Pep Guardiola’s legendary four-year spell as Barcelona manager yielded unprecedented success and changed how the game is be played at the top level forever.
The fledgling manager was blessed to inherit the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets when he took over in 2008, but how was his record with bringing players in?
The club signed 17 players between 2008 and 2012. Some of them were unqualified successes while others had next to no impact. We’ve ranked them in order from worst to best.
Who? Well, exactly. Believe it or not, Keirrison cost £12million from Palmeiras in 2009.
Twenty years old at the time, he was touted to be the next big thing out of Brazil, but it’s safe to say that potential went unfulfilled. He never made a competitive appearance for Barcelona, getting loaned out for four years before going back to Brazil on a free transfer to Coritiba.
The same story as his compatriot Keirrison, except it started a year earlier. He cost £7million from Palmeiras in 2008, made no competitive appearances and had a series of loans away, before cancelling his contract four years later.
15. Dmytro Chygrynskiy
Guardiola reportedly earmarked the Ukrainian as the future of his backline, having watched him impress for Shakhtar Donetsk.
But it immediately became clear to both player and manager he couldn’t fill the brief of playing out from the back. He was back with Shakhtar after just one year at Camp Nou.
Still, he left with a La Liga title to stick on his honours list, having made 12 appearances in the 2009-10 campaign.
14. Alexander Hleb
The Belarusian joined in the same summer as Guardiola himself, a hugely exciting time and the dawn of the most successful period in the club’s history.
Unfortunately for Hleb, he was a spectator on the bench for most of that treble-winning 2008-09 campaign and was subsequently shipped out on loan before a permanent transfer to Krylia Sovetov Samara in 2012.
In his own words, he was happier at Arsenal…
13. Martin Caceres
The Uruguayan centre-half has had a strange career, spent largely on the periphery of hugely successful teams. He won six Scudetti with Juventus for starters, the first and last of which came during loan spells away from Sevilla and Lazio respectively.
He also played a key role in the Copa del Rey part of Barcelona’s 2009 treble, so his time with La Blaugrana wasn’t entirely without merit.
12. Ibrahim Afellay
A four-time Eredivisie title winner with PSV, it was thought the time was right for Afellay join Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona in 2010, following in the footsteps of the club’s many legendary Dutchmen.
His Barcelona career might well have been fairly forgettable overall, but no one can take away his assist for Messi’s opener away to Real Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League, doing Marcelo like a kipper.
Zlatan’s best mate, it was no surprise he joined him at Camp Nou in 2009.
The Brazilian left-back was alright, we suppose. We suspect he might have written his glowing “style of play” entry on Wikipedia himself, though.
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Removing the wider context, Ibrahimovic wasn’t a terrible signing. He scored a respectable 16 goals in 29 La Liga appearances, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over Madrid. As he’s done pretty much everywhere, he won the league in his one and only season with the club.
But it was clear there was a personality clash with his manager, and that had wider ramifications in the dressing room and around their Champions League semi-final exit to Jose Mourinho’s Inter.
To make matters worse, the player they’d shipped out to sign Ibrahimovic with a significant financial hit, Samuel Eto’o, got one over his old club and claimed a second straight treble at Inter. Ouch.
9. Jose Manuel Pinto
The backup goalkeeper’s on-pitch contributions might have been rare and often questionable. His place in the team arguably cost Barcelona the title with an unexpected run in place of the injured Victor Valdes, with Atletico Madrid edging them in 2013-14.
But by all accounts he was a hugely popular figure in the dressing room and adored by Messi, having joined on a free transfer from Celta Vigo following an earlier loan. That kind of morale-boosting influence is priceless.
One of many players originally scouted and signed by Monchi at Sevilla before going on to Barcelona, Brazilian utility man Adriano was a more than useful club servant.
He spent six years with the club, making over 100 La Liga appearances.
7. Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas’ Barcelona trophy haul comprises of one La Liga title and one Copa del Rey during his three-year spell back at his boyhood club, which in the context of that wider era is actually fairly paltry.
The return of the prodigal son wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be, having been teased for years at Arsenal. The club lifted the Champions League the summer before he joined, and the season after he left.
He wasn’t Xavi’s heir as many had hoped that he would be, and it was actually the less naturally Barca-like Ivan Rakitic that slotted more seamlessly in place of Xavi, offering greater balance in midfield after he joined in 2014.
Still, Fabregas was supremely technically gifted and at his peak lived up to the standards demanded of him, especially during the club’s record 100-point tally La Liga win of 2012-13, with the late, great Tito Vilanova succeeding Guardiola in the dugout.
6. Alexis Sanchez
Highly rated from his time at Udinese, Barcelona fought off a lot of competition to get the Chilean’s signature in 2011.
He occasionally showed the dynamism that Premier League audiences would become accustomed to during his spell at Arsenal but also lacked discipline and his greedy tendencies reportedly frustrated his team-mates.
His three-year spell with Barcelona coincided with Fabregas’ between 2011 and 2014 – relatively barren in the context of what came before and after.
5. Seydou Keita
Guardiola’s four years as Barcelona manager coincided with the Mali international’s time at the club. Overlooked a little in the shadow of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, Keita certainly wasn’t underappreciated by his manager, who handed him nearly 200 appearances over four seasons.
Another one they can thank Sevilla’s director of football Monchi for, having signed him from their La Liga rivals in 2008.
4. Javier Mascherano
With Busquets indispensable at the base of midfield, Javier Mascherano would have to do something special to find a place in Barcelona’s starting XI after making the switch from Liverpool in 2010.
And that he did, shocking everyone to put in some brilliant performances in Barcelona’s defence, stepping up when captain Carles Puyol was sidelined through injury and subsequently retired.
Mascherano had tenacity, energy and a brilliant ability to read the game, which made up for his lack of height or physicality in Barcelona’s backline.
Not even he would have expected to make over 300 appearances, winning five La Liga titles, five Copas del Rey and two Champions Leagues during his eight years at the club.
3. David Villa
The striker that they really ought to have signed instead of Ibrahimovic in 2009. Given how consistently brilliant he was for years with Valencia and Spain, it should have been no surprise how seamlessly Villa adapted to Barcelona when he finally joined them at the age of 28.
He scored 23 goals in his first season at the club, completing an absolutely irresistible forward line with Messi and Pedro as they won the Champions League and La Liga in 2010-11. A key cog in arguably their greatest-ever team.
2. Dani Alves
The Brazilian had already established himself as one of the best players in La Liga at Sevilla, somehow looking the focal point of their team even at right-back, winning the Copa del Rey and two UEFA Cups between 2005 and 2007.
Guardiola’s first major marquee signing, he arrived for £31million in 2008 and was worth every penny.
1. Gerard Pique
Having worked with Barcelona B with the likes of Pedro and Busquets, Guardiola immediately identified another La Masia graduate as the missing piece of his puzzle in the summer of 2008.
The centre-half has never looked back since his return from Manchester United.
He developed his game learning alongside Puyol, and has subsequently become a leader himself, unafraid to speak out about political issues and Catalan independence off the pitch, putting in cultured performances on it and even taking a heavy pay cut as Barca have struggled financially of late. And when he realised the time came to hang up his boots, he did it without fuss.
His return to Barcelona in 2008 can be seen as one of the pivotal moments that ushered in an era of total domination. Fourteen full seasons, two trebles, eight La Liga titles, seven Copas del Rey and three Champions Leagues.
Probably a future club president, and our winner.