Leaving an elite club like Barcelona can seem like the end of the world, but that isn’t the case.
There are some players who have left the Camp Nou but still gone on to make a success of their careers. Who have managed to overcome the disappointment and thrive at other clubs. Who are these players? We’ve rounded up 13 of the best examples!
For reference, those players who headed back to the Camp Nou like Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba are not included here, although they did obviously succeed enough to make the Blaugrana want to sign them back.
1. Diego Maradona
Time at Barcelona: 1982-1984
Trophies won since leaving: 1986 FIFA World Cup, Serie A (2), 1986/87 Coppa Italia, 1988/89 UEFA Cup, 1990 Supercoppa Italiana.
You can’t talk about life after Barcelona unless you start with Diego Maradona, literally one of the four greatest players the game has ever seen. A flop in Catalunya, known best for his mega-brawl with Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey, Maradona joined Napoli in 1984 and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. Michael Laudrup
Time at Barcelona: 1989-1994
Trophies won since leaving: 1994/95 La Liga, 1995 FIFA Confederations Cup, 1997/98 Eredivisie, 1997/98 KNVB Cup.
Michael Laudrup falling out with Johan Cruyff and leaving the four-time La Liga champions could have felt like leaving Paradise, but the Dane simply went to Real Madrid and powered Los Blancos to snatch La Liga from the Blaugrana. He then went to Ajax and had an epic send-off to his career by doing the domestic double.
3. Pepe Reina
Time at Barcelona: 1995-2002
Trophies won since leaving: 2005 UEFA Super Cup, 2005/06 FA Cup, 2006 Community Shield, UEFA European Championship (2), 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2011/12 EFL Cup, 2013/14 Coppa Italia, 2014/15 Bundesliga.
Before there was Victor Valdés, there was Pepe Reina. Except under the Gaspart presidency, they didn’t treat La Masia right, so Reina was forced out of the club. He stabilised at Villarreal and then became a literal legend playing for Liverpool and a whole host of other European giants, not to mention being an ever-present during the Spanish national team’s golden era.
4. Mikel Arteta
Time at Barcelona: 1997-2001
Trophies won since leaving: 2002/03 Scottish Premier League, 2002/03 Scottish League Cup, FA Cup (2), Community Shield (2).
Mikel Arteta wasn’t even good enough as a midfielder to make the Barcelona bench, so he left and after a brief spell with PSG he made his legend in the UK. First with Rangers, then with Everton and, lastly, Arsenal.
5. Luis Garcia
Time at Barcelona: 1990-1998 + 2003-2004
Trophies won since leaving: 2004/05 Champions League, 2005 UEFA Super Cup, 2005/06 FA Cup, 2006 Community Shield, 2014 Indian Super League.
Luis Garcia did the Cesc Fabregas “return home” thing before it was cool, but was promptly disposed of as Barcelona looked to take their squad to the next level. However, Garcia would taste Champions League success first, winning in 2005 and becoming a Liverpool legend in the process. Later he even won an Indian Super League!
6. Samuel Eto’o
Time at Barcelona: 2004-2009
Trophies won since leaving: 2009/10 Serie A, Coppa Italia (2), 2009/10 Champions League, 2010 Supercoppa Italiana, 2010 FIFA Club World Cup.
The dynamic and deliriously dangerous Samuel Eto’o had a fractious relationship with Pep Guardiola and so was sold from the best team in the world after the Treble in 2009. Instead of sulking, Eto’o enacted the most epic revenge imaginable: he went and helped Inter win a Treble the very next season, knocking Barcelona out on the way to winning the Champions League. The only man in football history to win back-to-back Trebles. A true king.
7. David Villa
Time at Barcelona: 2010-2013
Trophies won since leaving: 2013/14 La Liga, 2019 Emperor’s Cup.
David Villa was sold by Barcelona in 2013/14 for a scandalously low €5.1m and he proceeded to help Diego Simeone’s men win La Liga. He has since moved around, including a spell at New York City FC before retiring at Vissel Kobe.
8. Thiago Alcantara
Time at Barcelona: 2005-2013
Trophies won since leaving: 2013 FIFA Club World Cup, Bundesliga (7), DFB-Pokal (4), DFL-Supercup (3), 2019/20 Champions League.
This kid was meant to be the heir to Xavi and Iniesta, but the presence of Cesc Fabregas, the short-sightedness of the presidential regime and a manager unable to force the club to think straight as he was stricken with cancer all meant that Thiago left the Camp Nou. But he left to the best possible place: Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. Since leaving, Thiago has gone on a title-winning spree and become one of the very best midfielders in the world.
9. Cesc Fabregas
Time at Barcelona: 1997-2003 + 2011-2014
Trophies won since leaving: 2014/15 EFL Cup, Premier League (2), 2017/18 FA Cup
Cesc left Barcelona once for Arsenal, but there was obviously not “life after Barcelona” as he longed for a return home. And he did return home, and he did alright. But Luis Enrique got rid of him as part of his cleansing and Arsenal rejected him for a return, so he had to go to Chelsea. This worked out alright for Cesc, however, as he won two titles in three years in blue.
10. Oriol Romeu
Time at Barcelona: 2004-2011
Trophies won since leaving: 2011/12 FA Cup, 2011/12 Champions League
Oriol Romeu was a rising prospect at La Masia but never had the technical excellence needed to cut the grade at the Camp Nou. He moved to Chelsea where he was intended to grow up Andre Villas-Boas, but he got sacked halfway through his first season. Romeu was still there when Chelsea won the Champions League, but his real career came following a move to Southampton, where he has become a fixture and a rock-solid Premier League midfielder.
11. Alex Grimaldo
Time at Barcelona: 2008-2015
Trophies won since leaving: Primeira Liga (3), 2015/16 Taça da Liga, 2016/17 Taça de Portugal, Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (3)
This kid was meant to be the next big thing at left-back, but Luis Enrique had no interest in incorporating him into the first team, so he was binned off to Benfica. Instead of getting all in his feelings about it, he joined Benfica and proceeded to win back-to-back league titles. He’s since added one more and is a feared and respected full-back around Europe.
12. Adama Traoré
Time at Barcelona: 2004-2015
Trophies won since leaving: n/a
Born in the shadow of the Camp Nou, Adama Traoré should have been a Barcelona legend. Just like Grimaldo, however, Luis Enrique didn’t rate him. He had to leave and, unfortunately for him, made a couple of terrible decisions in terms of destination, and really stalled his career. However, Tony Pulis got him back on the right path, and then Nuno at Wolves really kicked him into overdrive. Adama is now one of the most supernatural attacking forces in Europe, which still isn’t as good as he should have been, but it’s something!
13. Luis Suárez
Time at Barcelona: 2014-2020
Trophies won since leaving: 2020/21 La Liga
Luis Suárez was a key part of the legendary M-S-N strikeforce and was the best no. 9 in the world, but everyone gets old and Suárez’s decline was really noticeable. He was on a colossal contract and getting worse by the week, and with him and Messi in attack, the Blaugrana were far too slow. A change had to be made so Barcelona chose to let Suárez leave.
Of course, being Bartomeu’s Barcelona they did this in the worst way possible, learning none of the lessons from the Laudrup, Eto’o and Villa sagas. Instead of giving him notice, treating him with respect and helping him find a new club where he could compete but wouldn’t be a direct threat, they tried to force him to fellow FFP dodgers Juventus. And when that didn’t work, they discarded him, letting him join Atlético Madrid for basically nothing.
Well, in a younger, more athletic team surrounded by guys doing his running for him, and fueled by the hate-filled vengeance of a thousand stars, Suárez got good again (or rather, he was playing in a team that could minimize his flaws and maximise his strengths). He was one of the top scorers in La Liga as he fired Diego Simeone’s men to win La Liga and just now, when Barcelona were at one of their lowest points since 2002, Suárez stepped up to drive the dagger in and confirm Atleti’s 2-0 victory.
Luis Suárez has most definitely shown there is life after Barcelona.