From early icons like Laszlo Kubala to greats like Maradona and Messi, Barca’s No.10 shirt has had a rich and vibrant history
The Catalans’ love affair with the shirt number has reached its apex in recent years with Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, but some of the all-time greats have donned the No.10 at Camp Nou over the years.
Kubala, Maradona, Guardiola, Romario – the list simply reads as a tribute to Spanish football’s greatest players.
Here, Goal takes a look at the history of the Barcelona No.10, from its origins in the 1940s to the present day.
The early years: Kubala, Suarez, Evaristo
Squad numbers were introduced into Spanish football in 1947, first appearing in a Madrid derby between Real and Atletico.
Initially, numbers weren’t assigned to individual players. They generally denoted a position on the pitch, assigned 1-11 on any given matchday.
The first player to don the No.10 on a regular basis may have been the Argentine midfielder Florencio, but the first true club great to do so was the Hungarian forward Laszlo Kubala.
Kubala arrived in Spain in 1950 as a refugee, having fled Hungary and snuck through the Iron Curtain disguised as a Russian soldier.
Banned by FIFA after the Hungarian Football Federation accused him of breach of contract, Kubala was courted by both Barcelona and Real Madrid, eventually joining the former – though he couldn’t play in a competitive game until the following year.
Kubala won four Spanish titles and five Copas del Generalisimo during his time at the club, and was a key figure in the club’s growth in the 1950s.
He scored 281 goals in 357 games between 1950 and 1961, and was also important in bringing Hungarian compatriots Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor to the club – two more players who would go on to achieve greatness at Barca.
Among Kubala’s later team-mates were Spanish midfielder Luis Suarez and Brazilian forward Evaristo, both of whom would also go on to establish themselves as club legends and don the No.10 shirt.
The 1980s and 1990s: Maradona, Stoichkov, Romario
The No.10 moved from player to player through the 1960s and 1970s. Ramon Villaverde, Fernand Goyvaerts, Hugo Sotil and Juan Manuel Asensi were among the incumbents, but none could match the star power of their predecessors.
None, that is, until Diego Maradona.
He arrived for a world-record £5 million fee after the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and his genius was evident.
Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup wins followed, though his time at the club was not always easy.
He was applauded by Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu after a virtuoso Clasico performance in 1983, but clashes with Barca club chiefs, exacerbated by a violent cup final confrontation with Athletic Bilbao’s Miguel Sola, eventually saw him request a transfer after just two seasons.
He left for Napoli in the summer of 1984 with 38 goals in 58 games for the club, Barca recouping another world-record fee for his services.
From Maradona, the No.10 took the natural next step onto the back of Steve Archibald, passing on to Robert Fernandez before finding Pep Guardiola.
A deep-lying midfielder, Guardiola didn’t take the number for long, eventually settling for the No.4 but, given his place in the club’s history, he is worthy of mention.
Another iconic, if brief, incumbent of the No.10 shirt was Hristo Stoichkov, who wore it at times in the 1993-94 campaign.
That season brought a league and Spanish Supercopa double, among a host of trophies the fiery Bulgarian won at Barca.
Stoichkov registered five league titles, Barca’s first European Cup in 1992, and 162 goals in 341 games – though most of his time in Catalonia was spent in the No.8 shirt.
A more common sight in the No.10 was irrepressible strike partner Romario, who scored 53 goals in 84 games in two seasons at the club.
The pair were unstoppable together.
After a 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United in the Champions League, Sir Alex Ferguson admitted: “We just couldn’t handle the speed of Stoichkov and Romario. The suddenness with which they attacked was a new experience.”
Part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ squad which reached the 1994 Champions League final, Romario was named FIFA World Player of the Year the same year but his sensational performances were short-lived; after an argument with Cruyff, he left in January 1995, returning to Brazil with Flamengo.
Flawed genius would soon become a theme of the No.10 shirt at Barca.
Romania icon Gheorghe Hagi spent two largely underwhelming seasons in it between 1994 and 1996, passing it on to Roger Garcia and Giovanni before Jari Litmanen fared no better, lasting only a year before escaping to Liverpool.
But after the Finn’s departure, things began to look up.
The modern era: Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi
Rivaldo had already been at the club for three years when he moved from No.11 to No.10 in the 2000-01 season, which proved to be the most prolific of an exceptional stint.
He bagged 36 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions, notching 130 in 235 overall across five seasons at the club.
Rivaldo’s two league titles at Barca both came in the No.11, but he breathed new life into the shirt before passing it on to Juan Roman Riquelme for a season in 2002-03.
The Argentine’s stint at Barca was uninspiring but he kept the No.10 warm for one of its greatest incumbents.
Ronaldinho arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in 2003 and showed the world a whole new way of playing football.
The tricks, the flicks, the bicycle kicks, the trophies, the standing ovation at the Bernabeu, and that beaming toothy grin – Ronaldinho was the ultimate Brazilian No.10, the best player many had ever seen, until a better one turned up.
Lionel Messi didn’t always wear 10. Breaking through as a youngster, he took No.30, before spending two seasons in No.19.
Messi took the No.10 shirt in 2008-09, Guardiola’s first season in charge of the first team. Barca won everything. Messi was the best in the world and, soon enough, the best ever.
Whoever takes the No.10 shirt after Messi is gone will be braver than most, but perhaps the sheer impossibility of matching him will have a liberating effect.
Barcelona and the No.10 shirt. Name a more iconic duo.