruyff. He was acquired from Ajax in 1973 and immediately turned Barcelona around. It had earned only one point in the first seven games of the 1973-74 season but recovered after Cruyff's transfer was finally authorized and won La Liga championship for the first time in 14 years - its longest dry spell since the Spanish Civil War. He played five seasons at Barca before moving to the North American Soccer League. Cruyff returned to Barcelona as coach in 1988 and led Barca's "Dream Team" to four straight league titles and its first European Cup trophy, in 1992. Even a heart attack suffered in 1991 couldn't keep the Dutchman off the sidelines. He still lives in Barcelona, where his opinions on all matters FCB are highly regarded.

JOAN GAMPER. The Swiss businessman was 21 when he moved to Barcelona in 1898 and quickly became connected in the city's sports community. A year later, he put an advertisement in a sports newspaper he edited, seeking members for a new sports club. Less than two months later, FC Barcelona plays its first soccer match. A decade later, Gamper took over as president and saved the club from extinction, launching its entry into Catalan politics. "Barcelona cannot and should not die," he said. "If there is nobody who wants to try, I shall take full responsibility and look after it in the future." Under Gamper's direction, Barcelona enjoyed its initial success, signing such stars as Filipino-born Paulino Alcantara and goalie Ricardo Zamora. In 1925, Barcelona's stadium was shut down after Barca fans whistled the Spanish national anthem, and Gamper was expelled. Five years later, he committed suicide in Switzerland.

PEP GUARDIOLA. While Barcelona is known for its many foreign stars - those who thrived like Cruyff, Hristo Stoitchkov and more recently Samuel Eto'o, and those who quickly left like Diego Maradona, Romario and Ronaldo - its policy of developing homegrown talent from the Catalan region is an important part of its success. Guardiola, born in the Catalan village of Santpedor, entered the club's youth system at the age of 13 and became a key figure in its success in the 1990s, working as a playmaker in front of the backline - much like two other Catalan products Xavi and Andres Iniesta do today. Guardiola returned to the club in 2007 as its "B" team coach and was promoted to head coach of the "A" team in 2008. In Guardiola's first season as head coach, Barcelona won an unprecedented triple.

RONALD KOEMAN. Barcelona has had a Dutch influence dating back to the days of Cruyff and Johan Neeskens in the 1970s. Koeman doesn't exactly fit the image of Barcelona's attacking style, but it was his overtime goal that ended Barcelona's misery in the European Cup. Koeman, who also won a European Cup title with Dutch club PSV in 1988, scored on a free kick to give Barca a 1-0 over Sampdoria in the 1992 final. (Barca's two previous appearances in the final ended in defeat.) Koeman was one of the leaders of the "Dream Team" that won four straight La Liga titles.

LADISLAO KUBALA. Born to Hungarian parents in Slovakia, Kubala was one of the first foreign stars to make it big at Barcelona. He joined in 1951 and spent a decade at the club, which won back-to-back titles in his first two seasons. Kubala would finish his Barca career with 243 goals in 329 games and win four league and five cup championships. He was a rare three-team international, representing Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain, for which he later served as national team coach.

JOAN LAPORTA. The current president of FC Barcelona had just turned 41 when he won election for the first time in 2003. His election coincided with the arrival of Ronaldinho, who became a worldwide symbol for Barca's attacking style. Laporta's business acumen helped boost Barca's bottom line while he managed to keep the Barca jersey free of commercial sponsors. (The club jersey features UNICEF, the United Nations children's program.) Laporta, a fervent Catalan nationalist, won re-election in 2006 and survived a recall vote in 2008. Criticism of Laporta for the club's lack of success in the previous two seasons quickly faded when Barcelona won the league, Spanish Cup and UEFA Champions League in 2008-09.

LIONEL MESSI. On a team loaded with stars, the 22-year-old Messi stands out as the best. He was only 13 when he arrived in Barcelona from Argentina and signed with FC Barcelona, which paid for the expensive and painful growth-hormone treatment he needed. At 17, Messi was the youngest player ever to score for Barcelona and was part of the team that won back-to-back La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006. At 5-foot-7, he makes up for what he lacks in size with incredible dribbling moves, balance and vision. The goal he scored after dribbling from Barca's half of the field and beating the entire Getafe defense has been compared to the memorable goal Maradona scored for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup.

AGUSTI MONTAL COSTA. Montal, whose father Agusti Montal Galobart had served as Barcelona president for six years (1946-52), took over as president in 1969 and reintroduced the club's pro-Catalan philosophy. The club's official spokesman spoke in Catalan. The Catalan flag again flew at the Camp Nou stadium. And the club was renamed Futbol Club Barcelona (the Nationalist government had ordered the name of the club changed from Futbol Club Barcelona to Club de Futbol de Barcelona at the end of the Spanish Civil War). Montal used the phrase "quelcom més que un club de futbol" ("something more than a football club") during his reelection and supported the restoration of the Catalonia government in 1977.

JOSEP LLUIS NUNEZ. Nunez served as president for 22 years (1978-2000) during the period of its greatest expansion. He built the club's museum and numerous sports facilities and expanded the Camp Nou stadium, whose capacity increased from 78,000 to 106,000. The number of socios - club members - grew to more than 100,000 and the number of penyas - fan clubs - grew one-hundred fold to 1,000. Nunez presided over Barcelona during the era of the Dream Team, which won the European Cup in 1992, but his reign was also turbulent. An ugly player revolt known as the "Motín de Hesperia" ("Hesperia Mutiny") almost cut short Nunez's reign, and he had a falling out with Cruyff that led to the Dutchman's departure in 1996. Laporta, a young socio, worked to unseat Nunez in 2000, three years before his election as president.

RIVALDO. After Ronaldo left and before Ronaldinho arrived, another Brazilian, Rivaldo, was Barcelona's big star. He arrived from Spanish rival Deportivo Coruna in 1997 and immediately led Barca to a league and cup double in 1998. A second league title followed in 1999. He won the Ballon d'or as the top player in Europe in 1999, becoming the fourth Barcelona player win the award after Luis Suarez (1960), Cruyff (1973-74) and Stoitchkov (1994).

RONALDINHO. Barcelona has had a long tradition of importing Brazilians, beginning with Evaristo in the 1950s and including Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Ronaldinho arrived at Barcelona in 2003 along with Laporta as president and Dutchman Frank Rijkaard as coach. Ronaldinho has never been as good as he was during his five years at Barcelona. He became the symbol for everything that was great about Barcelona (and Brazilian) soccer, winning La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006 and helping Barca capture its second European Cup in 2006. (Two years later, Barca sold him to Milan, where he has never regained his form.) Ronaldinho became the fifth Barca player to win the Ballon d'or, taking European soccer's top prize in 2005. (Messi will be the heavy favorite to win the 2009 award.)


(This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.)    


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