By Noel Alberto, FINDink Contributor
The 2010s: Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Pique
The 2000s: Ronaldinho, Carlos Puyol, Victor Valdes, and even more of the three 2010 guys
The 1990s: R9 Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Gheorghe Hagi, Ronald Koeman, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo
The 1980s: Diego Maradona, Andoni Zubizarreta, Quini, Bernd Schuster
The 1970s: Johan Cruyff. Hans Krankl, Charly Rexach
In the last five decades, these are some of the biggest names that have donned the famous Blaugrana of FC Barcelona. To most soccer fans, these names are associated with the historic club from Catalunya. But also to most soccer fans, the name Paulino Alcantara has no bearing on them. Well now, it should. The Filipino is the only Asian, as of now, to don the famous Blaugrana stripes, and his folklore only continues to grow. He was the club’s leading goalscorer for 87 years after scoring 369 goals in 357 games before a young man named Lionel Messi went on to break it.
Hidden in His Homeland
Soccer is a sport that plays at best, third fiddle, in the Philippines behind the likes of basketball and boxing. In terms of sports, the names Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Efren “Bata” Reyes, Rafael “Paeng” Nepomuceno, Olivia “Bong” Coo, and more stand out for Filipinos. The reason for how hidden Alcantara is because he played in the 1910s and 20s.
Alcantara was born to a Filipino mother and a Spanish father, who was an officer in the military. At the age of three, he moved to Spain with his parents and first tasted the game of soccer when he joined FC Galeno. He was then discovered the Swiss-founder of Barcelona, Joan Gamper, a decade later. He made his debut for the Blaugrana at just 15 years and 4 months old, scoring a hat-trick to become the youngest-ever scorer for the club, a record that still stands today.
His goalscoring prowess earned him the suitable nickname “El Romperedes” (The Net Breaker).
After claiming a Copa del Rey, Pyrenees Cup, and a Catalunya Championship in his first full season, Alcantara went on to help the Blaugrana claim one more Catalunya Championship in 1916 before his family moved back to the Philippines.
Forcing His Way Back
After moving back to the Philippines, Alcantara continued to study medicine, which was his plan for life after football and found another club to play for, Bohemians Sporting Club. He helped the club claim two Philippine Championships in 1917 and 1918 as well as earning his first cap (international call-up) for the Philippines National Team. He helped the Azkals claim the Far Eastern Championship Games title with a 15-2 win over Japan, which still stands as the Philippines’ largest-ever international victory.
While Alcantara was bringing home more silverware, Barcelona struggled to find success without him, failing to win a major trophy in the three years he was gone as the club pleaded for him to comeback. After contracting malaria, Alcantara refused to take the prescribed medicine until his parents allowed him back.
Yes He’s Back, Back Again
Once he returned to Spain, former teammate and then club manager Jack Greenwell tried testing out the Filipino as a defender. After much uproar, he was then switched back to his original position which helped Barcelona claim their first trophy, the 1919 Catalunya Championship, since Alcantara’s first stint at the club. Barcelona won their first Copa del Rey in seven years after claiming the title in 1920 with the help of the Filipino.
Alcantara earned a Spanish National Team call-up in 1920 as well to participate in the Olympics but chose to take his medical exams instead. He eventually made his Spain debut in 1921, scoring two goals for the country against Belgium.
Finishing in Style
Barcelona and Alcantara continued to roll in the silverware. In 1922, he famously earned the moniker “El Romperedes” after scoring vs France for Spain and literally breaking the net. Alcantara retired from football on July 3, 1927, to become a doctor and played his testimonial on the same day.
He finished his Barcelona career with two Pyrenees Cups, five Copa del Reys, and 10 Catalunya Championships (he was a part of four straight winning teams from 1924-1927 and helped the club win eight of nine titles after his return with 1923 being the exception). He served as the club director between 1931 and 1934 and coached Spain for three games in the 1950s.
Back in the Spotlight
At 17-years-old, a young Argentine named Lionel Messi scored his first Barcelona goal in his career. It would take over a decade, but “The Atomic Flea” broke the goalscoring record of Alcantara after bagging a hat-trick vs Osasuna in March 2014. After the record was broken, the floodgates opened about who exactly was Paulino Alcantara.
And with that, they found out he was, one of the greatest Barcelona goalscorers ever, the only Asian to don the Blaugrana shirt, and most importantly for us, Filipino.
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