Is this really the end?
Lionel Messi has shocked the footballing world after informing Barcelona he wants to leave the club this summer, potentially bringing an end to one of the greatest sporting love-affairs of the modern era.
Messi has established himself as the greatest player in Barcelona – if not football – history during a glittering career as the symbolic star of the Catalan side, winning a wealth of major honours and individual accolades including a record six Ballon d’Ors.
The record goalscorer in the history of Barcelona, Argentina and the Spanish top flight, Messi would depart having set unprecedented standards in terms of individual and team success and ahead of what could be the biggest transfer of the modern era, we’ve decided to compile a dream XI of his former club teammates.
Here is the best Barcelona XI of the Lionel Messi era:
Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Victor Valdés may have spent more than a decade keeping goal for Barcelona in admirable and reliable fashion, but we’ve opted for current incumbent Marc-Andre ter Stegen as our goalkeeper in this XI of Messi’s Barcelona teammates.
Ter Stegen arrived at the Camp Nou from Borussia Monchengladbach and helped the club to a historic treble during his debut season, though his role was as first-choice in Barca’s Champions League and Copa del Rey campaigns with Claudio Bravo preferred for league action.
Since that period of adaptation, however, the German has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in world football, a superb shot-stopper with elite decision-making and a ball-playing ability perfectly suited to the Spaniard’s famed passing play.
The 28-year-old has won a wealth of major honours since moving to Catalonia and his status is such that he has become arguably the only player – aside from Messi – above criticism from the club’s ever-demanding fanbase, Ter Stegen performing with flawless consistency for much of his Barcelona career.
Right-back: Dani Alves
No dream team of Messi’s former teammates would be complete without Dani Alves, a player who dazzled alongside the Argentine in a formidable partnership down Barcelona’s right-hand side.
Alves is largely recognised as the finest full-back of his generation following a career in which has become the sport’s most decorated the player, the Brazilian a pioneering player who singlehandedly occupied an entire flank with his determination and devastating creativity.
Alves won six league titles and three Champions League trophies during his time at Barcelona, whilst his understanding with Messi verged on telepathic, the overlapping runs of the rampaging right-back allowing the Argentine to weave inside and torment opposition defences.
There has perhaps never been a full-back with as complete a skillset as Alves, a captivating and fascinating player who reinvented a once unfashionable position, one which he mastered like few before him.
Centre-back: Carles Puyol
Carles Puyol wasn’t destined to become a Barcelona legend, a robust defender whose uncompromising style saw him thrive even in an era in which his club redefined the game with their intricate tiki-taka style.
Puyol joined the club as a teenager and after initially struggling to find his best position settled into a centre-back role, becoming the bedrock of a Barcelona side which would dominate Spanish football and conquer Europe.
The shaggy-haired centre-back was the undisputed leader of the Catalan club for more than a decade, whilst racking up over a century of caps for a Spain side which finally delivered at international level after years of underachievement.
Captain of the side which won an incredible six trophies throughout the calendar year in 2009, Puyol finished his career as a one-club icon who lifted six league titles and three Champions League trophies during an unforgettable Camp Nou career.
Centre-back: Gerard Pique
Alongside Puyol at the heart of our defence is long-term partner Pique, the Barcelona-native having returned to the club after a brief spell in English football with Manchester United to flourish into one of the best defenders of a generation.
The Spain international has won almost every available trophy with both club and country, a player who brings an authoritative presence to the Barcelona backline with his tactical intelligence, anticipation and the technical attributes required of a modern defender.
His extroverted passion and relentless commitment when it comes to all things Blaugrana has only added to his legend at the Camp Nou, Pique part of the spine of a club side many regard to be the best of all-time around a decade ago.
Left-back: Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal created friction with Messi – and perhaps tainted his legacy – during his ill-fated reign as the club’s sporting director, though that should not detract from the Frenchman’s stellar playing career in the colours of the Catalan side.
During his peak years Abidal was a strong and intelligent left-back, a daunting defender for opposition wingers to face and player whose tactical versatility was vital to Barcelona’s all-conquering side.
Abidal would often tuck inside to form a back three as Dani Alves willingly joined the attack on the opposite flank, whilst he was no stranger in assisting the play during his own forward forays.
The defender won four league titles and lifted the Champions League twice during his career in Spanish football, his achievements all the more remarkable after fighting back from liver illnesses which threatened both his career and life.
Midfield: Sergio Busquets
Calmness personified at the base of the Barcelona midfield, Sergio Busquets forms one third of a legendary midfield trio which saw tiki-taka dominate the world game.
Busquets came through the club’s fabled La Masia academy system to become one of the world’s greatest defensive midfield players, the Spaniard possessing a unique style with his press-resistant ability to pass his way out of danger.
Perfectly positioned and playing with simplistic one and two-touch style, Busquets formed part of the Catalan’s carousel of possession during the peak years of Barcelona’s recent success, an indispensable member of the side and a midfielder whose talents may be best appreciated once he leaves the club.
Messi may have long been the undisputed star of the Barcelona side, but Xavi was the heartbeat, a midfield metronome who ranks amongst the greatest to have graced the game.
Rarely was Xavi spotted without his head on trademark swivel, a midfielder who played seemingly with rear-view mirrors and possessed an almost unnatural awareness of the picture around him.
The former Spain international made a record 767 appearances for Barcelona in all competitions and was central to the greatest period in the club’s history, the sight of opposition players chasing shadows as the game was played to Xavi’s pace amongst the most iconic of the modern era.
Arguably the vital cog in a flawlessly well-oiled machine, Xavi became one of the game’s greats is sublimely simplistic fashion, his enduring mantra of pass-and-move executed to standards rarely before witnessed.
Midfield: Andres Iniesta
The Yin to Xavi’s Yang, Iniesta formed the other side of one of football’s greatest double acts, the two players dovetailing in sublime fashion as the protagonists of a golden era for Spanish football.
It’s almost impossible to reference one of Xavi or Iniesta without alluding to the other, and whilst the former provided the relentless rhythm to many a contest, it was the latter who often brought a sense of artistry.
Iniesta’s game was based on a beautiful simplicity, always available to receive the ball in tight spaces, his elite dribbling allowing him to navigate away from trouble, only to move the ball on quickly and repeat the sequence.
His list of honours includes a phenomenal nine league titles, six Copa del Rey triumphs and four Champions League trophies, an all-time great and architect of arguably club football’s best ever side.
Right-wing: Lionel Messi
The most straightforward inclusion in the best Barcelona team of the Messi era, this has been the era for Barcelona largely because of the unrivalled talents of the Argentina superstar.
Messi’s current Barcelona record stands at a frankly ridiculous 634 goals in 731 appearances, winning an all-time record of seven Pichichi trophies as Spain’s top scorer and breaking a whole host of goalscoring landmarks, including setting an all-time landmark of 91 goals in a calendar year in 2012.
Arguably the best goalscorer, best dribbler and best passer of his generation, there are few superlatives yet to be bestowed upon the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, a player whose seemingly supernatural talents have somehow become the norm over the course of the modern era.
The greatest player in the history of Barcelona and arguably the best to have ever lived, Messi’s talents should be enjoyed whilst he is still at the peak of his powers, in Catalan colours or elsewhere.
Barcelona’s modern history may have centred around the talents of Messi but it was another South American sensation who helped lead the club back to the pinnacle of the sport, the signing of Ronaldinho the catalyst for the Spanish side’s rise to European glory.
Fans of a certain age will wax lyrical about the joyous talents of the playmaker, the care-free footballer who waltzed into one of the world’s biggest football clubs and changed the course of their history – all with a signature smile upon his face.
Ronaldinho played the game in a style not seen before or since his brief reign as the world’s finest footballer, exciting, extravagant and expressive. He inspired the side to back-to-back league titles and the 2006 Champions League, acting as a mentor for the young Messi and twice being named as the FIFA World Player of the Year alongside the 2005 Ballon d’Or.
His peak was brief but brilliant, an iconic figure and undisputedly the showman of his generation.
Forward: Luis Suarez
Premier League fans will vividly remember the peak years of Luis Suarez at Liverpool, but the Barcelona version perhaps raised his game to an ever greater level.
Suarez sits as the third-highest goalscorer in Barcelona’s history after just six seasons in Spain, the Uruguayan international boasting a prolific record of 198 goals in just 283 appearances, including a stunning 40-goal league season in 2015/16 to win the European Golden Shoe.
The forward combines South American tenacity with sublime skill, a player who will tirelessly work to create opportunities and punish openings in ruthless fashion.
His rapport with Messi and former Barcelona star Neymar saw the trio form one of club football’s most formidable forward lines, the attacking triumvirate firing the Spanish side to treble success under the guidance of Luis Enrique in 2015.
Suarez’s continued excellence as the focal point of the Barca side earns him inclusion in this team of stars, edging out the likes of Samuel Eto’o and David Villa for a place in our dream XI of the Messi era.