YouTube can be a wondrous, endless treasure trove for the web-savvy, intrepid football fan. Among the unmatchable headquarters for free video content, you can discover endless hours of footballing pornography, everything from great players humiliating each other to a clip of an over-zealous American commentator screaming ‘release the Kraken’ after witnessing John Arne Riise’s rocket free-kick in a pre-season friendly for Liverpool against Celtic. There also happens to be a golden supercut of Brazilian legends at Barcelona, entitled ‘Brasileiro Barcelona – FC Barcelona legends – Brazilians’. A seven-minute sizzle reel of skills, goals and general footballing majesty from the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and, most recently, Neymar.
In football, a nationality can latch on to a team and practically become synonymous with its folklore. For Arsenal, certainly in the last twenty years, it’s been the French, while Liverpool have nourished some of the finest Spanish talent the Premier League has ever seen, instantly cementing a Spanish-flavoured indelible mark on the Kop. But no group of exotic footballers has infiltrated the consciousness and culture of a football club quite like Brazilians at Barcelona. Neymar, Barca’s 24th Brazilian, is currently flying the flag gloriously high at the Nou Camp, but there has been an astonishing production line of his compatriots who have entranced the Catalan fortress and marked their adventures with armfuls of trophies.
The man who started the long-standing association is Lucidio Batista da Silva. He spent two seasons with The Blaugrana, during which he won two Ligas, two Latin Cups and one Copa Eva Duarte. His spell in Catalonia was relatively short-lived, but he can be viewed as responsible for prompting an opening of the glorious floodgates.
Barca’s first Brazilian ‘superstar’ was Evaristo de Macedo. The man from Rio de Janeiro scored a spectacular 0.8 goals a game between 1956 and 1962. It was his superb finish on November 23, 1960 that knocked Real Madrid out of the European Cup for the first time. Immediately sealing his position as a club hero and breaking the dominance of Los Blancos in Europe.
Although Evaristo’s contribution to Barcelona was telling, he has been comfortably surpassed by the brilliance that’s succeeded him. It was in the 90s when a quixotic array of attacking talent exploded onto the scene. It was during this decade that saw the arrivals of Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Romario forming a crucial and devastating part of Johan Cruyff’s celebrated “Dream Team,” shining alongside players like Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov and Michael Laudrup.
Together with that intoxicating concoction of European talent, Cruyff’s Brazilian gem endeared the Barca supporters with his insatiable appetite for goals. He may have struggled – as all of Barca did – in the 0-4 Champions League final defeat to AC Milan in 1994 but his 30 goals in 33 games propelled the club to La Liga success. He also conjured moments to savour, too, like his unfathomably skilful goal in El Clasico, when he spun with balletic grace into space before burying his right-footed drive. In that game, Romario netted a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of Barca’s arch-nemeses Real Madrid. It was stunning Samba moments like these that helped the Barca supporters feel a special affinity with their Brazilian heroes.
After Romario departed in 1995, the Barca fans didn’t have to wait too long before showering another Brazilian striker with praise. This time it was Ronaldo. The extraordinarily gifted forward established himself as one of the foremost finishers in world football during his single season at Barca. He arrived for a then world record fee of £13.2 million and effortlessly soared above the hype, notching an incredible 47 goals in 49 games, mercilessly tearing defences to shreds with a wicked smile on his face. He won the European Golden Shoe and, just like that, he was gone, sold to Internazionale for another world record.
Ronaldo’s acrimonious departure hurt the Barcelona fans – which wasn’t helped by him turning up at Real Madrid as a Galactico a few years later – but their solace came in the shape of the outrageous Rivaldo. Barcelona’s new Ballon d’Or-winning megastar was a marvel, providing the Nou Camp with unforgettable moments like when he pulled off a ludicrous bicycle kick against Valencia. Rivaldo’s dramatic fallout with manager Louis van Gaal facilitated the Dutchman’s declining popularity at Barca and eventual departure. If there was a moment to illustrate the bond between Barcelona and Brazilian stars, it was this. The fans were never going to side with Van Gaal, seen as an uncompromising authoritarian who was hampering the natural ability of Rivaldo in trying to deploy him as a playmaker as opposed to on the left wing. In the summer of 2000, Van Gaal was fired and Rivaldo went on to score 23 league goals the following season, three of which came in miraculous fashion in the aforementioned showdown with Valencia.
But, of course, perhaps the most arresting Brazilian talent to ever grace the hallowed turf at the Nou Camp was Ronaldinho. His expansive repertoire of tricks and flicks always provided the ‘ole’ moments, but Ronaldinho rarely failed to deliver when it mattered when he was operating at the peak of his powers. Ronaldinho’s preposterous performance levels elevated Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona to successive Liga triumphs in ’05 and ’06, as well as a pair of Supercopa de Espanas to boot. But the holy grail of European football that eluded Ronaldo and Rivaldo for Barcelona was captured by their successor, with Ronaldinho notching seven goals en route to lifting the Champions League at the Stade de France.
Ronaldinho’s demise was not so much a spectacular collapse as it was a gradual descent from the summit of world football. His flailing physical state and depleted hunger for training meant that his last season at the club is somewhat emblematic of the general longevity of the Brazilian stars at Barca. Their starring roles tend to be fleeting, capturing the imaginations of millions before retreating into relative obscurity. Of course, with a few exceptions, Brazilians are not known for their longevity. Dani Alves is Barca’s longest-serving Brazilian, currently in his eighth season with the club. He is also the most decorated, having collected 15 major honours, including three Champions Leagues.
Although some of their appearances can be ephemeral, Brazilians have had a colossal impact in shaping the glittering history of Barcelona. Neymar now finds himself in the limelight, that same level of expectation thrust upon the shoulders of his compatriots, many of whom lived up to the billing and created footballing mythology with their ingenuity. Whether or not Neymar can maintain such supremacy remains to be seen. Regardless of where his Barcelona career takes him though, he has already added another illustrious name to the long list of masterful Brazilians at Barcelona.