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Remembering Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Barça's second Champions League heroe

Remembering Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Barça's second Champions League heroe
Remembering Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Barça's second Champions League heroe
Being a Barcelona fan has not always been about Trebles, Sextuples and Ballon d’Ors. Not long ago, our beloved club sat 12 Liga trophies behind Real...

Being a Barcelona fan has not always been about Trebles, Sextuples and Ballon d’Ors. Not long ago, our beloved club sat 12 Liga trophies behind Real Madrid and we had only managed one Champions League title to their nine.
The fortunes of the team started to change with the arrival of Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho for the 2003-04 season. Although the season would end without any silverware, Barça was once again fighting for the top spot in Spain and they had secured a spot on next year’s Champions League after failing to qualify the previous season.

The following year, the team would end a six-year drought and to win a Liga title again. Victory in the Spanish Supercup would follow, and Ronaldinho and Eto'o were voted first and third, respectively, in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Then came the 2005-06 season. Barça would repeat success in La Liga and the Supercup, but most importantly they won ‘La Segona', our second European Cup, against Arsenal on 17th May 2006. This title holds a very special place in the turnaround of the team, and became the stepping stone that cemented Barça’s dominance in Spain and Europe in the last decade. Ever since that wonderful night at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Barca became once again a feared side in Europe and a favorite to lift the title at the end of each season.
For nostalgia’s sake, I have complied a “Where are they now?” list of the players that represented the Blaugrana during that season to learn what has become of them ever since that glorious night in May: 

1- Víctor Valdés – On 31 May 2013, Victor announced he would not renew his Barça contract and he was rumored to be headed to Monaco. He remained our number one choice between the posts until 26th March 2014, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the 22nd minute of a game against Celta Vigo, a moment which ended his Barcelona career. Since then, Valdés joined Manchester United on July 2015, only to have a falling out with former Barça manager Louis van Gaal and be confined to watching the games from the stands. On 23rd January 2016, Valdés signed for Belgian club Standard Liège on a six-month loan.

2 - Juliano Belletti – Belletti’s only goal for Barça decided the 2005-06 in our favour. He came in as a substitute and scored in the 80th minute to give Barça its second trophy. He joined Chelsea in the summer of 2007, staying with the English side for three seasons, and played one final season at Fluminense, retiring in 2011.

3 - Thiago Motta – Having been promoted to the first team from Barça B in 2001, Thiago Motta spent a total of eight years with the Blaugrana. He would then move on to play for one season at Atletico Madrid and another season at Genoa in Italy. In 2009, Thiago joined Internazionale Milano, under José Mourinho, and he played part in the team that knocked Barcelona out during that season’s Champions League semifinal. Thiago signed for current team Paris Saint-Germain F.C.in 2012.

4 - Rafael Márquez – Rafa remained a first-choice central defender until injury and the arrival of Gerard Piqué saw him take on a secondary role at the club. In 2010, Rafa was released from his contract and joined the New York Red Bulls in the MLS. He then played on season for Club León in his native Mexico, before returning to Europe signing for Hellas Verona in 2014. Rafa returned to his youth club, Club Atlas, in 2016.

5 - Carles Puyol – Puyi became the club captain for the 2004-05 season after Luis Enrique retired. He remained with the club throughout his career, playing a very important role during the Pep Team’s years. Unfortunately, consistent injuries and two knee surgeries kept him away from the pitch and retired in 2014, with two more years remaining in his contract.

6 - Xavi Hernández – Not much needs to be said about Xavi that Cules and the football world doesn’t know. One of the best players to have ever stepped on a pitch, Xavi played for Barcelona for 17 years and accumulated 24 trophies during his time. At the end of the 2014-15 season, he left for Qatari club Al Sadd SC, where he also started his training to become a coach, not before captaining Barca to a second, and historic, treble.

7 - Henrik Larsson – After being one of the most prolific strikers during his time at Celtic in Scotland, Larsson joined Barcelona as a free agent in 2004. From his boots came the assists for both goals in the 2005-06 final, which marked his last game as a Blaugrana. Although technically retired since 2009, he played his last match on 26 October 2013 for Swedish side Högaborgs BK.

8 - Ludovic Giuly – The Frenchman played three seasons at the Camp Nou, before moving to AS Roma during Frank Rijkaard’s last season. He returned to his native France after one season in Italy to play for PSG, AS Monaco and Lorient. He retired from professional football in 2013 and currently plays at Monts d'Or Azergues Foot, in the fourth tier of the French league.

9 - Samuel Eto'o – Eto’o gifted us Culés with a chant directed to his youth team, and our eternal rival, Real Madrid that we will probably won’t forget anytime soon. He was an explosive striker who created scoring partnerships with the likes of Ronaldinho, Henry and Messi. Surviving the first year of Pep’s overhaul, he transferred to Internazionale in exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimović for the 2009-2010 campaign, becoming the only player to win a treble in consecutive seasons. He currently plays for Antalyaspor in the Turkish league, where he also served as interim manager for a short period.

10 - Ronaldinho – The man that has been labeled by the club, and by many Cules, as the man who made Barça smile again; his skill with the ball and his infectious positivism made him a fan favorite all over the world, helping Barcelona reach a global stage it had not enjoyed before. After Barca failed to repeat the success of previous years under Rijkaard, he headed to Italy to play for AC Milan, when Pep arrived. Unfortunately, Dinho was unable to replicate his form at the Italian side and he returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo and Atlético Mineiro. At Mineiro he helped the team win its first Copa Libertadores, but after playing inconsistently he moved to Mexico to play for Querétaro. He is currently a free agent, having last played with Fluminense in 2015.

11 - Maxi López – Maxi was never able to break into the first team and he was loaned to Mallorca for the 2006-07 season. After his short stint in Barcelona, he transferred to FC Moscow and then he moved to Italy, where he found some success. Maxi has represented Catania, Milan, Sampdoria and Chievo, and he is currently at Torino F.C.

12 - Giovanni van Bronckhorst – Gio would play one more season as a Blaugrana, before returning to play for his youth team, Feyenoord. He retired in 2010 and served as assistant manager for the Netherlands' U-21 team and Feyenoord, where he is currently serving as first team manager.

14 - Santiago Ezquerro – Santi Ezquerro never played a major role in the team, where he played only 24 games in three seasons. He returned to his youth team, Osasuna, where he retired in 2009.

15 - Edmilson – The Brazilian was a significant piece of the successful 2005-06 Champions League campaign, playing as a defensive midfielder. He stayed with Barcelona for an additional two seasons before joining fellow Spanish side, Villarreal, where he failed to make an impact. Edmílson returned to Brazil for a short stint with Palmeiras before playing another season in Spain, this time for Zaragoza. He retired in 2011 playing for Ceará back in Brazil.
16 - Sylvinho – Sylvinho arrived at the Camp Nou during the 2004-05 season from Celta Vigo. He played five seasons for Barcelona, winning three Liga and two Champions League trophies. After leaving Barça, he played for Manchester City, where he retired in 2010. Since then, he has worked as an assistant manager at Cruzeiro, Sport Recife, Naútico and Corinthians in Brazil, and at Internazionale Milano where he has been since 2014.

17 - Mark van Bommel – The Holland international joined Barça from PSV Eindhoven during the 2005 summer. Even though he only spent one season at the club, he played a significant role in helping the team secure the double. Mark joined Bayern München in for the 2006-07 season, where he would go on to become team captain after Oliver Kahn’s retirement. He would spend five years with the German club before joining AC Milan for a single season. He retired in 2013 playing for PSV Eindhoven, once again.

18 - Gabri García – Gabri rose through Barça B to reach the first team at the turn of the century. He was a regular starter in the seasons prior to Rijkaard’s arrival, but eventually fell out of favor to new signings. Gabri joined Ajax after the victory in Paris, spending four years in The Netherlands, before joining Umm-Salal in Qatar for a single season. In 2011 Gabri joined Sion in Switzerland; he retired in 2014 playing for fellow Swiss side Lausanne-Sport.

20 - Deco – Deco joined Barcelona after a very successful 2003-04 season, having won the Champions League with FC Porto and reaching the Euro 2004 final with Portugal. Deco would go on to form a great partnership with Ronaldinho that allowed Barça to return to their winning ways in La Liga and allowed for triumph in Paris. During his time at the club he was recognized as one of the best midfielders in the world. Deco joined Chelsea in 2008, where he would spend two seasons and win a Premier League title and two FA Cups. Deco signed for Fluminense in 2010, winning two Brazilian league titles, before retiring in 2013.

23 - Oleguer Presas – Oleguer joined Barça B in 2001 and played for both the B team and the first team during the following season. Establishing himself as a first team player during the following years, he started in Barça’s eleven during the final against Arsenal but was subbed off for Juliano who would go on to score the decisive goal. With Pep’s revamping of the squad, Oleguer was transferred to Ajax where he played until his retirement in 2013.

24 - Andrés Iniesta – Much like with Xavi, there’s not much that needs to be said about Don Andrés that all Culés don’t know. Nicknamed by many as “El Cerebro” (the brain), Iniesta is perhaps the most skilled midfielders of his generation. His work rate and dedication to the team have made him a fan favorite since his first broke into the first team in 2002. Iniesta was given the No.8 jersey after Giuly’s departure at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, a number he has been sporting since, and became the first captain of the team after Xavi’s departure. Since that night in Paris, he has helped the team win 19 other titles, including two trebles. He also won the 2010 FIFA World Cup with Spain, scoring the winning goal in the final.

25 - Albert Jorquera – Jorquera, another product of Barcelona’s youth system, played as a substitute goal keeper throughout his first team Barça career. After he suffered an ACL injury in 2007, José Manuel Pinto was signed as back-up to Victor Valdés, and Albert was relegated to third-choice substitute upon his return. Jorquera signed for Girona in 2009, where he retired after one season.

30 - Lionel Messi – The best footballer of all time was promoted to the first team during the 2005-06 season, although he didn’t play in the final due to injury. Just like Barça’s history could be split in two before and after Ronaldinho’s arrival, the same can be said about Messi. The team began a gradual decline after winning the title in Paris but with Messi’s meteoric rise he helped lift Barcelona to levels unknown to the team before. He inherited the No.10 jersey after Dinho’s departure at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, and he has since been recognised as the best player in the world for a record five times. Messi holds multiple club and world records and he doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. He currently serves as second captain of the first team and has formed a lethal partnership with Neymar and Luis Suárez since 2014. 

Frank Rijkaard – After the success in Paris, the team began declining, losing the two following two Ligas to Real Madrid and not making it to the later stages of the Champions League. After coaching Barcelona, Rijkaard coached Turkish team Galatasaray for a season. He last coached Saudi Arabia’s National Team from 2011 to 2013. In 2013, Florida prep school Montverde Academy hired Rijkaard as their Advisor of Player Development.

By Francisco Bahamonde, columnist at Barcablog.