The 7 midfielders Barcelona signed to replace Iniesta and how they fared
When Andres Iniesta left Barcelona in the summer of 2018 after winning every trophy on offer, the club knew that finding a replacement for one of the greatest midfielders of all time would be a near-impossible task.
Barcelona’s dip in performances over the last few years can be somewhat attributed to Iniesta’s departure, despite spending a lot of money trying to fill the void left by the Spanish legend, who broke into the first team in 2002.
Iniesta joined Vissel Kobe in the Japanese top flight, where he is currently in his fifth season, whilst his former midfield partner Xavi has Barcelona firing again after returning to become Barcelona’s head coach in November 2021.
Barcelona’s recent resurgence since Xavi’s appointment has been led by the youth within the team, with the likes of Gavi and Nico Gonzalez following in the footsteps of Iniesta and Xavi before them after being promoted from Barcelona B.
Aside from the academy, Barcelona signed seven midfielders to fill the void left by Iniesta with varying degrees of success, and a big hole in the club’s bank account. Here’s how they got on.
Although Coutinho was signed in January 2018, when Iniesta was in his final six months at the club, his upcoming departure was a big reason for spending a whopping £120million – with over £20million in add-ons – on Liverpool’s Brazilian star.
Capable of playing both as a central midfielder and a left-winger, similar to Iniesta, the Brazilian was seen as someone who could replace the creativity of the Spaniard and the goal threat of Neymar, who had joined PSG a few months before.
After an initial bright start, Coutinho completely faded away at Barcelona, to the extent that he moved on loan to Bayern Munich less than two seasons after his arrival.
To compound the misery of their record signing failing to deliver whilst at the club, Coutinho scored twice against Barcelona in an 8-2 mauling, whilst at Bayern.
Now at Aston Villa on loan with an option to buy, Coutinho’s Camp Nou adventure looks to be over, and whilst he has found some form under Steven Gerrard, the 29-year-old is still a long way away from showing the skills and flair he displayed at Liverpool.
Back in 2020, Philippe Coutinho was subbed on for Bayern against Barcelona in the 76th minute of a #UCL knockout…
He had a devastating impact as Bayern won 8-2. He was on loan from Barcelona. He was 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 record signing 🙃😳pic.twitter.com/wmhnIezhyA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 7, 2022
Once one of the world’s best midfielders, Vidal played in an almost polar opposite style to Iniesta.
The former Spain international was famed for his immense skill, and his ability to effortlessly glide on the ball with the grace of a swan.
Vidal was renowned for his strength, sheer power and aggressive tackling that made him an unstoppable force in the middle for Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
The Chilean was arguably past his peak when he joined Barcelona for around £16million immediately after Iniesta left, but he did perform fairly well in his 96 appearances for the club over two seasons.
But his final game came in the 8-2 demolition at the hands of his former club, and Vidal was one of the first players to be shown the door in the aftermath, joining Inter Milan in the summer of 2020.
Still at Inter, the 34-year-old won the Scudetto under Antonio Conte and is well settled in Milan.
Joining from Gremio in the summer of 2018, the Brazilian central midfielder was seen as a direct replacement for Iniesta in Barcelona’s midfield trio and performed very well at times.
Barcelona paid close to £30million for the then 21-year-old, but after just two seasons and 72 appearances, the club decided to swap him for 30-year-old Miralem Pjanic of Juventus…
The Bosnia international was a top-class creative central midfielder in his prime, but when Barcelona traded in their young talent Arthur for Pjanic, it was a deal that raised eyebrows at the time, and even more in hindsight.
Pjanic made 30 appearances in one season at Barcelona before being shipped out on loan to Besiktas, and with a reported fee of £54million being spent both ways in the swap deal, this was a transfer that benefitted nobody.
Arthur is currently struggling to nail down a starting spot under Massimiliano Allegri, whilst Pjanic’s stint in Spain was as forgettable as they come.
Frenkie De Jong
After catching the eye in Ajax’s magnificent Champions League run to the semi-final, Barcelona were adamant that the Dutch midfielder was the solution to their midfield problems, and he joined for around £77million in the summer of 2019.
He initially took a while to make the step up from the Eredivise as a 21-year-old, but since Xavi’s appointment, De Jong has finally started to replicate his Ajax form, and suddenly looks worth every penny.
A technical midfielder capable of playing both deeper and further forward, should De Jong maintain his current form, he will be destined for greatness.
A teenage sensation at Las Palmas, Barcelona beat Real Madrid to Pedri’s signature in 2019, spending an initial £4.1million on the then 16-year-old, who linked up with the team a year later.
His rise to stardom has been rapid, and still just 19-years-old, Pedri is already a regular for both Barcelona and Spain.
Stylistically, he is the closest player to Iniesta Barcelona have had since Iniesta himself, and his dazzling displays each week have naturally drawn comparisons between him and his predecessor.
His manager Xavi saw the similarities himself, and having played with Iniesta, he is someone well qualified to make such a bold statement.
“Aside from the nutmeg, which is a small detail, it’s how he understands the game, goes between the lines and goes behind the midfield pivots”, Xavi stated after Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
“He reminds me a lot of Andres Iniesta. If we’re talking about pure talent, Pedri is the best in the world. He is a wonderful player. I haven’t seen many talents like him.”
Strong, but fully deserved praise.
Pedri is clear pic.twitter.com/Fi86pLI4Pp
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 19, 2022
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the successes of De Jong and Pedri lies Matheus Fernandes.
Signed from Palmeiras for around £7million in January 2020, the then 21-year-old made just one appearance for Barcelona, when he came on as a substitute for Pedri against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League and was never seen again.
Barcelona eventually terminated his contract, and he re-signed with Palmeiras.
A massive waste of time and money for all involved.