history | 2015-05-07
Lionel Messi and The Net Breaker
The Philippine Legend
Paulino Alcántara and Leo Messi are not just the two highest scorers in Barça’s entire history; both players, Blaugrana legends, have features in common that make Leo seem like the reincarnation of the legendary Net Breaker, almost a century later.
Alcántara was born abroad, in the Philippines, but, like Messi, arrived in Barcelona as a kid and grew up in Catalonia. The great Paulino was also a kid with several health issues, just like Lionel, and was about to quit football because of doctor recommendations. When he made his debut, he resembled a sick child, just like our first glimpse of Messi wearing the number 30 on his back. One particular fact makes both their names eternal: scoring goals with ease. It was originally thought that Paulino got 369 goals in 357 matches, but new data on El Gran Diccionari de Jugadors del Barça revealed that he actually scored 395 goals. The club celebrated Messi beating Alcántara's record as all-time Barça scorer including friendlies on March 16, 2014, after he scored three goals against Osasuna, but now if we take into consideration this new discovery, the record-breaking goal would actually be his third goal against Sevilla at the Camp Nou on November 22, 2014.
Week in, week out, we culés get to enjoy each stroke of genius from this wonder of nature that our generation is lucky enough to see. We are just fortunate to witness one of the best players of all time, if not the best; an Argentine who has, in some way, already belittled the achievements of his compatriot Diego Armando Maradona. But that doesn’t mean we should focus only on what happens between the previous match and the next. Football and Barça’s history is more substantial, richer, and it is all supporters’ duty to know it, at least a little.
This knowledge is a prerequisite to get close to Paulino’s character, a top player who was named The Net Breaker after his shot broke the netting of the French national team’s goal in a match played by Spain in Bordeaux. While being the first man the Barcelona crowd saw who could shoot at will, Alcántara was not just a great finisher who scored almost every time he got the ball in the area: he was the leader of a generation that was able to dominate Spanish and Catalan football with an iron fist. The club became dominant during the 1920s, a period when the Blaugrana won title after title. It was the team of Zamora; Coma, Martínez Surroca; Torralba, Sancho, Samitier; Piera, Martínez, Gràcia, Alcántara and Sagi. This was the team’s typical starting XI, known even today as the team from Barça’s Golden Age. The first great Barça team, a team that defeated the best European teams of the day, in a period when, unfortunately, there were no continental competitions. If such competitions had existed, there is no doubt that Paulino, the team’s captain, would have raised more than one trophy.
We have waited almost 100 years to see a player, and not just any player, able to score more goals than Paulino Alcántara. This statistic should be enough for us to realize the greatness of that sickly Filipino boy who played as a left-sided striker and broke nets. Without him, Barça’s history would have been very different.
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Ángel Iturriaga is a Barcelona historian with three books published, you can follow him on Twitter.
WRITTEN BY: Ángel Iturriaga
A renowned Barcelona historian, Ángel (41) is one of the authorities when it comes to our club's past. Author of renowned books on Spanish football such as The Dictionary Of FC Barcelona Players (2010), The Dictionary of Coaches & Directors of FC Barcelona (2011), and The Dictionary of the Spanish National Team Players (2013). Ángel is mostly known for his biographical novel Paulino, the biography of one of the greatest ever Barcelona players he co-wrote with David Valero.