Més que un club (More than a club) was the stated aim of one Narcis de Carreras when he was appointed President of FC Barcelona in 1968. And that simple phrase has become a declaration of intent for a team that, in the 100-plus years since they were founded, have earned respect and admiration across the globe for their footballing success and unswerving social commitment.
Even the club's Swiss founder Hans Gamper could surely not have imagined just how huge his project would become. To the long list of titles won by the football team, you have to add a vast number of national and international triumphs achieved by the institution's 13 other sporting divisions.
Birth of an institution
Barça first came into being on the 29 November 1899, after Gamper was able to bring together 12 football fans after publishing an advert in a local newspaper. In the early decades of its existence, the club steadily developed into one of the most popular sporting societies in the Catalan region. The team's first golden period came about in the 1920s, coinciding with the unveiling of their new Les Corts stadium in 1922, a decade that brought the Azulgranas their first national league title and four Spanish Cups.
The suicide of the club's founding father, said to have been a result of the economic crisis brought about by the market crash of 1929, ushered in a disappointing period for the men in blue-and-crimson-striped shirts. While it took Barcelona until the middle of the century to regain their status as a force on the domestic scene, the years Spain spent under the dictatorship of General Franco helped strengthen their image as a symbol of the Catalan culture so oppressed by the political powers of the period.
The legend grows
The arrival of Ladislao Kubala in 1950 caused such a surge in attendances that plans began to construct a new stadium. The Hungarian star's signing kick-started a period of domestic success, though even the legendary forward line of Basora, Cesar, Kubala, Moreno and Machon fell short of cementing the club's status on the international stage.
After winning two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups in succession, Barça's first assault on the European Cup came in 1961, in the wake of five consecutive triumphs by fierce rivals Real Madrid. However, having overcome Los Merengues in the last four, that year's final would end in a 3-2 win for Portuguese giants Benfica. This painful wound was subsequently salted by the departure of coach Helenio Herrera and midfield schemer Luis Suarez, two vital ingredients in Inter Milan's European Cup triumphs of 1964 and 1965.
The Blaugranas endeavoured to recover some of their splendour in the 1970s, via a crop of big-name signings. Undoubtedly the one to have the biggest and most enduring impact was Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff, who left an indelible stamp on the club as both a player and coach.
In the 1980s, Barcelona once again spent huge sums in attracting proven world-class performers such as Diego Maradona, Bernd Schuster and Gary Lineker, but the arrival of these star names failed to produce the coveted flood of titles. Indeed, 1986 would bring one of the bitterest disappointments in the club's history, after they had reached the European Cup final for a second time. Romanian opponents Steaua Bucharest frustrated the Catalan outfit for 120 scoreless minutes in Seville, before taking the title on penalties.
Once again the spark to reignite Barça's fire came from Cruyff, this time as a coach. The wily Dutchman astutely handled a dressing room packed with star names and turned them into a 'Dream Team', as they became known. Ronald Koeman, Josep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Romario, to name but a few, wowed the world with their stunning displays and four consecutive league titles. The icing on the cake came at Wembley Stadium in 1992, defender Koeman's thumping free-kick against Sampdoria sealing Barcelona's maiden European Cup.
The great Cruyff would prove an impossible act to follow. Ensuing coaches Bobby Robson and then Louis Van Gaal both failed to fully win over the Camp Nou faithful despite adding two further league titles, two Copas del Rey, a European Cup Winners' Cup and a European Super Cup to the club's bulging trophy cabinet.
On the wake of several changes in the boardroom, a new and exciting project was brought in comprising every level of the club. Handed the footballing reins was another Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard, whose team included players of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o. The former Ajax and AC Milan midfielder's crowning glory as Barça coach came in Paris in 2006, Ronaldinho and Co fighting back from a goal down against Arsenal to win European football's biggest trophy for the second time.
This period would also be noteworthy for a act of social solidarity that continues to underline the club's motto of 'More than a club'. Barça signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) by which the first-team shirt, which has never previously worn a sponsor's name, would carry the organisation's logo. Nor did UNICEF have to pay for the privilege. On the contrary, the club agreed to donate 1.5 million euros per year to UNICEF's humanitarian projects.
In the 1950s, when the number of Barça members soared, leaving the Les Corts stadium too small for the club's needs, work was started on a new stadium. The Camp Nou was inaugurated on 24 September 1957 and, after being renovated several times in the half century since, currently has an official capacity of 98,787. It is also one of only five stadiums given a five-star rating by UEFA.
Apart from Barcelona matches, during which the stands are often adorned by impressively choreographed routines, performed by card-waving fans, the Camp Nou has also played host to a number of international finals. The last of these was the Champions League final in 1999, while the venue also held the opening ceremony of the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ and was a host stadium for the Olympic Football Tournament at Barcelona 1992.
And the mythical stadium is currently set for another facelift, with a futuristic and ambitious proposal from widely respected architect Norman Foster the one chosen after a fiercely contested bidding process. In keeping with the history of this glorious club, the results are expected to be spectacular.