Barcelona have had more failures than successes in the transfer market since receiving €222 million from Paris Saint-Germain for Neymar in 2017. Their spending in the aftermath of that world-record transfer was erratic and yielded little immediate return.
Over €300m was invested in Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in the immediate aftermath of Neymar’s departure. Only Dembele remains at the club, with the other two players moved on at a massive loss.
There have been other eyebrow-raising signings for a multitude of reasons: €7m on Matheus Fernandes, who would later sue the club; Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeison Murillo on loan; snapping Malcom away from Roma only to offload him the next summer; and dubious swap deals involving Neto, Jasper Cillessen, Arthur Melo and Miralem Pjanic.
At the other end of the scale, Ronald Araujo and Pedri were picked up for cheap transfer fees and have blossomed into key first-team players, Andreas Christensen signed as a free agent last summer while Frenkie de Jong and Robert Lewandowski are so far proving value for money.
Given no transfer is the same, it’s difficult to scientifically rank the success of Barca’s incomings since Neymar left, but this list attempts to bring some kind of order.
The ranking takes into account:
Transfer fee paid: A player who cost more money will be expected to have had a bigger impact.
Net transfer fee / fee received: A player who left at a profit will be considered a better signing than one who left at a loss (in the case of players still at the club, their current market value will be considered).
Achievements and performances: What did they win? How many goals did they score? How many games did they play? How did they perform? Were they important to the team?
Longevity: Has the player spent several seasons at Barcelona or were they dispensed with after just a few months?
Araujo, for reference, is one of just two signings originally made for the B team to be included, along with Abde Ezzalzouli. The two have both had significant enough involvement with the first team to be considered.
We’ll start with the worst of Barcelona’s post-Neymar signings, right through to their best piece of business.
The Brazilian became Barca’s record signing in the wake of Neymar’s exit when, in January 2018, they paid Liverpool a fee rising to as much as €160m, though the initial fee was around €120m.
On a financial level, this transfer cannot be described as anything other than awful, and Coutinho eventually left for Aston Villa in 2022, first on loan and then for around €20m.
However, there were moments of promise on the pitch. There were 10 goals in his first 22 games and 11 the following season, but overall he did not get close to the form he had displayed at Liverpool. Perhaps the most comical thing about the whole Coutinho affair, though, besides the lost millions, were the two goals he scored against them while on loan at Bayern Munich as the Germans smashed Barca 8-2 in the 2020 Champions League.
Still at Aston Villa though, like at Barca, his star has waned after a promising start.
As with several recent Barca transfers, it is difficult to judge the Pjanic fee. At €60m, he was extremely expensive, but it came alongside Arthur Melo’s €72m move to Juve, handing Barca a net gain overall.
On the pitch, the midfielder seemed a good fit, but he hardly featured under Ronald Koeman and, after a loan spell with Besiktas, left permanently for Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in 2022 for nothing. A big fee, no output and leaving for nothing, under no circumstances did this transfer work out for Barca.
Barcelona paid €7m to Palmeiras for Fernandes in 2020, farmed him out on loan to Real Valladolid, where he played just three games, brought him back, handed him 17 minutes in a meaningless Champions League group stage tie, and then terminated his contract in the summer of 2021. Fernandes then sued the club for wrongful dismissal.
The central midfielder returned to Palmeiras after his contract was ended and is now on loan at Red Bull Bragantino.
Barcelona needed depth at No. 9 in January 2019, and somehow ended up moving for Boateng, 31 at the time and with no real track record of playing as an out-and-out striker. He had done well there with Sassuolo that season, which is what prompted Barca’s interest, but it proved another wasted wage with 303 minutes of football and no goals to show for his brief stay in Catalonia.
Retired at the end of last season after a two-year stint with Hertha Berlin.
You could be forgiven for forgetting Murillo ever played for Barcelona. He arrived on loan from Valencia in January of 2019 but was hardly seen, playing just 292 minutes of football before leaving in the summer. At least he had not commanded a fee.
Joined Sampdoria in the summer of 2020 and has had two loan spells back in Spain with Celta Vigo.
This was a signing with an element of romance that just didn’t work out. Bellerin returned to Barca in the summer of 2022, nine years after leaving for Arsenal, to add depth at right-back. However, after missing preseason and then picking up an untimely injury, he made just seven appearances and departed for Sporting CP on a free transfer in the January transfer window, his Barca comeback ending after just four months.
“The Austrian Messi” arrived at Barca from Austria Vienna just after the actual Lionel Messi had left and was thrown into the deep end with the team in disarray. He showed why he was highly rated at times but after nine appearances he disappeared — because a 10th first-team appearance would have forced Barca to make his deal permanent. Instead, they dropped him and cut the loan short in January.
Joined Galatasaray in a €6m deal in the summer of 2022.
Who could forget The Decision? Griezmann’s Lebron James-style documentary in 2018 in which he revealed he was snubbing Barcelona to stay at Atletico Madrid … only to eventually join Barca the following summer for well over €100m. Some Barca fans never forgave him for that documentary and, while he was reliable and professional, scoring 35 times in 102 outings, he never hit the heights expected of him at Camp Nou.
Griezmann could not dovetail with Messi and left on loan for Atletico in 2021, making the deal permanent last year at a total cost of around €30m, including the initial loan fee. Financially, the deal was a complete disaster for Barca.
There was surprise when Barca announced the signing of the relatively unknown Braga winger in 2020 for €31m. At the time, he had made fewer than 30 appearances for the Portuguese side. There were moments when Trincao looked good at Barca but not to the scale of his fee and, following loans to Wolves and Sporting, he returned to the latter permanently this summer at a loss for Barca.
33. Neto, €26m, 2019
Another questionable swap deal whereby Barcelona signed goalkeeper Neto from Valencia for around €26m and Jasper Cillessen moved in the other direction for a similar fee. Neto, backup to Marc-Andre ter Stegen, then made just 21 appearances across three seasons before joining AFC Bournemouth as a free agent. A transfer that was made to appease the club’s accounts more than anything else.
One of several players to arrive to de-seat Jordi Alba at left-back and fail to do so. Firpo cost an initial €18m but never looked comfortable in a Barca shirt. Barca didn’t lose too much on the former Real Betis defender, though, with Leeds United paying €15m to take him to England in 2021. Was part of the Leeds squad to be relegated from the Premier League last season.
Regardless of the money involved or the player’s performances at Barca, the element of this deal that did not sit right was that it happened outside of the transfer window. Barca used a rule in Spain that allowed them to sign a replacement for a long-term injured player (in this case Dembele) to pay Braithwaite’s €18m release clause and lure him away from relegation threatened Leganes in February. The worst part was Leganes were not allowed to sign anyone to take his place.
Braithwaite actually stuck around at Barca for a while, scoring 10 times in 58 games, but he never looked truly elite and the damage the deal caused Leganes, who were relegated that season, left a bad taste.
His contract was terminated in September 2022 to enable him to sign for Espanyol on a free.
You need an accountancy degree to work out the exact numbers involved in Emerson’s fleeting stay with Barcelona. Real Betis and Barca paid €6m each for 50% of his economic rights to bring the Brazilian to Europe in 2019. After two impressive seasons with Betis, Barca paid €9m to Betis to sign the right-back permanently in 2021. The same summer, after just three appearances for the club, they then transferred him to Tottenham for around €25m, with Betis also due a percentage of the sale.
In total, Barca spent €15m on Emerson for a return of around €20m, once Betis’ share is subtracted.
In another timeline, the French defender could have been one of Barca’s great bargain pickups. He arrived for just €1m from Toulouse and showed plenty of promise but was given very few opportunities. After just five first-team appearances, and spells on loan at Schalke 04 and Benfica, he moved to Nice for around €8m in 2021.
Not bad business for Barca, but there remains the feeling that, in other circumstances, his time with the club could have been managed much better.
The winger returned to the club in 2022 on loan, seven years after leaving for Aston Villa, before subsequently playing for Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton Wanderers. He had an explosive impact in an early appearance against Atletico Madrid, but ultimately played a bit-part role before returning to Wolves in the summer. Added depth for six months, though, at very little cost.
He is now a free agent after his Wolves contract expired last month.
It is a case of what could have been and bad luck with Argentine striker. Just three months after arriving as a free agent from Manchester City, a heart condition prematurely ended his career.
Made four appearances for Barca in LaLiga, scoring one goal.
The veteran returned to the club for a second spell under Xavi, adding experience and know-how as the team climbed from ninth to second to seal Champions League qualification in 2022-23. However, he didn’t do enough to earn himself a contract extension and departed for Pumas in Mexico in the summer of 2022.
The jury is still out on Torre. The youngster obviously has talent but opportunities have been few and far between at Barca so far after signing from Racing Santander in 2022, so it remains to be seen if the €5m fee will end up proving a bargain or more wasted money.
Made only eight LaLiga appearances in his first season with Barca.
24. Arthur, €31m, 2018
It is hard to judge the Brazilian midfielder’s time with Barca because there are so many aspects to consider. A €31m signing from Gremio, he looked a snip when producing a Xavi-like performance in the Champions League against Tottenham. However, he never really kicked on and, after 72 appearances over two campaigns, he left for Juventus.
In theory, the €72m the Italian side paid represented a huge profit for Barca, but the transfer was part of an operation that saw Pjanic move the other way for €60m. The deal was later probed by finance police as part of an investigation into Juve’s transfer dealings.
Arthur’s career has continued on a downward trajectory. After making 63 appearances for Juve across two seasons, he was loaned to Liverpool for 2022-23. However, injury limited him to just one solitary appearance in the Champions League and he returned to Juve this summer.
A brilliant first two seasons at Barca made Lenglet look a snip at €35.9m, but he could not maintain those performance levels. After two seasons littered with mistakes, he spent last season on loan at Tottenham and his value has now reduced significantly while he remains in the upper echelons of the Catalan club’s earners.
22. Malcom, €41m, 2018
The Malcom move was fascinating. Snatched away from Roma when the Italian side had already announced a deal, he joined Barca from Bordeaux for €41m in 2018 but never really got many chances on the wing. He left a year later, for around the same fee, joining Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg.
Made only 15 appearances for the club in LaLiga.
The Colombian was hardly seen in a Barcelona shirt, but a strong 2018 World Cup allowed the club to make a lot of money on his departure. After arriving in January for €12.4m from Palmeiras, he left the same summer following just six appearances, joining Everton in a deal worth around €30m.
His time at Everton was dogged by injury, and he was released as a free agent at the end of last season.
It raised eyebrows when Barca spent €55m on the Manchester City forward just months after being unable to afford Messi’s contract renewal. In his first six months at the club, Torres looked like someone prepared to take on responsibility and lead Barca’s attack, but his second season was a disappointment.
The fee was big and 14 goals in 71 games is not a good enough return. He is tipped to move on again this summer.
19. Raphinha, €58m, 2022
The long-term assessment of the €58m signing of the Brazilian from Leeds United may well hinge on his second season at Barca. His first was more than acceptable, chipping in with 10 goals and 12 assists, but there is a clamour for him to do more given his price tag.
An encouraging first season gave way to a mediocre second as the USMNT defender lost his way at Barcelona. At €21m, Barca did not overpay for the former Ajax right-back, but neither did they manage to find the solution to their recent right-back problems.
He was loaned to AC Milan last season but made just 14 appearances across all competitions before returning to Camp Nou this summer.
After four years away learning his trade under Pep Guardiola, Garcia returned to Barca as a free agent in 2021. The defender’s homecoming has not quite gone as expected, though.
The Spain international has been singled out for criticism for a series of mistakes and his lost his place in the team following the arrivals of Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde.
Barca made a short-term profit on Cucurella by re-signing him from Eibar for €4m and transferring him to Getafe for around €11m. However, he has since joined Brighton & Hove Albion (€18m) and Chelsea (€65m) to leave some questioning whether Barca should have shown more faith in the left-back — or at least have been able to make more cash from his departure.
Alonso joined for free from Chelsea and adds versatility across the backline, while he has played more at centre-back than in his natural left-back position. The only questionable aspect of his signing lies in whether his wage is necessary at a time when salary cuts are needed and an in-house youngster could have performed his role.
A central component to the AC Milan side that won Serie A in 2022, Kessie has struggled to break into Barca’s midfield. The fact he arrived as a free agent means the signing is far from being considered a catastrophe, but, aside from his memorable winning goal against Real Madrid, he has underwhelmed.
Another player linked with a move away in this window which could land Barca a profit.
De Jong’s redemption arc was one of the few bright points of Barca’s 2021-22 campaign. The Dutch No. 9’s arrival on loan from Sevilla was sneered at by supporters. He was viewed as being counter-productive to the club’s style and associated strongly with the coach at the time, Ronald Koeman.
Under Xavi, though, he played an important role at times, scoring vital goals and leaving at the end of the season with fans chanting his name.
Returned home to the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven at the end of his loan.
The Dutch forward joined Barca at a difficult time with an even more difficult task: to lead a forward line that had just lost Lionel Messi. Glimpses of brilliance, in part due to injuries, became more and more rare as the season progressed, though, and he lost his place in the team after the appointment of Xavi.
A signing that perhaps would have worked out better if it had happened slightly earlier. Vidal joined Barca in the latter stages of his career and with the club beginning to decline following a decade of success.
Still, for €20m he won a league title in his first season of two, was a regular in midfield and left for Inter after netting 11 times in 96 appearances. Now back in Brazil with Flamengo.
10. Paulinho, €40m, 2017
This was an out-of-the-blue signing that actually worked out. Paulinho arrived for €40m from Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande in 2017, scored nine goals from midfield as Barca won the league title and then left to return to the Chinese club for the same fee just as he was becoming an almost cult hero in Catalonia.
He is now back in Brazil with Corinthians.
The France international has been the perfect fit on the right side of Barca’s back four, offering balance to a more attacking left-back and allowing Barca to switch to a back three if necessary. The only problem is he has been vocal about his desire to play as a centre-back. Despite that, the €50m Barca paid to Sevilla for him last summer seems fair at this point for his output in his first season and his potential in the future.
Barcelona plucked the Morocco international from fourth-tier Hercules for just short of €2m to play for the club’s B team, but he quickly outgrew the reserves. After making 12 first-team appearances, he spent last season on loan at Osasuna, where he continued to enhance his reputation. The skillful winger, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League, is now worth 10 times what Barca paid for him.
The striker’s brief stay was a huge success on the pitch, and financially. He arrived for free in January 2022, scored 11 goals in 17 league games to help Barca finish second and then left €12m in the club’s coffers when he joined Chelsea in the summer.
It’s difficult to judge the Frenchman’s time at the club due to expectations, injuries and the €100m plus Barca signed him for after Neymar’s exit. However, due to longevity (next season will be his seventh at the club), his key role under Xavi, the excitement he generates when he gets on the ball and the room he still has to improve, he has proven one of the club’s better investments in recent years.
Some eyebrows were raised when Barca paid €45m for Lewandowski in the summer of 2022 due to his age, but 33 goals in his debut campaign silenced any critics. And while the club are unlikely to see a return on the fee, his impact on a first league title in four years, coupled with the leadership he has brought, is as good an argument as any to justify the outlay.
The Dutch midfielder has been a constant in Barca’s midfield since joining from Ajax for €86m in 2019. His market value remains around the same mark — Manchester United were prepared to pay that much last summer — and he played an important role in Xavi’s side as they won LaLiga last season.
No one expected the Dane to be a regular after joining as a free agent from Chelsea, with Araujo and Kounde tipped to be the starting centre-backs last season, but he proved everyone wrong. He was one of the standout performers as Barca won a first league title since 2019 and would command a big fee on the transfer market.
2. Pedri, €5-25m, 2020
The skinny teenager who arrived from Las Palmas quickly became a regular in Koeman’s Barca side and is now one of the stars of Xavi’s team. The midfielder’s performances for club and country mean the initial €5m fee could end up closer to €25m, but even at that price he can still be considered a bargain.
Plucked from the Uruguayan side Boston River for a modest initial fee of €1.7m, Araujo has blossomed into one of the best defenders in the world at Barcelona, ranking sixth among his centre-back peers in the ESPN FC 100 this month.
Araujo was actually sent off on his first-team debut for the club in 2019, but in 112 appearances since has matured into one of the team’s leaders, despite only being 24 years old. His recovery pace and strength make him perfect for playing a high line, while he has also been used as a makeshift right-back several times to great success in an attempt to keep Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior quiet.
On top of that, Araujo has improved significantly with the ball at his feet since joining the club as a 19-year-old, and a key part of his evolution during the last 18 months under Xavi. However, there is still room to improve in that regard.
His achievements at the club mean the majority of the €3.5m of add-ons have now been met, but even at a possible total fee of €5.2m, Araujo is proof that smart recruitment and a focus on player development can still trump spending big.