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Born: Wednesday 7 October 1896, Iloilo, Philippines
Died: Thursday 13 February 1964, Barcelona, Spain (aged 67)
One of the greatest players ever to come from Asia, Filipino star Paulino Alcántara was a powerful, prolific striker who spent the vast majority of his career in Spain with Barcelona. A highly intellingent man who would go on to become a doctor following the end of his playing career, he scored more goals in a Barcelona shirt than any other player in the club's history when both competitive and friendly goals are considered.
Born in Iloilo in the Philippines on 7 October 1896, Paulino Alcántara Riestra was the son of a Spanish military officer father and a native Filipino mother. As a child his family moved to Barcelona, and Alcántara began his football career playing at youth level for FC Galeno. Very quickly, he caught the eye of the region's leading club, FC Barcelona, and joined them at the age of just 15. Given his debut in February 1912 in a Catalan league match against Catalá SC, he scored the opening three goals in a crushing 9-0 win and immediately became a vital member of the team. He was the first player of Asian origin to play as a professional in Europe.
At that time, there was no national league competition in Spain and competitive football was provided by the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) and regional league competitions, in Barcelona's case the Catalan League. During Alcántara's time at the club they would enjoy great success in both these competitions. Barcelona finished his breakthrough season of 1911-12 as joint runners-up, but trophies were not far away. A league title in 1913 was accompanied by a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad in the cup final, Alcántara's first final at the age of 16.
Another Catalan title followed in 1916, but later that year Alcántara's parents decided to return to the Philippines, taking their son (by then nearly 20 years old) with them, apparently against his wishes. Back in Asia, he continued his football career with local side Bohemians, with whom he won the Filipino League in both 1917 and 1918. He also appeared for the national team during that spell, playing in the Far Eastern Games in Tokyo, where he helped his home country to take the silver medals. The 15-2 win over hosts Japan in that tournament remains the Philippines' biggest win in international football.
Without Alcántara, Barcelona struggled, finishing only third in the league twice in succession, and desperately tried to arrange for him to be allowed to return to Europe. Following a bout of malaria, Alcántara was allowed to return to Spain in 1918 and once healthy rejoined Barcelona. As in his first spell with the club, his impact was immediate. The club won the Catalan league again in 1918-19, and inspired by Alcántara went on to claim eight titles in nine years, only failing to take the crown in 1923 following a 1-0 play-off defeat to CE Europa. The titles of 1920, 1922, 1925 and 1926 were complemented by cup success as well. Alcántara scored in three of the finals, including an extra-time winner against Atlético Madrid in 1926.
His second spell with Barcelona led to Alcántara becoming one of the relatively small group of players to represent more than one country at international level. Spain had wanted to select him for the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, but he passed up the opportunity in order to take medical exams. On his 25th birthday in 1921, he did finally make his debut for the Spanish national team against Belgium, scoring two goals. In total he scored six goals in five matches for Spain over a period of two years. One of those goals, against France in 1922, came from a shot so hard that it tore the net, earning Alcántara the nickname of 'El Romperedes', or 'The Netbreaker'. As well as his appearances for the Philippines and Spain, Alcántara also represented Catalonia in regional tournaments and unofficial 'internationals'.
Despite Barcelona's dominance at domestic level, Alcántara surprisingly retired from playing in the summer of 1927, following the tenth Catalan league title of his career. He was still three months short of his 31st birthday, but had always been committed to his medical studies and went on to devote many years to working as a doctor. By the time he left the club, his record stood at a remarkable 357 goals in 357 games, although more than 200 of his goals came in friendly matches. It should be remembered, however, that the nature of football at the time meant that there were more friendlies and fewer competitive games than there are today. The end of his playing career was not the end of his association with FC Barcelona as he returned in 1931 as a director, remaining on the board for three years.
Alcántara then disappeared from active involvement in football for some 17 years, but surprisingly returned in the early 1950s to coach the Spanish national team. Working alongside Luis Iceta and Félix Quesada, his first game in February 1951 finished in a 6-3 victory over Switzerland in Madrid. Four months later, he would also lead the national team in two friendlies against Belgium and Sweden, both of which would finish in draws. That marked the end of his career in football, but he would remain living in Barcelona until his death in February 1964, at the age of 67. He remains relatively unknown in his native Philippines, where football is not one of the most popular sports, but is rightly recognised as a legend at FC Barcelona.
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- Published on Sunday, 20 November 2011 18:24