Spanish club Barcelona has been home to some of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen. To give a little perspective: Since the conception of the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1991, five players from the Catalan side have had the honour of being named the best player on the planet – the most of any club in the world. Although almost all of the legends of the club come from Spain, South America and other European countries, one Asian player stands out above the rest – Filipino Paulino Alcantara.
Brazilian talents Romario, Ronaldo, and Rivaldo were all handed the prestigious World Player of the Year award in the 90s, developing an image that Barca was where the best players should be plying their trade. Upon the turn of the century, another Samba sensation in Ronaldinho would make the Camp Nou his own and display unbelievable ability, proving untouchable in 2004 and 2005.
At present, the Catalan club are still holding true to their history of boasting the most exquisite of talents in their squad, with the rise of Argentinean phenomenon Lionel Messi, who is the reigning World Player of the Year. With another unbelievable season under his belt, it would be no surprise if the 22-year-old is handed the honour for the second year running.
Before all of these amazing South American stars wowed the entire world however, Barcelona had already produced extraordinary footballers, who provided the foundation from which the club continued to develop special talents. From the club’s founder, Joan Gamper, who still holds the club record for scoring nine goals in a single match, to Josep Samitier and Luis Suarez, all the way down to the likes of Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona, Barcelona have had a knack for being the team where some of history’s best players made their mark.
Almost a century ago, the first ever star of the historic club made his debut as a 15-year-old, setting a record as the youngest ever to play and score in a senior match up to the present day. The first ever Asian to play in Europe, the Filipino, barely a teenager at the time, scored a hat-trick in his first game for Barcelona, setting the tone for what would be a spectacular career.
Paulino Alcantara was born in Iloilo City, Philippines on 7th October, 1896, to a Spanish father and a Filipino mother. He moved to Spain as a youngster, and started his career at FC Galeno before being identified by Gamper as a talent with massive potential. The club founder’s risk in bringing the teenager to play for the Catalan club at senior level was certainly one that paid immense dividends for the team, as the Filipino proved to have an uncanny knack for finding the back of the net.
After helping Barcelona win the Copa del Rey and the Campionat de Catalunya (Catalan football championship) twice, Alcantara returned to the Philippines in 1916, where he played for the Bohemian Sporting Club and the Philippine national team. While the then 20-year-old was winning titles upon his return to his native land, the Catalan side he left behind had failed to win any silverware in his absence.
The wait for his return wouldn’t be long however, as he travelled back to Spain after two successful years in his home country. And with his comeback, came the first golden era in Barcelona’s history, a period in which the club completely dominated football in their region. Starting from 1919, the Blaugrana went on an amazing streak, winning eight consecutive Campionat de Catalunya titles, and capturing five Copa del Rey trophies.
Although already a cult figure in Catalonia, and a star in Spain, Alcantara would not really gain an international following until he started playing for the Spanish national team in 1921. As a mature and more complete 25-year-old, the Filipino sensation was by now revered throughout the country as a gifted goalscorer with a remarkably powerful shot, but his legend would grow to mythical proportions when Spain played France in 1922.
In the match held at Bouscat Stadium in Bordeaux, France, the scoring sensation struck a shot so hard that, much to the amazement of all in attendance, the ball shredded the back of the net. The game would go down as the most influential in Alcantara’s career, as he managed a feat that would play in the imagination of aspiring footballers for years to come.
Barcelona’s official history recalls the moment, and pays tribute to the incredible feat, claiming, “For many years after, children from Barcelona would recall that moment and would wish to do the same as the man from the Philippines.”
Alcantara would hang up his boots in 1927 after a highly successful career, retiring at the ripe age of 31 to become a medical doctor. His affinity for football would not end however, as he went on to become a Barcelona director from 1931 until 1934. He would also go on to enjoy a short stint as manager of Spain’s national team, but Alcantara will be best remembered for his incredible talent in front of goal and for helping the Camp Nou side establish themselves as true giants of the Spanish game with trophies arriving by the bucketload in the golden era of the 1920s.
The Filipino scoring machine finished his career with 357 goals in 357 matches for Barcelona, a record that has yet to be surpassed despite almost an entire century going by. His achievements remain in the hearts of all true Barcelona fans around the world, but unfortunately, Alcantara’s legend is largely ignored in his native Philippines.
With the global game recently attempting to make a comeback in the anomaly of South East Asian football however, the Iloilo-born scoring sensation could be set to be remembered and recognised in the way his legend deserves. The goalscoring phenomenon may have lived a good century before our time, but he certainly deserves his place among the world’s best ever to play the game. With football currently looking to reach new heights in the Philippines, aspiring young players in the country need not look far for inspiration – they just need to remember Paulino Alcantara.
Photo courtesy: fcbarcelona.com