Despite much speculation and a flurry of other transfer activity, Barcelona did not manage to sign Neymar last summer.
The Brazilian phenom was heavily linked with a return to Catalonia but the PSG superstar ultimately remained at the Parc des Princes. A number of high-profile moves did come to fruition, but if the club once again fall short in the Champions League this season, then many will look back at the 2019 summer window with a tinge of regret.
As it stands, it has been five years since Barca last tasted continental success, 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 28 players signed since that win in Berlin, only 11 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 28 signings and see how they each landed, shall we?
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 Andres 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 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 Copas del Rey 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 last 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 in 2018 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 went on to thrive for Borussia Dortmund — before joining Villarreal in January following Erling Braut Haaland’s arrival — 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 ex-boss 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 five 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. At just 23, Arthur has plenty of room for growth and whilst he is a hit, the financial mismanagement of the Barcelona board has led to a shock transfer to Juventus emerging as a possibility. It would be a depressing end to his time in Catalunya, but he worked as a signing.
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 or score an important goal thanks to his tireless and intelligent movement, and of course 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 that with gusto. 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 youngster is tall, strong and rapid as hell. Barcelona signed him in January 2019 with the hopes of developing him for the future, and whilst it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, he looked to be headed right for the very top. A superb display away to Inter in the Champions League gave hope, and even when Barcelona loaned him out to Schalke (another casualty of the awful board) he was their player of the month in March. The Covid-19 hiatus destroyed Schalke and Todibo’s momentum. however, and he looks lost at the moment. Still a hit, just about, but a lot depends on what happens this summer.
Signed on loan be a back-up to Luis Suarez in January 2019, 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.
Frenkie de Jong
There can be no denying the Dutch metronome has experienced a few teething issues in his nascent Barcelona career, but there have been enough flashes of quality to suggest this signing will prove inspired down the line. De Jong has been shoehorned into several midfield positions and has seen the Barca system tinkered with numerous times under two separate managers this term, no wonder he has often struggled for consistency. But, there can be no getting away from the elegance he exudes on the ball and the fluent manner in which he can dictate the tempo. At just 22, De Jong has all the right attributes and time to eventually flourish in Catalonia.
Like De Jong, Griezmann has endured a somewhat inconsistent start to life at Barca following his eye-catching move from Atletico Madrid last summer. It’s safe to say big-money signings haven’t been Barca’s forte in recent times, with Coutinho and Dembele two cases in point, and even though the Frenchman appeared to have turned a corner under Quique Setien, La Liga’s hiatus due to Covid-19 has sent him back to square one. He is still a phenomenal talent but right now his inability to link with any of his team-mates is a big problem. His contributions thus far mean he can’t really be a miss, but he is a very, very heavily qualified hit. And if his form doesn’t pick up before season’s end, he’ll have to be categorised as a miss.
Cucurella joined Eibar on a permanent deal from Barca last summer but the club resigned the versatile left-back just a few weeks later before loaning him back out to Getafe. Following an exceedingly impressive season, the Madrid-based club have since exercised an option to sign Cucurella permanently and the Spaniard is now being linked to some of Europe’s biggest clubs. A huge hit for Getafe certainly, but not so much for Barca.
A bizarre move from the Brazilian, who swapped a competitive starting berth at one of Spain’s biggest clubs in Valencia — not to mention a Champions League participant — for Cillessen’s second fiddle role at the Camp Nou. Barca sold reserve ‘keeper Cillessen for £31.35m and acquired Neto for just £23.3m so this is a huge hit for the club’s transfer overseers, but in terms of on-field output, there really hasn’t been much to write home about.
The all-action left-back was acquired from Real Betis last summer with huge expectations of adding zeal and panache to the left flank, but thus far the 23-year-old hasn’t quite hit the heights of his Los Verdiblancos days and there are some suggestions the former Spain U21 international could be heading for the exit doors this summer. Obviously he just needs minutes to improve, but Barcelona don’t look too keen to give him those minutes in Jordi Alba’s stead.
It’s early days of course, but Braithwaite has shown promise in the few matches he has appeared for Barca so far. The club were desperate for cover up-front in January and the former Middlesbrough man ticked a lot of boxes thanks to his form with Leganes. The £15m fee certainly doesn’t present too many risks for the club, so this can be seen as astute business, but the controversial manner in which the signing unfolded has left the club looking rather foolish.
For the second January transfer window running, the club panicked and desperately acquired the services of a forward many would consider a level below Barca’s current standard. Their reputation also took a hit as they pillaged the ranks of a relegation-threatened side post-transfer window, with La Liga sanctioning the emergency signing.
The transfer brought attention to the club’s off-field shortcomings — notably preparation and timing — but the Dane’s pace and willingness to make runs off-the-ball has already made him a useful squad player who arguably needs a bigger role than he already has.
VERDICT: HIT (BUT A HUGE MISS OFF THE FIELD)