This is the second installment of Inside the SuperClubs: Barcelona. This week's Sports Illustrated features an in-depth look at the club and its global appeal.
The hardest part of choosing an all-time best XI for Barcelona is figuring out who to leave off, and I'm sure plenty of you will spit your coffee upon learning that my lineup doesn't include Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romário, Luís Figo, Michael Laudrup, Samuel Eto'o, Luis Enrique, Thierry Henry or Hristo Stoitchkov.
But you can only put 11 players on the field, and it's a measure of the remarkable players Barcelona has had over the years that those guys wouldn't make this list. In the end, I decided to go with a 3-4-3, the better to maximize Barça's wealth of attackers, and when in doubt I opted for players who had multiple great seasons in a Barcelona shirt (which made it easier to drop Maradona and Ronaldo, to name two).
Here's my all-time Barcelona XI:
Goalkeeper: Andoni Zubizarreta (1986-94)
The former Spanish national team stalwart spent eight productive seasons at Barcelona, winning the club's first European club crown in 1991-92 with the Dream Team. Currently the sporting director at Barça, Zubi barely beats out Víctor Valdés.
Right back: Dani Alves (2008-current)
The Brazilian is only in his fifth season at Barça, but the club has never had a right back like him. Capable of marauding downfield and playing better defense than you'd suspect staying at home, Alves is a fairly clear pick.
Center back: Ronald Koeman (1989-95)
I fully expect Gerard Piqué to cement his spot here down the road, but Koeman takes it for now ahead of Piqué and Migueli. The Dutchman was a constant threat on free kicks of the kind that he scored to win the 1991-92 European Cup.
Left back: Carles Puyol (1999-current)
Puyol isn't your typical Catalan player in that he's less about cleverness than about his lion-hearted pride and competitiveness as a defender.
Defensive midfield: Pep Guardiola (1990-2001)
One of the game's classic defensive midfielders, capable of organizing the midfield while spraying passes to just the right places, Guardiola was a coach on the field long before he became a tremendous coach on the sideline.
Right midfield: Xavi (1998-current)
Probably the best Spanish player ever and midfield hub of today's remarkable era, Xavi combines quality and longevity in a way that makes him an easy choice for this list.
WAHL: Xavi's magnificence
Left midfield: Andrés Iniesta (2002-current)
When he's at his best (read: not injured), Iniesta can make an argument for being the world's best player. His contributions to Barça have been immense over the years, and it's hard to imagine the runaway success of today's team without him. A difficult call here between Iniesta and Laudrup.
Attacking midfield: Johan Cruyff (1973-78)
Even though Cruyff has made a bigger impact at Barcelona by establishing the team's philosophy than he did as a player, you can't dismiss his impact on the field, either. His leading role in winning the Spanish league during his first season changed the mentality of the club.
Right winger: László Kubala (1951-61)
The Hungarian-born goal machine was one of the club's first truly great players, leading Barça to four Spanish titles during his tenure.
Center forward: Lionel Messi (2004-current)
Already one of the top three players of all time at age 25, Messi has won three Champions Leagues and five Spanish leagues while sweeping the last three FIFA World Player of the Year awards. And he has done it all at the club he joined at age 13.
Left winger: Ronaldinho (2003-08)
History may record this as the Era of Messi, but Ronaldinho was the world's best player for two straight seasons with Barça and led the team to the 2005-06 Champions League crown.