Here's one man's choice for Barcelona's Team of the Decade, 2000-2010:
Valdés has won three Zamora awards since his debut for Barcelona in November 2002, as many as any goalkeeper since the turn of the century. Trouble is, the response to that particular fact is as inevitable as it is easy: The Zamora, handed to the man
Valdés, Zamora in 2004-05, has long since left the doubts behind (he has particularly improved with the ball at his feet, where he was occasionally disastrous). And although Barcelona's dominance of the ball limits the number of chances the opposition gets -- in Barça's last six games before the Catalan derby, for example, it had conceded just nine goal-scoring opportunities -- it is not all about the defense. Strong, focused, positionally clever and quick, Valdés plays his part, too, with key saves at key moments. Last season
Let's face it, Dani Alves is the best right back to play for Barcelona over the last 10 years -- and probably over the last 20. But he joined Barcelona only two years ago, and although he was a vital part of a unique team that won six trophies in a run, he did not actually play in the Champions League final against Manchester United in Rome.
So, sneaking in ahead of him (probably unfairly) is Belletti, who was at Barcelona from 2004-2007 and won two league titles and the European Cup. That's the same as Alves (who adds a Copa del Rey and World Club Cup), only with one big difference: Belletti may have scored only once for Barça, but it was
Barcelona's very own
Almost comically intense, Puyol never, ever lets his guard slip. Just ask teammate Gerard Piqué, who spends all game, every game getting shouted at. Or Edmílson. During one game Puyol started screaming at Edmílson over a minor mistake ... until Valdés intervened to calm him down and remind him that Barcelona was winning 3-0. Puyol has racked up more than 350 league games, four league titles, two European Cups, a European Championship and a World Cup.
When Piqué was a kid, then-Barcelona coach Louis Van Gaal came around to his grandfather's house for dinner. The proud grandfather, also a director at the club, introduced little Gerard: a kid who was going to go on an play for his club. Van Gaal walked up to him ... and pushed him over. Towering over Gerard, he barked: "You're too weak to be a Barcelona defender."
Who knows, had it not been for the spell at Manchester United, he might have been right. But now, Piqué is not just strong enough to play for Barcelona but is on course to be a future captain and a massive idol, possibly even the best central defender in Europe. Piqué, wonderful with the ball at his feet, the first link in every Barcelona move, allows Barça to invite pressure and still escape it. The 2009 Copa del Rey final was the classic example, Piqué receiving from Valdés on his own byline to draw in Athletic Bilbao. Then there's the sixth goal against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu -- in which Piqué
In just two years at Barcelona, he has won everything there is to win, including a World Cup. (And if two years does not seem enough to get in this side -- and for other positions it hasn't been -- ask yourself this: Who else is there? Márquez? Maybe. De Boer? Nah.)
Gio wasn't even a left back when he joined Barcelona but he did a pretty good impression of one. Quick, tidy and not at all bad defensively, he gave Barcelona balance and a certain attacking presence between 2003 and 2007. He didn't get that many goals but his 94th-minute winner against Betis allowed Barcelona to take a giant step toward the 2004-2005 title. That was one of two league titles that Gio won with the club. And he also won the European Cup. He arrived, as a midfielder, on loan from Arsenal and later joined Barcelona on a permanent deal for €2 million ($2.6 million). A bargain.
In the words of Louis Van Gaal and Alex Ferguson, Xavi gave the ball away once ... sometime back in 1996. Xavi is the ultimate passer, the man who is not only a far better player than most footballers but also makes his teammates far better players. Every time he gets the ball, he has only one thing on his mind: to give it away again. In the last year, a player has completed 100 passes or more on 25 occasions; Xavi has done it 13 times. On Sunday, he completed more passes (156!) than the entire Levante team.
Xavi is the ideologue behind the most successful Barcelona team in history -- and the most successful Spain team, too. In the last two years alone, he has won the European Championships, the World Cup, the league, the Copa del Rey and the European Cup. Barcelona's all-time leader in appearances (he debuted with the club in October 1998) is the
"Andres doesn't dye his hair, he doesn't wear earrings and he hasn't got any tattoos," Pep Guardiola said. Xavi added: "Andres has everything -- except media backing. For a few years, the complaint was that his normal-ness meant that people did not give him enough credit; now, it has become another selling point. Not only is
Deco joined Barcelona as the star from Jose Mourinho's European Cup-winning Porto side in 2004. But rather than take the fantasy role behind the strikers, he played in a more withdrawn, deeper position. From there he, even more than Xavi,
Ronaldinho's rapid decline, the fact that he became a huge problem for Barcelona (and "huge" was often the word), doesn't change the bottom line: For three or four years he was absolutely incredible, doing things you had simply never seen before -- the
He did, though, change Barcelona's history -- revitalizing it, kick-starting it after three years of crisis. Ronaldinho who was (my) Player of the Year twice, in 2004 and 2006 (only Leo Messi has done the same in the decade), and FIFA World Player twice in a row, won two league titles and the European Cup, scoring almost a goal every other game. Most of them brilliant. He even got a standing ovation from Real Madrid's fans after one stunning display at the Santiago Bernabéu. In 2003, Barcelona incoming president Joan Laporta tried to sign David Beckham and failed. So he signed Ronaldinho instead. Has to be the greatest runners-up prize ever.
The striker with a big mouth and an even bigger heart. Plus a very short fuse. Driven, committed, almost pathological in his desire to win, Eto'o was absolutely voracious and scored a
He left Barcelona having won the treble ... and immediately won another one with Inter. Eto'o scored more than 150 league goals, and even when he was not able to have an impact, he had one: He missed much of 2006-07 and 2007-08 with injury but still scored 11 goals in 19 games and 16 in 18, respectively. The fact that those were the years that Barcelona went without success are no coincidence, either.
Eto'o won three league titles, the Copa del Rey and two European Cups, and he scored the key opening goal in both of
Easy choice, hard to explain. How do you find