Barcelona's transfer disasters: breaking down every bad deal as €1 billion is wasted

The Blaugrana's business has been nothing short of catastrophic in the second half of the decade and it's inexcusable

5:10am on Wednesday 4th November 2020
Paul Macdonald

It really cannot be stressed enough how awful Barcelona have been in the transfer market in the latter half of this decade. After 2015, something really went wrong.

Let’s break it down season-on-season.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 14/15

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit/Miss
Luis SuarezLiverpool£75mHIT
Jeremy MathieuValencia£18mOK
Thomas VermaelenArsenal£17mMISS
Ivan RakiticSevilla£16mHIT
Marc Andre Ter-StegenGladbach£11mHIT
Claudio BravoReal Sociedad£11mHIT

This was the last season where Barca conducted shrewd business. Luis Suarez (£75m) arrived from Barcelona and has been a unqualified success. Ivan Rakitic had been one of the finest players in La Liga at Sevilla and has served the club exceedingly well.

Marc Andre Ter-Stegen’s signing for just £11m has been superb business while Claudio Bravo, who was first-choice in the league this season, served a purpose and turned a profit when he moved to Manchester City. Even Jeremy Mathieu, in a deal that raised eyebrows, wasn’t that expensive and was a useful utility man for a short period.

They also earned over £70m for Cesc Fabregas’ move to Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez’s switch to Arsenal, so it could be regarded as a very good summer’s business.

There was a warning, though; Thomas Vermaelen was an unmitigated disaster, barely playing a game due to injury and the £17m transfer fee, plus wages, were never recouped.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 15/16

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit/Miss
Arda TuranAtletico£31mMISS
Aleix VidalSevilla£16mMISS

It is in the summer of 2015, with Barcelona treble winners, that the opportunity was to enhance an already brilliant squad. It wasn’t one needing wholly added to, but a few refinements were necessary.

The correct areas were targeted, but the correct players weren’t. Aleix Vidal was in no way shape or form the heir to Dani Alves and the £15.5m spent on him resulted in just 15 La Liga starts in three seasons.

Arda Turan cost double that amount and though a vital member of Atletico Madrid’s success, he was never convincing as a Barca player, nor was the club’s understanding of how to utilise him. His contract only just expired last week, despite spending the last three entire seasons out on loan; another example of wages being burned through needlessly.

But the £24.5m earned for Pedro, who went to Chelsea, was probably the right sell at the right time.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 16/17

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit or Miss
Andre GomesValencia£33mMISS
Paco AlcacerValencia£27mMISS
Samuel UmtitiLyon£22mHIT
Lucas DignePSG£15mMISS
Jasper CillessenAjax£12mMISS
Denis SuarezVillarreal£3mMISS

A summer of deep, deep regret. Andre Gomes is a refined ball-playing midfielder but was never Barcelona quality and the £35m spent on him always felt far too rich for his abilities, and he has been at Everton for the last two years.

Precisely the same logic can be applied to Paco Alcacer, also from Valencia, who for £27m had absolutely no path to the first team and whose arrival was baffling at best. He would be out on loan in two years and is now at Villarreal at the age of 26.

Samuel Umtiti for £22m can be regarded a moderate success but he lost his place post-World Cup due to a series of injuries, but also a preference for a right-footed/left-footed centre-back pairing once Clement Lenglet had arrived from Sevilla.

Lucas Digne for £15m just never looked liked working out with Jordi Alba still the obvious preference at left-back, while Jasper Cillessen was brought in as Claudio Bravo went out, but he played just 36 games, most of them in the Copa del Rey, in three seasons before departing for Valencia. If you are a young keeper at Barcelona - forget it.

Heading out, Bravo went to City, Marc Bartra departed for Dortmund while ‘future star’ Alen Halilovic was dumped to Hamburg for £4.5m.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 17/18

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit or Miss
Philippe CoutinhoLiverpool£130mMISS
Ousmane DembeleDortmund£112mMISS
PaulinhoGuanzhou Evergrande£35mmMISS
Nelson SemedoBenfica£32.1mHIT
Gerard DeulofeuEverton£10.8mMISS
Yerry MinaPalmeiras£10,6mMISS

The losses of the year before have to be placed into moderate context; most of the failures had some revenue recouped, were operated under a modicum of logical thinking, and could be excused to a certain extent. But this is where it gets crazy.

The influx of Neymar cash, the timing of the deal and the fact they clearly didn’t expect him to leave left a disorganised mess that Barca are still trying to spend their way out of. WIth £200m burning a hole in their pockets they blew most of it on two players, first Ousmane Dembele in the summer. Dealing with Dortmund, a well-run club in no position to sell, made Barca spend wildly over the odds for a hugely talented but largely untested winger. £112m was spent on him, followed in the January by another £130m on Phillippe Coutinho, fantasy football money.

Almost a quarter of a billion pounds unquestionably wasted. The ‘big club logic’ meant the money had to be spent, but had they known about Dembele’s personality concerns, or had they had any plan whatsoever as to how Coutinho could co-exist with Lionel Messi, they might have got more mileage from these transfers. As it was, they will stand for a long time as monoliths to needless spending and irrational planning.


Barcelona never had a plan to unlock Ousmane Dembele's talents

For most other teams, this would be bad enough. But Barcelona blew another £90m in what could well go down as the worst summer of spending in the history of any big club. Paulinho’s £35m move wasn’t as bad as it could have been, the Brazilian contributing nine goals and two assists in 21 starts but the deal was more than a little dubious, considering he would be back in China a year later.

Nelson Semedo (£32m) remains at the club but like many Dani Alves successors hasn’t lived up to his fee, while deals for Gerard Deulofeu (£11m) and Yerry Mina (11m) eventually worked out in terms of recouping a higher fee at the other side, from Watford and Everton respectively. Marlon, a £4.5m defensive arrival from Fluminense, was immediately farmed out on loan to Nice and he’s barely been near Camp Nou, the latest in a line of Brazilians going back to Henrique (!) Keirrison (!!), and Douglas (!!!) who didn’t break the bank but ultimately had zero chance of featuring in the first team.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 18/19

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit or Miss
Clement LengletSevilla£32.3mHIT
Arthur MeloGremio£27.9mMISS
Arturo VidalBayern£16.2mOK

Nothing could be worse than the year before, though this was another summer that just didn’t work out. £35m Malcom from Bordeaux was a laughably poor deal, inadequate in every aspect and he has already been shipped to Zenit where injuries have ensured his situation hasn’t improved. Clement Lenglet for £32m from Sevilla has been a decent if unspectacular purchase, but one that has marginalised Umtiti as Gerard Pique continues to start every week he is fit.

Arthur’s £27m signing from Gremio has already come to an end, with him moving to Juventus in this weird cash flow statement transfer with Miralem Pjanic moving in the other direction, and while he was perhaps given limited options he did little with the time he was given. Arturo Vidal’s signing at the age of 31 for £16m barely fell in line with any major club’s transfers strategy, and although the Chilean has had his moments, it’s still an arrival indicative of a policy lacking in any coherence.

And then we move down to the downright bizarre. Jeison Murillo short-term on loan, Jean-Clair Todibo from Toulouse for a small fee and Kevin-Prince Boateng are three signings which just lead to an almighty shrug of the shoulders.


Barca Major Transfers IN - 19/20

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit or Miss
Antoine GriezmannAtletico£100mMISS
Frenkie de JongAjax£67.5mMISS
Martin BraithwaiteLeganes£16mMISS
Junior FirpoBetis£16mMISS
EmersonAtletico MG£11mMISS

As the seasons go on, the lessons are never learned. Barcelona in theory attempted to put in succession plans for Lionel Messi (again) by signing Antoine Griezmann from Atletico for £100m and also Frenkie De Jong from Ajax for £67m as a long-term Sergio Busquets replacement. Yet by sticking with the status quo and making no attempt to share minutes in key positions, Barca are just left with £167m of unhappy talent.

Griezmann in particular looks lost, like turning up at a concert and someone else is in your seat. A player completely stripped of any confidence, emasculated in a situation where he’s a great player, just not the greatest player, so others need to work around him. More natural goalscorers such as Thierry Henry and David Villa were able to adapt to the situation of being shunted wide, but Griez just isn’t having any joy at all.

Throw in De Jong, a player who looked a natural in a certain position only for him to be deployed in an altogether different way, and you wonder just what the thinking is or if there is any at all. Throw in £23m for Neto (a goalkeeper to play cup football), £16m for Junior Firpo (unknown yet but not particularly promising with just 10 starts), and Martin Braithwaite, another £16m (a desperation signing) and it is deals showing no cohesion or team plan.


Griezmann is on his way to joining Dembele and Coutinho as a Barca failure

The saving grace has been their ability to recoup money - Malcom may not have worked but Zenit gave them almost all of their fee back to take him to Russia. Cillessen, Andre Gomes, Alcacer and Denis Suarez all earned £90m which softened the blow but the summer still ended at a massive loss, hence…


Barca Major Transfers IN - 20/21

PlayerSigned FromFeeHit or Miss
Miralem PjanicJuventus£54mN/A
Matheus FernandesPalmeiras£6.3mN/A

The Arthur/Miralem Pjanic deal needs explanation all on its own, but needless to say it’s a financial necessity based on Barca’s awful recent deals and one in which their side of the agreement is infinitely inferior.

But Barca have already committed £27m for the relatively untested Trincao from Braga, an unquestionably exciting young talent but one about to make a huge step up. Matheus Fernandes also joins from Palmeiras for £7m, while there’s high hopes for Pedri, the 17-year-old acquired from Las Palmas and who has produced some exciting moments in the Segunda Division.

But at this point, surely, any hope of a Neymar reconciliation or a Lautaro Martinez partnership with Messi is too expensive for a club that has shelled out almost a billion pounds in just over half a decade and have achieved precious little success.

And with La Liga lost, the embarrassing exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern, and the overreliance on Messi overshadowing everything, where does a team that has spent over £1 billion in six years go when their spending policy clearly doesn't work?

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