Messi next? 11 modern Barcelona legends who left the club for nothing

Quick Reads

If you have an account on any form of social media or simply have access to the internet, you probably heard that Lionel Messi officially became a free agent on July 1, 2021, after two decades with Barcelona.

Negotiations are likely continuing over a new deal for the Argentinian at the Camp Nou and with Joan Laporta back steering the ship as president, it is thought that an agreement will be struck at some point.

But if Messi finds himself leaving the club for nothing, he would not be the first modern legend to do so. We take a look at 11 other Barcelona icons that left on a free transfer…

Andres Iniesta

Graduating through La Masia, Iniesta spent his entire career at the Camp Nou before moving to Japan with Vissel Kobe at the age of 34.

He even came close to displacing the Messi-Ronaldo Ballon d’Or duopoly in 2010 and 2012.

Still, there must be some regret at having left the Catalan giants with a mere 30 trophies to his name. Pitiful.

Eric Abidal

A versatile defender throughout his six seasons with the club, but Abidal’s legend status stems more from his resilience and success in the face of overwhelming off-field adversity.

In 2011 he was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver but recovered from surgery in time to play the entire 90 minutes in the Champions League final against Manchester United in May. Carles Puyol famously handed him the captain’s armband for the trophy lift at Wembley.

2012 saw him undergo a liver transplant due to unresolved problems from the previous operation but he bounced back yet again – and gave us one of the sport’s all-time most awkward moments, courtesy of Alex Song. In the summer of 2013, Abidal signed for Monaco on a free transfer.

Dani Alves

A right-back who did not spend much time at all at the back.

Alves set a new benchmark for the attacking prowess a defender could carry. When he left the club for Juventus in 2016, he did so with 21 goals and over 100 assists to his name. Ridiculous.

He’s also a brilliant person, reportedly offering to donate part of his kidney to Abidal in 2012, something the Frenchman refused because of the effect it would have had on Alves’ career.

Xavi

Another third of Barca’s iconic midfield under Pep Guardiola, Xavi made 767 appearances for the club before leaving on a free transfer for Qatari side Al-Sadd in 2015, leaving a huge gap to fill at the club.

But, as Cesc Fabregas once put it on Radio Marca in 2011, searching for another midfielder like Xavi is futile.

“One of the big mistakes people make is to talk about who can be the next Xavi, to keep looking for him. We waste time constantly looking for the replacement for Xavi? There will never be another Xavi.”

Henrik Larsson 

Hero to Ronaldinho, Larsson only spent two years with the Spanish giants but more than left his mark. Coming off the bench in the 2006 Champions League final, he set up both goals in their 2-1 comeback win against Arsenal before leaving the club in the summer. Iconic.

READ: The story of Henrik Larsson’s glorious late-career spell at Barcelona

Victor Valdes

Valdes was born and bred in Barcelona and spent 12 years in the first-team set up at the Camp Nou. Sure, he was prone to the odd howler between the sticks but left for Manchester United in 2014 with a jam-packed mantlepiece.

Sadly, his time in Catalonia ended in agony, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Celta Vigo in March 2014, ruling him out of the World Cup and the remainder of the season.

They finished three points behind champions Atletico that season – if Valdes remained available, there’s every chance they would have won the title instead, while the injury cost the keeper a lucrative move to Monaco.

Thierry Henry 

Henry’s time at the Camp Nou is sometimes brushed over, but in two brilliant seasons, he inserted himself into club folklore.

The Frenchman outscored Lionel Messi in his first campaign and helped them to a historic treble a year later, scoring 26 goals in the process despite being forced onto the left wing by Samuel Eto’o.

But the emergence of Pedro in the following campaign saw Henry’s game time diminish and he was released on a free transfer to New York Red Bulls in 2010.

Rafael Marquez

The first Mexican to lift the Champions League (twice), a €100million buyout clause inserted in 2006, and 10 other trophies; Marquez had a pretty good seven seasons with Barcelona.

Just like Henry, he left for New York in the summer of 2010. At the time of his departure, he was the most capped non-European player in the club’s history.

Patrick Kluivert

Kluivert arrived at the Camp Nou in 1998 after compatriot Louis van Gaal was given the manager’s job a year earlier, spending six seasons with the club.

When he left for Newcastle United in 2004, he did so having top-scored for Barcelona in four out of six La Liga seasons, leaving with 122 goals in 257 games.

Rivaldo 

A strike partner of Kluivert’s, Rivaldo’s time with Barcelona is earmarked by a Ballon d’Or, two La Liga titles and probably the greatest hat-trick of all time. He scored a lot of goals before leaving for AC Milan in 2002.

READ: Rivaldo: The story of a great player in a not so great Barcelona team

Pep Guardiola 

Before turning into one of the greatest manager’s of all time, Guardiola was a bloody good midfielder.

Johan Cruyff made him the midfield pivot in his Dream Team in 1990 and that is where he stayed for 11 years, becoming a hero and role model for midfielders coming through La Masia such as Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas.

Aged 30, Guardiola left for Italy on a free transfer joining Brescia as Andrea Pirlo’s replacement.


More Barcelona 

Comparing Messi and Ronaldo’s records at major tournaments

The seven academy players Barcelona released in 2020 & how they’ve fared

The story of Henrik Larsson’s glorious late-career spell at Barcelona

Can you name Barca’s top ‘not Messi’ scorer for every season since 2000?