I keep seeing Paulino Alcantara's name in FB Barcelona-generated media. This one gives a pretty decent take on his story:
Paulino Alcantara: BARCELONA’S ORIGINAL INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR
In 1916, however, just as Paulino was beginning to enter his physical prime with his football club maintaining momentum, his family moved back to the Philippines and took him along to study medicine in Manila. True to form, he joined local football club Bohemians, who became the dominant team in the nation. Alcántara would lead them to local success, and get recruited to play for the Filipino national team at the 1917 Tokyo Far Eastern Championship Games. It was there that he played during what remains the country’s high-water achievement in football, as the Philippines destroyed Japan 15-2. Astonishingly enough, he also represented the Philippines in table tennis.
The accolades he’d accrued in Asia notwithstanding, Paulino was desperate to return to Barcelona. In late 1917, he contracted malaria and refused to take medication to remedy it until he was allowed to go back to Spain and get back on the pitch. His family acquiesced and the phenomenon was soon back in Catalunya, where he resumed the form that helped the Blaugrana lift trophies once again.
Three years later he was chosen to represent Spain in the Olympics, but instead of going with La Roja to the Antwerp games he elected to take his final medical exams instead, missing out on Spain’s silver medal finish to host nation Belgium’s gold. There was doubtless an air of ‘what if…’ as one of the great talents of the day prioritised medicine over the relative frivolity of sport. He would get his Spanish national team debut a year later, at the age of 25, and score six goals in five appearances for Spain – including a brace in a 2-0 victory over Belgium. Alcántara would go undefeated in the Spanish national team.
Without film or indeed many photos of Paulino, it is hard to truly understand what gifts he possessed on the pitch, but there remain accounts of his legendary cannon foot. It is said that a policeman guarding the pitch in a game at Real Sociedad in 1919 ventured too close to the goal, and Paulino shot with such strength that both the ball and the officer ended up in the back of the net. Cementing his legend, a 1922 game played for Spain against France saw his shot rip through the back of the net. This feat earned him the nickname “Trencaxarxes” – the net breaker.
Alcántara would figure prominently for FC Barcelona until his retirement in 1927, at the age of 31. During his Blaugrana career, he was a fundamental component of their boom into super-club status. It was during his spell at the team that the club membership exploded from a few hundred, to over 20,000. They also had to move their home from the 8,000 capacity Camp de la Indústria, to Les Cortes which fit 30,000 initially (though it would be expanded to accommodate 60,000 in the 1940s). Alcántara was an exotic talent to the Barcelona fans, and he attracted supporters with his abundant magnetism, brooding good looks, and signature white bandana that he tied to his waist. After he retired from football with at least 357 goals in all competitions, the club seemed to spiral somewhat. He would go on to be a director at the club from 1931-1934, while maintaining his practice as a urologist.
In 1930, Joan Gamper committed suicide as the club faced increasing pressure from the government for their outspoken advocacy for an independent Catalunya. Having had Les Cortes shut by the military for six months after the Barça supporters booed the Spanish national anthem, the climate in Catalunya became fraught with the repressive tension that would characterise much of the ensuing decades.
Likewise, the Franco fascist government became more draconian towards any dissent from the Catalans, and would murder FCB president Josep Sunyol in August 1936, only two days after Alcántara fled to Andorra, briefly, before returning to Spain. Much like the Americans in the Philippines, Franco had a black or white policy when it came to allies and enemies, and the costs for being a member of the opposition were brutal.
This life-or-death context, along with Paulino’s own upbringing as the son of a Spanish colonial soldier who had been received so warmly in his father’s homeland should be considered when learning of his participation in the Francoist army. Originally identifying himself as a Carlist conservative, he joined the Francoist army during the Spanish Civil War and served as a Lieutenant in the Black Arrows fascist brigade. The extent that he served medically or militarily is not totally clear, but what is apparent is that aligning with Franco on any level in Catalunya during the time was a socially precarious decision that was anything but black and white.
As the Spanish Civil war settled and the opposition to Franco was largely defeated by 1939, Alcántara settled into a kind of place of esteem in Spain. His medical practice was successful, and he still was recognised as a living legend. He married and had two sons. In 1951, he was briefly one of the Spanish national team coaches. He lived out his days in Barcelona, and passed away at the age of 67, on February 13, 1964.
What remains so mysterious about Alcántara was how he could navigate football, family, culture, and politics when the stakes were so incredibly high. Something of a stranger in all lands in which he lived, he managed to become a legend in an exceedingly dangerous time. The record of his athletic achievements still towers above all but Messi, and he was never uprooted away from his club as Alcántara was, or forced to perform under such swirling uncertainty and violent turmoil. Indeed, the fact that he broke through the nets of his opponents seems to serve as an ideal metaphor for a man who could not be contained within a single culture, political ideology, or philosophy. A complex microcosm unto himself, he remains the greatest Asian footballer ever and one of the cornerstones the legend of FC Barcelona is built on.