Philippe Coutinho is widely regarded as one of the worst signings in Barcelona’s history and has been held up as one of the key reasons for their struggles in recent years. But how might things have gone for the club if they signed someone else instead?
Barcelona received a world-record €222million fee when Neymar’s release clause was triggered in the summer of 2017. Had club president Josep Maria Bartomeu reinvested those funds wisely, the club may well have remained one of the best and most successful in Europe.
Instead, they used all that cash to buy Ousmane Dembele, who has come good of late but spent his first few years at the Camp Nou struggling with injuries and consistency, and Coutinho, who arrived from Liverpool for a club-record €160million in January 2018.
Liverpool used those funds to build Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League-winning squad, but Coutinho struggled to live up to the hefty price tag in Catalonia. The Brazilian playmaker showed some promise in his first half-season with the club but ultimately failed to fill the boots of Neymar and Andres Iniesta, the two players it was hoped he could replace.
To rub salt into Barcelona’s wounds, he went and won the treble while out on loan at Bayern Munich – and scored twice against his parent club in an infamous 8-2 Champions League quarter-final mauling. He was later sold at a €140million loss to Aston Villa in 2022, while Barcelona went three years without winning the La Liga title as they were plunged into economic chaos.
The club’s financial mismanagement goes beyond Coutinho – whose signing was symptomatic of a wider issue – but it does beg the question; how would they have fared had they signed other (considerably cheaper) alternatives? We’ve taken a look back at six alternative options Barcelona were linked with back in 2017 and how their careers have panned out since.
Certainly not a like-for-like alternative, this Premier League Brazilian might’ve been a more natural – if not quite as glamorous – fit at the Camp Nou as Neymar’s direct replacement.
Back in November 2017, GOAL reported that Barcelona were considering Willian as a Plan B option if they couldn’t land Coutinho. He’d already starred in two Premier League title triumphs with Chelsea and at the age of 29 had a few more years left in the tank.
A move never materialised and Willian ended up leaving Chelsea when his contract expired in 2020. Unsuccessful stints at Arsenal and boyhood club Corinthians followed but now he’s back in England and enjoying an Indian summer with Fulham.
The Guardian reported in September 2017 that “if Barcelona fail in a last bid for Coutinho, they’ll resort to Mesut Ozil”. The German World Cup winner’s stock was still high at Arsenal, although he was struggling to quite maintain the high standards he’d set as the Gunners finished runners-up to Leicester in 2015-16.
Given how exceptional he’d been in his last stint in Spain (19 goals and 54 assists in 109 La Liga appearances for Real Madrid), you can see why Barcelona fancied Ozil.
But given how underwhelmingly he fizzled out in his latter years at Arsenal, it’s hard to imagine that the mercurial midfielder would’ve fared any better at the Camp Nou than Coutinho. Might’ve been cheaper, though.
“Every child dreams of playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day. They are the best teams in the year,” the highly-rated young German said after suggestions Barcelona were scouting him as a fall-back option to Coutinho.
“However, I’m very happy with Schalke and I’m getting my games here. That’s going to be the case even if we only play in the Europa League next season.”
Meyer’s career didn’t quite pan out as expected. He shone as Schalke unexpectedly finished second in the Bundesliga in 2017-18 but it was then that his career peaked.
Meyer departed the Veltins Arena that summer but only for Crystal Palace, where he had his moments but failed to make a great impression and lasted just two seasons. He returned to the Bundesliga to sign for FC Koln in 2020 and is now turning out for Swiss Super League side FC Luzern.
One of the most wonderfully watchable players in Europe during his youth at Lyon, it always seemed like a matter of when – not if – Fekir would move to one of Europe’s top clubs.
Barcelona’s former technical secretary Robert Fernandez was said to be scouting Fekir during the 2017-18 campaign but didn’t end up moving for his signature.
Fekir eventually got his glamour move as Liverpool looked to reinvest their Coutinho funds in the summer of 2018, but the move broke down after he failed a medical.
The following summer the France international moved from Lyon to Real Betis and has been dazzling regular La Liga watchers ever since.
It was widely reported that Barcelona had a mammoth €160million bid turned down for Dybala in the summer of 2017.
The technically gifted Argentinian remained at Juventus for another five years, and he went on to win five Scudetti and four Copa Italia before leaving when his deal expired in 2022.
He was available on a free transfer last summer and arrived at Roma, where he was given a hero’s welcome. Dybala is now a key player for Jose Mourinho’s Giallorossi.
— Italian Football News 🇮🇹 (@footitalia1) April 6, 2023
“Why not?” responded Golovin’s agent Sandor Varga when asked if his client could play for Barcelona amid links in the winter of 2017.
Well, he would say that. But there’s no smoke without fire and the interest in the Russian attacking midfielder was reportedly real.
Golovin was catching the eye as a promising prospect at CSKA at the time and eventually moved to Monaco after impressing for Russia as they hosted the 2018 World Cup.
The 26-year-old is now into his fifth season at the Stade Louis II. He’s notched 25 goals and 33 assists in 174 appearances for the Ligue 1 club.