Despite a flurry of other business, Barcelona did not manage to sign Neymar this summer.
It seems like this one fact will dominate discussion about the Blaugrana’s qualities (perceived and actual) until such a time passes that Barcelona are sweeping all before them with one of their new signings leading the way. But until then, people will look at their window as a disappointment. And if they fail to win the Champions League in 2020, well, then people will point to how it’s been five years since their last triumph.
As it stands, it has been four, but why has it been so long? When they won it in 2015 Leo Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez were all 28. Ivan Rakitic was 27, Jordi Alba was 26 and Neymar was 23. The core of a side that was built to dominate Europe was right there. All they needed were replacements for Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano as well as some squad depth. How hard could that be, right?
Well, as it turns out, pretty hard. Of the 22 players signed since that win in Berlin (not counting those from this window, obviously), only seven are in the squad this season, while Barcelona’s team remains absurdly built around everyone in the above paragraph bar Neymar who they have obviously been trying to re-sign.
It’s a ridiculous situation and goes some way to explaining why they never managed to build on that Champions League success. The club’s attempts to build a squad have gone… and so, let’s have a look at those 22 signings and see how they each landed, shall we? Obviously we can’t grade the signings made this summer, but for everyone else: were they a hit, or a miss?
In hindsight, maybe people should have known Arda Turan wouldn’t work at Barcelona when he said he was joining the club because he wanted to “run less”. Still, the expectations for Arda at the Camp Nou were high and he was meant to be the heir to Iniesta, except he brought none of the sauce he showed in his Atletico Madrid days, but all of the frustration. Moreover his stupid foul in El Clasico is still seen as the reason Barcelona lost La Liga that season. He performed a bit in his second year as a winger, but was ultimately a sad misfire.
Aleix Vidal wanted to play for Barcelona so badly after helping Sevilla win the 2014/15 Europa League, that he willingly spent six months doing nothing as the club went through the last stages of their registration ban. Vidal never really got his momentum back from there, though, and failed spectacularly in his attempts to replace Dani Alves (though to be fair breaking his leg didn’t help). He stuck around for a while and scored in a Bernabeu Clasico, but then what Barcelona player hasn’t done that? He left last year – a letdown.
Barcelona’s second attempt to replace Andres Iniesta went slightly better than the first in that Denis Suarez was actually quite useful to the side in short bursts of action, albeit mostly as a winger rather than a central midfielder. The Spaniard never developed the skill-set needed to play centrally though, and well, given that that was the club’s area of need and he was only marginally useful outside of that, this has to be a miss.
An outstanding purchase, it’s baffling to think that Barcelona kept hold of Jasper Cillessen for as long as they did. He won two consecutive Copa del Reys and was relentlessly solid and professional for the Blaugrana. He tore up no trees but was consistent, reliable and nice until departing for a starting job at Valencia this summer. Exactly what you want from a back-up goalkeeper. Nothing but net.
The crossing maniac was signed to back-up Jordi Alba but the difference in playing style between him and the Catalan (Alba’s pace was basically 90% of his game) meant that he could never really do the job, and the team always looked kind of weird with him in it. Left on loan and was then sold to Everton where he has since been really quite great playing his natural game in blue. In Blaugrana however? A dud.
Marlon was a promising young centre-back who looked capable of giving cover to Gerard Pique should he need it. He looked an exciting talent and when he was loaned to Nice, the same club who had developed young Malang Sarr into a prodigy, it seemed to be a good fit for him. But he was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and his tweener skill-set meant he never really stood out enough to be a major prospect. Barcelona moved on to other defenders.
Signed in 2016, Samuel Umtiti was the defender Barcelona waited half a decade for. They needed someone like him as soon as Carles Puyol began to fall off in 2011 (Pep Guardiola tried to sign Thiago Silva to no avail). An absolute titan with undeniable technical and physical skills that has allowed him to absolutely dominate alongside Gerard Pique. He has been hampered by injury since he was part of France’s World Cup win a year ago but has been a tremendous success regardless.
An orthodox striker for a decidedly unorthodox position. Someone thought it’d be smart to have Alcacer as back-up to Luis Suarez. But just like Digne at left-back this didn’t work and the poor Spaniard struggled mightily at the Camp Nou. It didn’t help that he never got an extended run in the side but he never looked worthy of one, albeit only two players hit the woodwork more times than he did per-90 (0.29 times) in his debut season (of those who played at least 900 minutes). He has been tearing up trees for Borussia Dortmund in he Bundesliga since leaving Catalunya, but didn’t get it done at the Camp Nou.
Signed as a budget version of Paul Pogba, this acquisition made so much sense on paper. Andre Gomes was tall, strong, reasonably quick, he could dribble, tackle and shoot. He could do everything and was so often key for Valencia. However the pressure of playing at the Camp Nou in front of such an expectant crowd took a huge toll on him. Gomes has spoken openly about his mental health issues as a result of the pressure, and thankfully has looked excellent in a less stressful environment at Everton – but his time at Barcelona was a miss.
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Barcelona used their buy-back clause to bring Gerard Deulofeu back to the Camp Nou with the promise of an actual chance that he would be a first-teamer for the side. Of course after a few bright games he tapered off massively and began to look frustrated. Barcelona loaned him to Watford in January 2018, then sold him there in June. A big disappointment.
Like Umtiti, Semedo was the defender Barcelona had been waiting half a decade for. Bar one three month period in Spring 2015 Dani Alves had been in decline since 2012 and here, finally, was the man to replace him. Nowhere near the passer of Alves, but a much better defender and just as relentless an athlete… except Ernesto Valverde continued to prefer Sergi Roberto for some reason. Semedo is a hit because whenever he plays he does well and the side usually look more solid, but there’s definitely room to grow.
When Barcelona signed Paulinho in 2017 absolutely no one could understand the move. He was a Spurs flop and had been in China for years. But Ernesto Valverde saw something no one else did and to his immense credit Paulinho was great for Barcelona. Never a technician and perhaps not the midfielder the side deserved, but definitely the one they needed at the time. Paulinho’s goals helped a talent-deficient Barcelona come within one game of an unbeaten league season. Job done, he departed back to China a hero.
A supreme talent who is equal to any young player in the world, Ousmane Dembele has two great misfortunes. The first is not his own, as he was signed in the wake of the Neymar exit. As such, his transfer fee was hideously inflated and he had an undue amount of pressure placed on him.
The second is his fault, as he lives a grossly unprofessional life which exacerbates the muscle injuries which have so far plagued his time with Barcelona and prevented him from truly developing. It’s a shame too because when he’s fit he is an absolute dynamo, having helped the Blaugrana win last season’s Supercopa de Espana while giving them a huge leg up in La Liga with several point-winning goals.
The massive Yerry Mina was signed with an eye on developing his raw physical talents and forging him into one of the world’s most dominant defenders. Unfortunately for the Colombian he wasn’t given enough of a chance to really bed in, and he spent far too often looking easily panicked by pressing and having to pass the ball out from the back. Left for Everton where he looks more comfortable, an unfortunate miss.
Courted for a year, Barcelona waited until January 2018 to get their man for a gargantuan fee that saw him become the second most expensive player of all-time, and for his first half-season it looked worth it, as Coutinho hammered in goals.
A change of number brought a change of fortune however, and Coutinho was absolutely wretched in his second season. His confidence vanished, his stamina disappeared and he became this weird, dithering barely watchable coward of a player. It was strange to watch a player so talented look so useless, but useless is what he was.
The Blaugrana have since cast him off to Bayern Munich on loan (no one wanted to buy him). He is as big a miss as you can imagine. The biggest flop of all-time.
He should’ve been solid gold as he does all the things Ousmane Dembele can (well maybe not the ambipedal madness) and also works hard, lives clean and has ligaments and muscles that don’t snap if the wind blows a bit too much. Yet because the Barcelona board signed him and not Willian, as Ernesto Valverde wanted, poor Malcom was barely used, even when he played well whenever called upon. They have since binned him off to Zenit St. Petersburg, which seems needlessly cruel after basically wasting a year of his career.
Signed to back-up Samuel Umtiti, the Frenchman was thrust into a starting role when his compatriot began suffering from serious injury problems. Lenglet is, on paper, not a good compliment to Gerard Pique as both men share the same vulnerabilities to pace – but his timing and positioning have helped him develop fluidly and he has since establish himself as the go-to man at the heart of Barcelona’s defence.
About four years too late but Barcelona finally found their Xavi heir and he came from Brazil. Arthur was a sensation for Gremio as they won the Copa Libertadores and upon joining Barcelona he almost instantly “got it” and was so perfect in midfield next to Sergio Busquets.
Arthur was particularly good in the Champions League and one can’t help but feel that with him on the field the Blaugrana wouldn’t have been 3-0 down after the hour mark (when he was finally introduced) at Anfield, but alas. With Frenkie de Jong now on the team he should have license to push further forward and really strut his stuff. A smash hit.
Signed to replace Paulinho as the go-to tough guy in midfield, Arturo Vidal is exactly that. Sure he often can’t pass the ball further than 10 yards but occasionally he’ll produce a beautiful through-ball and he will run himself into the ground 100% of the time. There’s something to be said for finding a niche and filling it superbly but Arturo Vidal does exactly that. Rubbish hair, mind.
Signed on loan to provide cover in defence, Murillo was so useless that he barely even saw the field and Gerard Pique played on through pain anyway. It’s hard to miss at just being a back-up and understudy but somehow Murillo managed it.
Todibo was labelled “the next Varane” and you can see why. This French teenager is tall, strong and rapid as hell. Barcelona signed him in January with the hopes of developing him for the future and whilst it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, what we’ve seen so far has been very impressive. He looks at ease playing Barca-style football in a way many new signings don’t. His athleticism is now much-needed given Umtiti’s knee trouble, and at 19-years-old he has a long time to grow and improve. Sky’s the limit!
Signed on loan be a back-up to Luis Suarez, Boateng was so useless that he barely even saw the field and Luis Suarez had to… well, you get the point here. This is a really disappointing failure, to be honest, because a technical wizard and known maverick like Boateng should have thrived in this current iteration of Barcelona. But none of the tricks and flicks from his younger days were evident and he just looked like a grown man in 2019 with a goatee. It was impossible to take him seriously, and he never did anything to prove anyone otherwise.