In this article, we will break-down to the Barcelona transfers since Neymar Jr. left the club, a total sum of €762.2 million euros.
When the news came for the first time, it was brushed off by Barcelona fans who thought it couldn’t happen. Why would a player at the peak of his powers leave to join a club operating at a lower level of quality and quantity? “We don’t need to sign a Neymar replacement because the transfer is not going to happen”, Barcelona said, unbeknownst of what lies ahead.
On the 3rd of August, 2017, Paris Saint Germain signed Neymar Jr. From Barcelona for a world-record fee of €222 million, paying his release clause. The transfer shook the world of football to its core, and the transfer market was never the same again.
The transfer market was not the only thing that was turned on its head, though. The departure of Neymar also caused massive flux in FC Barcelona and the Brazilian’s career. Since the day, Neymar has spent more time injured than he has on the pitch. He has, however, always come up with the goods during his time on the pitch, but has mostly failed to live up to the price tag and the hype.
Barcelona, on the other hand, has spent €762.2 million on 14 players since the day Neymar left the club, including three €100m+ signings. The Barca Universal takes a look at these 14 players and tries to rank them in order from the worst to the best of the transfers. The criteria is simple: their immediate, and present impact at the club, and what they can bring to the table in the future. Miralem Pjanic has been ruled out of the list because we are yet to see what he brings to the table.
Neto was part of another sketchy deal done by Barcelona that saw Jasper Cillissen go to Valencia while the Brazilian came in. It helped both clubs record profits and get around the Financial Fair Play. In theory, Neto was always going to be a backup goalkeeper, but he had big boots to fill after Cillissen had set a pretty high standard from his sublime displays in the six-yard box.
Neti has only played four games for Barca, one in each of Spanish Super Cup, the Champions League, La Liga, and Copa del Rey. He has, however, managed to concede seven goals in these four games, which might have been a little unfair to him—however, the record sticks. The best of those four starts came against Inter Milan at the San Siro on the last match of the group stage. He ended the game with seven massive saves and was arguably the man of the game as Barca recorded a 2-1 victory.
#12: Yerry Mina
Yeri Mina joined Barcelona in the winter transfer window of 2018/19 on the back of a wonderful season with Palmeiras. He was tipped to take over Gerard Pique’s spot in the starting lineup after a few years, but after failing to get enough minutes under his belt, he decided to leave.
?️ — Yerry Mina: "In Barcelona, everyone was so talented. I was betting with them on who could score more freekicks in training. I used to lose €50 after every training session. They put the ball wherever they wanted to." pic.twitter.com/7QsTHKMKWZ— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 1, 2020
During his stay here, Mina made six appearances; five in La Liga and one eight-minute cameo in the Copa del Rey. He showed signs of a talented centre-half who could have a lot to offer in the future, but not without working on his composure with and without the ball. This was evident during the game vs Levante which ended Barcelona’s unbeaten run in the league. The Colombian was nearly solely responsible for three of the four goals Barcelona conceded that day but backed that up with a solid display against Real Sociedad on the last day of Liga.
#11: Junior Firpo
As Jordi Alba edges to the last juncture of his glorious career, it is becoming increasingly hard to find someone who can take over his role at the club and do it as well as the Spaniard. Junior Firpo was brought in prior to the start of the campaign to act as Alba’s second fiddle and hopefully take over from him. Firpo had gained admirers for his tremendous performances in the Liga with Betis and the Under-21 Euros with Spain.
However, he joined the club while having spent most of his years as a wingback and not a fullback and was not as defensively solid as the Barca fans might have hoped for. He has age on his side, though, and could still come up as a dependable deputy for Alba, if he is not sold like so many rumors indicate.
After a stellar season with Bordeaux, Malcom became one of the hottest properties in European football. He was linked with a move away to several top clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern among others. AS Roma seemed to be leading this race when Barcelona’s rumors emerged seemingly out of nowhere, and before you could understand what happened, the signing was confirmed. Beating Roma in the transfer market was amusing to the Barca fans who had just lost to the Italian giants in the UEFA Champions League.
What nobody realized at the time was that Malcom would turn out to be nothing more than a player who was signed just to prove a point. He only made 15 appearances in the league, out of which just 6 were starts. In these games, he would go on to score one goal and provide two assists. Malcom always gave his all on the pitch, which was evident with his celebration after his goal vs Inter Milan in the Champions League. Malcom deserved better.
#9: Martin Braithwaite
Yes, yes, signing Braithwaite was immoral. Yes, this signing is possibly responsible for Leganes’ relegation. Yes, the club could have promoted Abel Ruiz or not sold off Carles Perez. The fans know all about it, but we cannot help but support a player that dons the Garnet and the Blue.
The Danish international was brought in to replace Luis Suarez after his injury and has proved that he is ready to give his all for the crest from the first minute onwards. He adds something different to the team in the form of an injection of pace and directness that has often looked missing from the side.
His first appearance came against Eibar where he was responsible for setting up two goals even though minor deflections meant he never got his due credit for it. He also looked sharp against Real Madrid after coming on but was denied by Courtois on the near post. Braithwaite has just the one appearance for Barca, but his influence on the team must not go unnoticed.
#8: Philippe Coutinho
Oh, my sweet summer child. Barcelona bought Philippe Coutinho in a deal worth nearly 150 million euros, making him the costliest player in the history of the club and the third most onerous ever in the world, behind Neymar Jr, and Kylian Mbappe.
His tenure at the club started strongly, as he naturally fit into the left flank of the midfield four deployed by Ernesto Valverde. He also played on the right of the same quartet when Andres Iniesta assumed responsibility on the left. Some of his impressive displays came against in the 2-1 win over Valencia at Camp Nou where he assisted both goals. He also scored a hattrick against Levante in a 5-4 defeat. However, as Barca shifted to a 4-3-3, Coutinho simply could not make most of his time on the left-wing, after all, he was an attacking midfielder who operates in a space similar to Leo Messi.
After a string of below-average displays, the Brazilian was loaned off to Bayern Munich on the last day of the 2019 summer window. Barcelona are ready to sell him this summer as well, but it does not look like he is going anywhere in a market that is doomed. However, at 27, it is fair to say he does not exactly have age on his side and might go down as one of the biggest flops of the transfer market. His short term impact is the only thing that has saved him from a worse ranking.
#7: Ousmane Dembélé
The other half of the Neymar sale money, Ousmane Dembele joined the club on the back of two brilliant seasons, helping him gain admirers from around the continent. This excellent run included the Best Young Player of the Year award given to him while playing for Stade Rennes in Ligue 1, and then the Rookie of the Year in the Bundesliga a season later. His move to Spain is quite similar to Coutinho’s; both players refusing to play for their club and eventually handing in a transfer request.
His time at Barcelona has been riddled with injuries, though. He was injured on arrival as well and took time before making his debut. However, he picked up a hamstring injury on his debut and was ruled out for several months. From there on, he has missed more matches than he has played due to reoccurring injuries. His recent injury came in January just when he was ready to make a return to the pitch, but picked up another knock and was sidelined for 8-9 months.
He might not have played a lot, but he has given several moments that Barca fans can cherish, namely, his thunderstrike against Chelsea in the UCL Round of 16, his equaliser against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup final or his solo run against Villarreal, Tottenham, Juventus among other teams. There is little doubt over his quality, clearly. Moreover, he’s just 23 and could still go on to become a world-class forward.
#6: Arthur Melo
We’re visibly moving on to the better part of these rankings, and on number 6 we have an incomplete fairytale – Arthur Melo. Barcelona signed Arthur after his string of impressive games in the Brazilian league with Gremio. The deal was completed for 40 million euros and seemed excessive at the time.
This soon subsided when the world got to watch Arthur on the pitch. The man idolized Andres Iniesta but was remarkably similar to Xavi which was visible with his every touch of the ball. It looked like the club was finally going to fill in huge boots left by the Spanish wizard. Arthur faced a rollercoaster of two years at the club where he went from starter to bench to eventually being forced out in an attempt to ‘balance the books’, even though he was loved and adored by the fanbase.
The Brazilian never got to reach his ceiling, but you could see the high potential he possessed—just another victim of a messed up transfer strategy that seeks to sabotage careers.
#5: Antoine Griezmann
This might come across as a very controversial pick, but hear me out.
After a failed transfer in 2018 where Griezmann seemingly disrespected two sets of fanbases, it came as a surprise that Barcelona went after the Frenchman again the following year. They were able to pull off the transfer for a 120 million, but like always it was directly in line with Barcelona’s extremely shady deals. Atletico Madrid pleaded that Griezmann’s release clause had expired when they tried to activate it and that 120 million euros were less than what they should have paid for him.
This soon subsided and Griezmann took the field for Barca, but he had to shoulder the responsibility of both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez for the first few weeks, as both of them were missing from injury. He scored two and assisted one in their 5-2 win over Real Betis, but that was the highlight of his first few months. That said, the only reason Griezmann is being criticized more than Dembele is because of the expectations he brought with him as one of the best in the world. He has had his fair share of great games at the club, including the 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund, or the 3-0 win against Eibar. His best game came very recently, the 4-1 smashing performance against Villarreal where he was deployed in his preferred Second Striker position, scoring a sublime chip from outside the box.
More than his goals and assists, though, the World Cup winner has shown commitment. He gives his all on the ground, and it is visible every minute; through his tremendous work rate, his will to make runs from deep or going in for dangerous tackles or aerial balls. Despite all the targeting, Greizmann has scored nine goals and provided four more for his teammates in his first full season in the Catalan capital. He’s just getting started.
Paulinho to Barcelona has to be on one of the wildest transfers of the decade. And when the rumors initially started to float around alongside Marco Verratti’s links, no one could take it seriously. The Brazilian was voted as the worst signing in Tottenham Hotspur’s history and was spending his prime years in China.
The deal was completed on the back of what was a money-laundering scheme, but the fans could not care less as Paulinho turned out to be exactly the player they needed. He was not like the other midfielders in the Barca squad but added a certain grit in their midfield that was missing. He was also able to provide the team with an extra goalscoring option through his late runs into the box and the ability to get on the end of the most challenging crosses. Both of these qualities were visible during the game vs Getafe where Paulinho was able to latch on a through ball from Messi, before scoring the winner while shrugging off two defenders – two Getafe defenders.
He ended his time in Barcelona with nine goals and two assists in 34 appearances in the league, before returning to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao for 45 million euros.
? — Braithwaite and De Jong arriving at the Camp Nou. pic.twitter.com/mLNmOfIiI8— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 16, 2020
#3: Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong came up through Willem II Tilburg youth system before transferring to the Ajax academy. His time in the Ajax’s first team was dominated by several amazing performances where he started to gain attention from several top scouts around the continent, but as a life-long Barca fan, Frenkie could not deny the opportunity to play in the Camp Nou as his transfer was completed between the 2018/19 campaign, but he was not to join the club before 2019/20 started. The Dutchman was one of their best players in the fairytale run to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-final. He also capped off an incredible season with the Eredivisie Player of the Season.
Obviously, after such an illustrating campaign, he came bearing expectations and was tipped to replace Sergio Busquets as the defensive midfielder after the Spaniard’s disappointing season. However, he was made to slot in as an 8 arching Busquets, who returned to form spectacularly this season. And while this is far from his natural position, de Jong has been massive for the team. He has provided the option of lateral movement and progressive passing which was missing in the squad after Carles Alena went out of favor. He has been able to connect well with Messi, and they seem to be looking for each other in the centre of the park.
After starting the season well, the turn of the year did not serve him well as his form considerably and was labeled a ‘fraud’ and a ‘failure’ which was as far from the truth as possible. You could feel his absence in the midfield in games against Sevilla, Celta Vigo, and Atletico Madrid which turned out to be the nails in Barca’s coffin. He comes back at a crucial time, though, and with Busquets and Arturo Vidal suspended for the game against Napoli, the Dutchman will have to come up clutch in a vital game
#2: Arturo Vidal
There are a lot of players that Barca fans could not imagine in their famous striped colors, and Arturo Vidal definitely makes that cut, for reasons more than one. Firstly, a Vidal led Chile defeated Lionel Messi’s Argentina twice in a row in finals, and secondly, Vidal’s Juventus were beaten in the Champions League final in 2015 against Barcelona.
? — Arturo Vidal has 7 goals for Barcelona this season, only 1 less than forward player Antoine Griezmann. pic.twitter.com/gK1BsUsxXL— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) June 27, 2020
The transfer took less than a week to go through, and he was expected to take over the role Paulinho had been given at the club – as a box-to-box midfielder. And in his two seasons at the club, Vidal has done more than enough to justify the 18 million price tag. During the 18/19 season, Vidal was responsible for three goals and seven assists in the league, and matched his ten-goal contribution this season, but flipped the tallies, scoring eight times and setting up two. His numbers are great, but still not indicative of his importance in the team. Vidal has provided the team with an additional goalscoring option as Messi continues to drop deep. He has best displayed his abilities against teams like Atletico Madrid, Getafe, Inter Milan among others, and has been able to dominate their robust midfield nearly singlehandedly. Moreover, not to forget, his fitness is honestly spectacular. He has missed only two games for Barca unwillingly – one through injury, and through the common cold.
Over the course of two seasons, the 33-year-old has given multiple game-winning performances, but his best probably came against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League semi-final last season, where he was the best player over two legs despite the crushing defeat. Vidal’s significance has been constantly overlooked for the club, and Cules should be careful about what they wish for because if he indeed leaves this summer, he would leave behind a gaping hole that would be nearly impossible to fill.
#1: Clement Lenglet
Really, who else?
Clement Lenglet has been an absolute rock at the back for Barcelona since he arrived in 2018. He was initially bought as a backup for Samuel Umtiti who had been delivering some absolute masterclasses for two seasons and had been crowned the World Champion with France. However, his luck turned on its head quickly, and Umtiti was ruled out due to injury. Lenglet took his opportunity like a winner, and there has been no looking back since.
? — The club is very happy with Lenglet's recent performances and professionalism, and will work to renew his contract next season. [sport] pic.twitter.com/VB1SbzSp0U— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 14, 2020
He has naturally slotted in alongside Gerard Pique in the heart of the defence and has given the backline an edge with Umtiti never could – threat to piercing long passes. Lenglet is a master of the long pass and one of the best in the game in the trait. He was averaging three long balls per game under Ernesto Valverde last season and has taken it up a notch this season, completing nearly 4 per game. His defending should not be overlooked, though. Umtiti was a much calmer presence in the backline but lacked the anticipation of Lenglet. The 25-year-old has made 1.3 interceptions per game, and 1.6 tackles, too.
Lenglet has put in several crunch performances alongside Pique this season, including games against teams like Valencia, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, among so many others. He is a quality centre-back who does not lack any skill and is ready to marshal the defence now that Pique has reached the final phase of his star-studded career.
The pages are blotted with injuries, but Dembele’s Blaugrana story is far from over
Ousmane Dembele runs into the open space ahead of him on the right as Lionel Messi shimmies past a distraught Cesar Azpilicueta. Messi looks up, spots the Frenchman in ample room and nonchalantly passes it towards him. The youngster hurriedly takes the first touch and is left with just enough room to shoot. He then promptly takes it in his stride and fires it into the top left corner to make it 2-0, after which he immediately points towards the Argentinean great.
That was Ousmane Dembele’s first goal for Barcelona after a 4-month hiatus due to an unfortunate injury in his very first season with the Spanish giants. The Cules would’ve been hopeful of him finally coming into his own after that goal, potentially filling a large Neymar shaped hole. Fast forward a couple of seasons and the dynamic Frenchman has failed to make a real impact like people would have hoped of the explosive wonderkid who played for Dortmund.
While Dembele is still young at 23, injuries seem to have derailed his career with Barcelona. Last season Dembele ambled to a meagre 9 appearances in the Blaugrana colours, only 5 of which were starts. Whenever he did play, he looked rusty and lacking game time. Moreover, the emergence of youngster Ansu Fati who presents a similar profile to the Frenchman means more competition, and with him coming off another injury recently and Fati looking grand in the 2-0 victory over Villarreal, his chances of sealing a regular spot look bleak at the moment. It is, therefore, no surprise that Dembele is linked with a move away from Spain, with Manchester United seemingly keeping him on their radar.
Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, though, could use someone like Dembele. In his first official game in charge, Koeman structured Barca in a 4-2-3-1, with Messi and Coutinho occupying central areas and Fati and Antoine Griezmann occupying the left and right flank respectively. The wingers would regularly tuck in and allow the fullbacks to push up in the broader areas. In an otherwise comfortable 4-0 win for Barcelona, the right flank was a vital issue. Griezmann looked mostly average and did not influence the match much, barring making a handful of runs into the box. He lacked the same explosiveness and directness that Ansu Fati provided on the left flank – looking out of sorts on the right side, having rarely made an appearance in such a role in the past.
If injuries allow him, Dembele could seal his spot in such an eleven. The Frenchman’s primary strength is his skills on the ball, and he loves taking on defenders 1v1. Considering his 18/19 season as his sample size, he stood at 4.81 dribbles completed per 90 with a completion percentage of 67.4 in La Liga. On the other hand, Griezmann had a low 0.64 successful dribbles per 90 in the past season, with a completion percentage of 48.6. Moreover, the 23-year-old dominates in touches in the box, averaging 7.68 touches in the box per 90 as compared to Griezmann. Granted, the 29-year-old is a different kind of player altogether, and could potentially be better utilized in a more central role similar to the one he had with Atletico Madrid, but as things stand, Dembele is the one who provides the directness and explosiveness Koeman is looking for from his wingers. Moreover, his ambidexterity and pace mean he 1. is a threat from either wing, and 2. can pull off the unexpected every now and then, for example, his famous fake shot.
From a creative standpoint, Dembele had 4.65 Shot creating actions and 0.70 Goal creating actions per 90 in 18/19, while Griezmann stood at 2.08 SCA and 0.35 SCA per 90 last season. Moreover, Dembele can also occupy the wider areas and stick to the sidelines when needed – adding to his ability to create space without the ball. This option is unavailable with Griezmann, as he is more intent towards occupying the middle, and is therefore limited in that sense. Even when it comes to defensive actions, Dembele can come toe-to-toe with Griezmann, with 4.43 successful pressure and 0.54 tackles won per 90 in the 18/19 season, as compared to Griezmann’s 4.77 successful pressures and 0.64 tackles won per 90 last season. This is very impressive since Griezmann has a reputation for being a workhorse, and often contributes to Barcelona’s defence.
It is safe to say that Dembele stands out as a great option as a winger, provided he overcomes his injury problems. Although Ansu Fati has stood out since his emergence last season, it is important not to burden the 17-year-old’s shoulders with huge expectations, lest he crumble. New signings Pedri and Trincao are also very talented but are diamonds in the rough. Barcelona must have someone in the side who can provide that tempestuousness and dynamism that they often lacked the previous season, but all while knowing the expectations the Catalan giants hold, even of young players. Ousmane Dembele’s Blaugrana story hasn’t been great so far; injuries botted the pages, but this might be the season to flip the page and start afresh for both him and Barcelona.