13 high-profile players who’ve failed to make it at Barcelona since 2010

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring for Barcelona. Nou Camp, Barcelona, April 2010.

As one of the biggest clubs in the world, Barcelona have extremely high standards – and even some of the best players around can struggle to meet them.

Barcelona have won La Liga 25 times, the Copa del Rey 30 times and the Champions League five times in their history, but their success since Pep Guardiola took charge of the first team in 2008 has been something else.

It has meant plenty of high-profile players have moved to the Nou Camp in that time and failed to really establish themselves. Here are some of the most notable examples.

Philippe Coutinho

The most high-profile of the lot? Quite possibly. The most expensive? Definitely. Barca paid Liverpool £121.5million for the Brazilian in January 2018.

To be fair, Coutinho had been brilliant under Jurgen Klopp, creating chances and scoring long-range curlers for fun. But he could never fit into Barca’s 4-3-3 – neither was he a natural Andres Iniesta replacement in midfield nor was he the wide man the Blaugrana needed to fill Neymar’s shoes.

It says something that the most notable thing he did at Camp Nou was to score two goals in a Champions League quarter-final… for Bayern Munich in an 8-2 thrashing of the club he was on loan from.

Antoine Griezmann

Another one of Barcelona’s mega-money signings of the late 2010s, Griezmann arrived for £108million in the summer of 2019 and proved just as ill-suited to the famous Barcelona way as Coutinho.

Naturally a second striker, he struggled to slot in either as the centre-forward or right-winger in the 4-3-3.

After 22 league goals in his two full seasons at the club, Griezmann was sent back to his former club Atletico on loan. Things haven’t gone much better back in Madrid, mind you, with just three goals in 23 La Liga games in 2021-22.

Andre Gomes

Barcelona fought off competition from Real Madrid to sign Gomes from Valencia in 2016 for an initial €35million.

With a further €20million in possible add-ons included in the deal, Gomes was Barca’s marquee signing of the summer, but just two years later he was loaned out to Everton for the season.

That deal was made permanent in 2019. But in his third season on Merseyside, he’s struggled for form and fitness and is now a peripheral part of a squad battling against relegation.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Swede’s planet-sized ego never fit in at Barcelona, and he left after just one season after falling out with Pep Guardiola.

He scored a reasonable 22 goals in 46 appearances, including a winner against Real Madrid, and would undoubtedly argue he conquered La Liga, but he was never going to last at the club.

“The whole gang – they were like schoolboys.” he wrote in his autobiography.

“The best footballers in the world stood there with their heads bowed, and I didn’t understand any of it. It was ridiculous.”

Zlatan would go on to win titles with Milan and PSG, becoming the French club’s all-time top scorer, before seeing spells at Manchester United and LA Galaxy. Now aged 40, he could win another league title with Milan to cap off his career.

Barcelona replaced him with David Villa, who would play a pivotal role in the Champions League win of 2011.

READ: When a teenage Zlatan failed a trial at QPR… for telling coach to ‘f*ck off’

Arda Turan

The Turkey winger had plenty of La Liga pedigree when he joined Barcelona in 2015, having played a pivotal role for Atletico Madrid when they won the title in 2014 and were seconds away from adding the Champions League.

But it never seemed like there was a natural role for him in Luis Enrique’s Barcelona team. Having to spend the first half of the 2015-16 campaign on the sidelines as they served a transfer registration ban wouldn’t have helped matters.

After failing to play a single game in the first half of the 2017-18 season, Turan was loaned to Istanbul Basaksehir.

He earned a 16-match ban at Istanbul Basaksehir for pushing a match official and was charged by the Turkish police following an alleged nightclub brawl. He’s now at Galatasaray after a move in the summer of 2021.

An utter waste of the prime years of a player who was at one time pivotal for one of European football’s top clubs.

Aleix Vidal

One of many Monchi signings for Sevilla to be sold on at a massive profit to Barcelona, it’s fair to say Vidal did not work out quite as well as Dani Alves, Rakitic and Seydou Keita before him.

The former winger, converted to a right-back, was very impressive under Unai Emery’s tutelage as Sevilla won the Europa League in 2015, but he never quite replicated that form for Barcelona, and like Turan, the truncated start didn’t set the right tone.

In fact, Sergi Roberto, originally a central midfielder, beat him in the battle to be Alves successor.

After some time back at Sevilla, Vidal returned to Barcelona, but with Espanyol.

Alexander Hleb

Barcelona signed the Belarusian from Arsenal in 2008, in the same summer that Pep Guardiola took over as manager.

He won the treble in his first season but was a peripheral figure at the best with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Yaya Toure, Xavi and Sergio Busquets far ahead of him in the midfield pecking order.

Hleb was sent out on loan for three years running before eventually being offloaded for good in 2012.

READ: Alexander Hleb: I cried over Arsenal exit; most players regret leaving

Mauro Icardi

Picked up from minnows Vecindario when he was 15, Icardi was chased by all the major clubs in Spain.

He had forged a reputation as a wonderkid, scoring over 500 goals in the youth ranks of the tiny Canary Islands team after he moved there from Argentina as a child.

However, with Barcelona’s unprecedented levels of success between 2008 and 2012, he found a pathway into the first team difficult as a teenager and never made a senior appearance for the club before leaving for Sampdoria in 2012.

He went on to score over 130 goals during his time in Italy, for Samp and then Inter, before a move to PSG in 2019, where he now plays alongside former Barcelona club-mate Lionel Messi.

Cesc Fabregas

The La Masia graduate was forever being linked with a move back to his boyhood club while at Arsenal, with the transfer eventually happening in 2011.

He wasn’t a complete failure, making over 100 appearances for the club in three years and playing a prominent role in the 100-point title win under Tito Vilanova in 2013. But he failed to live up to expectations.

Proving just how high the standards are at Barcelona, Fabregas was good but just not the heir to Xavi and Iniesta in midfield that many wanted him to be.

He won two Premier League titles with Chelsea after leaving Catalonia for the second time in 2014. The club put out a critical statement when it was confirmed he was leaving, saltily underlining the sense of disappointment in the prodigal son.

Barcelona would win another treble in the first season after Fabregas left, with Ivan Rakitic impressing in his place. His three years at the club came directly between two Champions League triumphs.

Alex Song

He arrived for £15million from Arsenal and signed a five-year contract, but with Sergio Busquets immovable as the first-choice deep-lying midfielder, it was always going to be a tough ask for Song to make much of an impact.

He failed to impress on the occasions he was given opportunities, and never looked as cultured as the La Masia graduates he played alongside in midfield.

His most memorable moment at the club when he awkwardly stepped forward to lift the La Liga trophy, not realising it was being presented to cancer-beating Eric Abidal stood next to him.

Dmytro Chygrynskiy

Arriving in 2010 from Shakhtar Donetsk, Chygrynskiy joined Barcelona with quite the reputation but failed to adapt to the passing style demanded of him and returned to Shakhtar after just one season in Spain.

The Ukrainian spoke candidly in the documentary Take The Ball, Pass The Ball about failing to live up to such high standards, but he’s enjoyed success since, winning another two Ukrainian league titles on his return to Shakhtar.

He’s currently at Ionikos after a five-year spell at AEK Athens where he won the 2018 Greek Super League title.

Martin Caceres

Caceres enjoyed two loan spells and then a permanent four-year stay at Juventus between 2012 and 2016, but he was fourth choice at centre-back in his one season at Barcelona, playing just 13 times in La Liga.

He did play an important role in the Copa del Rey win of Barca’s treble that season, but he spent the next two years on loan at Sevilla and Juve before joining the Italian giants permanently.

Winning five consecutive titles in Turin, he’s built up quite the honours list after winning the treble in his only season at Barcelona.

Now 35, he’s back in Spain with Levante.

Alen Halilovic

Now 25 and playing for Reading in the Championship, it’s fair to say Halilovic won’t meet the impossible expectations that were placed on him as a teenager.

Joining Barca as a 17-year-old from Dinamo Zagreb in 2014, he featured for the B team for a season and eventually made just one appearance in the Copa del Rey for the senior team before leaving for Hamburg in 2016.


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