When you have an academy as productive as Barcelona’s La Masia, you can generally get away with not needing to make as many weird signings as other clubs.
Barcelona has always struck us as a club that likes a challenge, though, and you can’t fault their ambition when it comes to adding players who make you think ‘Wait, what?’
This list is shorter than some of the other entries in our weird signings series – there’s no place for the high-profile youngsters who it didn’t work out for (Keirrison, Halilovic, etc.), while the many like Alex Song who simply couldn’t step up to Barca’s level miss out on the basis that their signings made sense at the time.
17. Mark van Bommel
As Barcelona began to present themselves as on the side of good versus evil, other teams and players didn’t stop in their pursuit of the other side.
Mark van Bommel is perhaps the archetype of winning ugly and vindictively, and if you were asked to come up with the anti-Barca footballer it would be him.
And yet he spent a year at Camp Nou, joining under Frank Rijkaard and even starting for the club in their victorious 2006 Champions League final. They soon realised the error of their ways, though, and binned him off as part of their ‘foulees not foulers’ approach.
Spending €4million on a 24-year-old uncapped right-back with no European experience feels like a pretty loud way of saying ‘we don’t have a big enough transfer budget’.
It’s like going to a takeaway, putting a load of coppers down on the counter and looking longingly at the server in the hopes they’ll take pity on you and give you a full meal.
Barcelona actually went unbeaten across the Brazilian’s five appearances for the club. He eventually left for Besiktas in 2019, after a loan at Sivasspor, the former home of ‘The Original Douglas’, Cicinho.
15. Francesco Coco
Barcelona might not have been the superpowers they are now in the pre-Messi era, but the Coco deal still feels odd. This was a player deemed surplus to requirements in a Milan squad which contained the likes of Cosmin Contra, Umit Davala and Roque Junior, so… yeah.
14. Jeremy Mathieu
If you look at any photo of Jeremy Mathieu in a Barcelona shirt, you’ll see a note of fear behind the eyes which you can’t quite place.
A few minutes later, though, and you’ll have figured out where you recognise it from. It’s the same look of utter dread you last saw on the face of Guy Goma when he was mistakenly called in as an expert on a live BBC broadcast.
What’s that? He was already nearly 31 when he signed a four-year deal with the club? Oh dear.
13. Juan Pablo Sorin
A pretty good footballer, but one worthy of being loaned in by Barca as a 27-year-old while on the books of Cruzeiro? Perhaps not.
Barcelona loaned Edgar Davids the following year, so perhaps they were just in that phase everyone has where they have a weird obsession with long-haired guys.
12. Miralem Pjanic
Bosnia and Herzegovina international Pjanic established himself as a genuinely classy operator over the years at Lyon and Roma before he became a serial title-winner at Juventus.
One of the best free-kick takers of his generation, the midfielder spent his latter years in Turin looking equally frustrated and exasperated as Cristiano Ronaldo skied dead ball after dead ball into the stands.
So it must have been a bit annoying to go to the Camp Nou and play alongside Messi, one of few players that is actually better at free-kicks. His debut season at the club resulted in just six La Liga starts, public declarations of his dissatisfaction and widespread reports that he’d move on – which he did, going out on loan to Besiktas in 2021 and moving permanently to Sharjah in the UAE in 2022.
Rendering one of his biggest plus points null is weird enough, but Pjanic makes the list for the creative accounting that saw Arthur move in the other direction. The Brazil international cost €72million, apparently, while Pjanic is said to have cost €60million. We’ll leave it to the Italian authorities to investigate that one.
11. Emmanuel Petit
When Petit signed for the club, he was a successful player at club and international, having won the double with Arsenal in 1998 and been part of the French squad which won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships.
‘What’s he doing on this list, then?’ I hear you ask.
Well, as Petit himself explained much later: “Richard [Dutruel] was translating and he was translating normally when he suddenly stopped and after five minutes he turned to me and I saw ‘Mayday, Mayday’ flashing in his eyes.
“He told me, ‘The coach wants to know in which position you play.’ We’d just finished the Euro. I looked at the coach, looked at Richard, and said, ‘Is he joking?’ Richard replied, ‘He’s not joking.’”
We wonder whether Serra Ferrer would have asked the same question of Dutruel himself, had the goalkeeper not been wearing gloves at the time.
10. & 9. Arda Turan & Aleix Vidal
There might be a good reason for signing a player in the summer and keeping him effectively locked up until January due to a transfer embargo instead of just, y’know, signing them in January.
Surprisingly enough, neither Arda nor Vidal hit the ground running right away, or indeed ever in a Barcelona shirt.
8. Gerard Deulofeu
If Gerard Deulofeu hadn’t come through at Barcelona, it seems unlikely they’d have signed someone who had spent the past few months being loaned out by Everton, even if it was just meant as a stopgap until they completed the January signing of Philippe Coutinho.
You also wouldn’t have expected them to bring back the similarly just-quite-good-in-England Adama Traore purely on the basis of his La Masia connection. But they went and did that too.
7. Martin Caceres
Caceres joined Villarreal straight from Uruguayan club Defensor Sporting, spent his first season out on loan, and then went to Barcelona for €16.5million. And people claim Pep Guardiola isn’t able to find defensive value.
6. Demetrio Albertini
Barcelona didn’t sign Albertini after Milan, or even after the team after Milan. They signed him after the team after the team after the team after Milan, when he was 33, presumably because Rijkaard wanted someone with whom he could reminisce about the glory days.
It’s the equivalent of Mauricio Pochettino signing his former PSG team-mate Ronaldinho in his first Spurs season: fun for fans of nostalgia, but not a Sensible Footballing Decision.
5. Thomas Vermaelen
They basically bought a used car with no wheels, in the hope it would regrow them like fingernails.
Between Vermaelen signing for Barcelona and making his debut for the club, we witnessed a Scottish Independence referendum, a UK general election and three Meghan Trainor singles.
When Paulinho moved to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015, that was meant to be that for his hopes of playing at the highest level.
We’re not sure if it’s weirder that he then joined Barcelona for €40million two years later, or that his nine goals in La Liga represented his highest-ever return in a league season – including stints in Poland and Lithuania.
Ah, who are we kidding, it’s still absolutely the first thing.
3. Dmytro Chygrynskiy
Did any of you actually see Dmytro Chygrynskiy in Barcelona? I mean really see him, not just see a photo or a short video clip. Can we be completely certain the move ever happened, or that he even exists?
Sure, you might point to so-called ‘evidence’ or ‘interviews’, but we’re not buying it. Certainly not the €25million fee part.
=1. Martin Braithwaite
To be fair to him, Braithwaite was a handy player at Camp Nou and offered a bit more than many expected. He certainly didn’t deserve the stick he got in the lead-up to his move across town to Espanyol.
Still, the fact that Barcelona paid €18million for a forward with ‘eight goals in 38 Championship appearances for Middlesbrough’ as one of the most recent entries on his CV will never not be utterly bizarre.
=1. Kevin-Prince Boateng