His nickname was ‘El Romperedes’, which can be translated as “The Netbreaker.” Paulino Alcántara is the all-time leading scorer of FC Barcelona, but he is perhaps best known for a legendary moment he created with his right foot while playing for the Spanish national team. It was April 30, 1922. The opponent was France. Alcántara struck the ball from 30 yards away from goal. For a man who scored 357 goals in 357 appearances for Barca, the fact that the ball made it past the French keeper should come as no shock. What made the moment so transcendent was that Alcántara struck the ball so hard it broke through the back of the net. It was a display of power that children in Spain would attempt for years to replicate while playing with their friends.
Maybe even more remarkable than that made-for-cinema moment against France is where Alcántara came from. The Philippines is a country that today has a sporting landscape dominated by the NBA and boxing, owing to Filipino living legend Manny Pacquiao. The national team is ranked 169th in the world by FIFA and football has simply never been on the radar of most Filipinos. But this is the country that gave the world Paulino Alcántara, the first player to ever come from Asia and find a place on a European football club’s roster. Despite being largely unknown in his home country, he is well remembered by the football-loving minority there, as he is in Spain. A statue of him stands outside the Philippine Football Federation offices. Having a Spanish father stationed in the Philippines allowed him to come to Catalunya in 1910 to further his education. Soon after, he was discovered by Barca’s founder, Joan Gamper, while playing for FC Galeno. Making his debut for Barca in 1912, he scored the first three goals in a 9-0 win. Amazingly, he was just 15 years old at the time. Regardless of the difference in eras, that is an absolutely astounding feat. A year after his debut, the club won the Chapionat de Catalunya and the Copa del Rey, which was considered the Spanish championship at that time.
In 1916, his parents returned to the Philippines. Demonstrating how incredibly far professional sports have risen in the public consciousness since then, they took their son with them against his wishes. Barca immediately found themselves incapable of winning a trophy, and the club unsuccessfully begged his parents to allow Paulino to return. Despite his unfortunate situation, Alcántara found ways to apply himself athletically away from Spain. He played for the Filipino national team at the Far East Championship Games in 1917. He led them to a second place finish, including a 15-2 win over Japan. This remains the best showing for the national team in Filipino history. Seeing no need to limit himself, he also represented the Philippines on their national table tennis team.
Soon after though, Alcántara contracted malaria. In this serious illness, he saw a point of negotiation he could use to his advantage with his parents. Showing plenty of boldness, and maybe a bit of youthful craziness, he refused to take his prescribed medicine until he was allowed to return to Spain. Not long after, he found himself healthy and in the starting lineup for FC Barcelona once again. Jack Greenwell, Barca’s first professional manager, initially inserted him in the defense. But Greenwell soon realized that the fans would accept no such silliness, and Alcántara was back in the front and on his way to becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer. Maybe more importantly, the club began to dominate both the Copa del Rey and the Chapionat de Catalunya, winning 12 trophies between 1919 and 1927.
Off the pitch, he was on his way to becoming a doctor and he went on to have a long career in medicine after his football career. This was a very important part of his life; he even turned down the opportunity to play for the Spanish national team at the 1920 Olympics because it conflicted with his studies. After retiring from the club in 1927, he served as club director between 1931 and 1934, and later managed Spain for a short stint in 1951. Alcántara died in Barcelona in 1964 at age 67.