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Five of Barcelona’s greatest number 9’s of modern times

Barcelona have announced that Martin Braithwaite will wear the club’s number nine shirt for the upcoming season, the shock signing now handed the illustrious number following the departure of Luis Suarez.

Braithwaite has scored just one league goal since signing for Barcelona and it comes as a huge surprise to see him handed the number nine, a player who struggled to make an impact in the Championship with Middlesbrough now wearing one of world football’s most iconic shirts.

 

Some of the game’s greats have adorned the number nine for Barcelona in their recent history and we’ve decided to look back at some of the fantastic footballers of the club’s past.

Here are five of Barcelona’s greatest number nines of modern times:

Hristo Stoichkov

Amongst the world’s finest footballers at the peak of his considerable powers, Hristo Stoichkov was a talismanic figure for both club and country throughout the early nineties.

The Bulgarian arrived at Barcelona from CSKA Sofia and became a firm fans’ favourite over two spells, the tempestuous and talented forward a key component of Johan Cruff’s Dream Team.

Stoichkov was a modern forward ahead of his time, capable of drifting between positions whilst always remaining a goalscoring threat, his aggression in seeking the ball and heading towards goal making him a nightmarish prospect for opposition defences.

He scored 107 goals in just five seasons with Barcelona and helped spark a glorious era in their history, winning four consecutive league titles and a first European Cup, in addition to being named as the winner of the 1994 Ballon d’Or after winning the World Cup’s Golden Boot that summer.

Technically gifted, tenacious and explosive, he formed a devastating partnership with Romario, though a briefly brilliant relationship sadly failed to last little longer than a year, unexpectedly departing within months of each other as the ‘Dream Team’ era ended.

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Romario

One in a long line of brilliant Brazilians to have lit up the Camp Nou in the modern era, Romario was a goalscorer extraordinaire during a sublime spell as Barcelona’s number nine.

The forward burst onto the scene during a prolific spell in the Eredivisie at PSV Eindhoven, finishing as the league’s leading scorer in three consecutive seasons and winning three league titles during a five-year spell in the Netherlands.

Johan Cruyff had taken note of the player’s spectacular exploits at PSV and brought Romario to Spain, where he made an instant impact with a debut hat-trick against Real Sociedad to quickly establish himself as a key figure in the Dutchman’s ‘Dream Team’.

Another hat-trick – in a 5-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Real Madrid – further etched Romario’s name into Barcelona folklore and after finishing as runner-up in 1993, he claimed the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1994 after firing Brazil to World Cup success in the United States.

Romario unexpectedly left Barcelona in 1995 amid a fall-out with Cruyff, a sad end to a relationship that saw the legendary manager describe the forward as ‘the greatest player he ever coached’, the Brazilian’s notorious party lifestyle spelling the end of his time in Catalonia.

Romario departed Barcelona having scored 34 goals in just 46 league appearances, whilst he remains the fourth-highest goalscorer in the history of the Brazilian national team.

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Ronaldo

There could hardly have been a more perfect replacement for Romario than Brazil’s next great hope, a young Ronaldo having followed in his compatriot’s footsteps in making the move to Europe with PSV Eindhoven.

PSV were well aware of the prospect they had on their hands and it took a world-record fee to prise the forward away from the Netherlands, one he instantly repaid in stunning style after arriving in Spain.

Ronaldo’s time as a Barcelona player lasted just a single, sensational season, though that is enough to warrant his inclusion on this feature given his phenomenal exploits in the Catalan club’s colours.

Rarely has a player looked quite so unstoppable as Ronaldo in a Barcelona shirt, the young forward scoring a staggering 47 goals in 49 matches, firing the club to a treble of cup successes and becoming the youngest ever winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Ronaldo was a blur of brutish strength and scintillating speed and skill, his phenomenal footwork seeing him dance through opposition challenges with signature feints, flicks and iconic step-overs.

The man nicknamed O Fenomeno sadly left the following summer with another world-transfer move to Inter Milan, his career seeing him win another Ballon d’Or and three FIFA World Player of the Year awards, in addition to firing Brazil to World Cup success in 2002.

Regarded by many as the greatest centre-forward to have ever graced the beautiful game despite the serious injury problems of his latter career, it is perhaps frightening to think of what more he could have achieved.

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Samuel Eto’o

Samuel Eto’o went from discarded talent at Real Madrid to a pivotal part of their rival’s renaissance, becoming one of Barcelona’s greatest number nines following a trophy-laden spell at the Camp Nou.

The Cameroonian rebuilt his career at Real Mallorca after failing to make the grade in Madrid, a prolific spell attracting the interest of a Barcelona side seeking some much needed inspiration.

Ronaldinho’s arrival had added star quality, but the Brazilian needed a supporting cast as Barcelona had just completed a fifth consecutive season without silverware.

Eto’o had fired a modest Mallorca to Copa del Rey success and into the Champions League and seemed tailor-made to spearhead the Barcelona attack, the forward finishing as the club’s leading scorer during his debut season as the Catalans were crowned as champions, his personal vendetta against Real Madrid only adding to his new-found hero status.

He finished as La Liga’s top scorer the following season as the title was retained, before netting in the club’s Champions League final victory over Arsenal as Barca were crowned as European champions for a second time.

Despite Pep Guardiola’s reservations he remained at the club and enjoyed his best-ever season under the Spaniard three years later, scoring 36 goals in all competitions as Barcelona completed a historic treble, netting yet another Champions League final goal as Manchester United were defeated in Rome.

He surprisingly left that summer for Inter Milan and won another treble in his debut season, his Barcelona record standing at a phenomenal 130 goals in just 199 appearances.

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Luis Suarez

Spanish footballs top two have often come calling for the Premier League‘s finest talent in recent years, with Barcelona making their move for Luis Suarez following his exploits at Liverpool.

The Uruguayan had won a share of the European Golden Shoe following a prolific season on Merseyside that saw him named as the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, moving to the Camp Nou in a deal worth a reported £75m.

His debut season saw him form a devastating attacking triumvirate alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, the South American superstars firing Barcelona to a continental treble.

Suarez’s selfless style, technical talents and individual match-winning ability made him the perfect foil for his fellow forwards, thriving as the focal point of the Barcelona side and scoring prolifically in the Catalan’s colours.

His second season saw him score an astonishing 59 goals in all competitions to win a second Golden Shoe and finish as La Liga’s leading scorer, the only player in more than a decade to win the honour not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

Only Messi and Cesar Rodriguez have ever scored more than Suarez’s 198 goals for Barcelona, his time at the club also including four league titles amongst a wealth of major honours.

His ushering out the exit door was a sad ending for one of the club’s greatest modern servants, Suarez a player who belongs amongst the best number nines in Blaugrana history.

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