Barcelona may have picked up some quality players during the summer but the club has become synonymous with dreadful deals in recent years.
Barcelona appear to be getting back on track.
After club president Joan Laporta desperately pulled economic levers left, right and centre this summer in order to fund summer signings, the Catalans have made a strong start to the new season thanks to the likes of Robert Lewandowski.
Barca, though, only found themselves in a dire financial position because of the reckless spending of the previous regime. Indeed, the Blaugrana became synonymous with dreadful deals under Laporta’s predecessor, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who left the club on the verge of bankruptcy.
Below, GQBuzz runs through the worst transfer signings in Barca’s history, with several Bartomeu buys ranking highly…
15 Emmanuel Petit
Emmanuel Petit wanted out of Barcelona after just six months.
He later revealed that when he arrived from Arsenal in the summer of 2000, the Blaugrana were imploding.
“There was a war in the dressing room between the Catalan and Dutch players,” he told RMC Sport. “We also had [Lorenzo] Serra Ferrer as a coach and he didn’t have enough strength or necessary charisma to manage the team.”
Petit also claimed that Serra Ferrer had no idea what position he played, resulting in the midfielder being regularly deployed as a centre-back.
Regardless of who was to blame, Petit ended up looking nothing like the player that had excelled in the Premier League.
The World Cup winner, thus, went to club president Joan Gaspart in January 2001 and asked to be put on the transfer list. He was eventually sold to Chelsea at the end of his one and only season at Barca.
14 Nelson Semedo
The one good thing we can say about Nelson Semedo’s stint at Barcelona is that at least the club managed to recoup all of the money they wasted on him.
The Portuguese was viewed as a long-term replacement for Dani Alves, with Semedo having made quite the name for himself as an attacking full-back at Benfica.
Indeed, Barca agreed to pay an initial €30m (£27.5m/$30m) for his services, with the potential for a further €5m (£4.4m/$5m) in add-ons.
Semedo, though, with his total lack of defensive skills, proved a liability throughout his time at Camp Nou, culminating in him being humiliated by Alphonso Davies in Barca’s shocking 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the 2019-20 Champions League.
The Portuguese connection aside, it remains difficult to understand why Wolves felt compelled to take Semedo off Barca’s hands in September 2020.
Douglas’ Barcelona career never really recovered from a dreadful debut against Malaga, in 2014.
He struggled defensively and, perhaps unforgivably for a Blaugrana full-back, offered nothing going forward.
Injuries didn’t help. “I had some though times,” he later admitted to AS. “I’d come home crying every day.”
And, sadly, there would be no happy ending for Douglas.
The defender, who had been signed from Sao Paulo for €4 million (£3.5m/$4m), was a part of the side that won the treble in 2014-15.
However, he made just five appearances in all competitions – and just eight overall before leaving on a free transfer in 2019 after loan spells at Sporting Gijon, Benfica and Sivasspor.
After flopping at AC Milan, Christophe Dugarry joined Barcelona in the summer of 1997 in the hope of getting his career back on track ahead of a World Cup on home soil.
However, he would spend the next six months wondering what on earth he was doing at Camp Nou.
“It was surreal,” the Frenchman later told SFR Sport of his time playing under Louis van Gaal.
“The worst thing was when I went to his office to ask to leave. I had to leave at any cost, and what’s more, [the then France coach Aime] Jacquet had said we had to be first-choice at our clubs on the first day of 1998. I pretended to cry, saying ‘I can’t take anymore, I have to leave.’
“And he just looked at me and said: ‘No, you can’t leave. I believe in you.’
“What? You believe in me and you make me play as a defensive midfielder? It was a horrible six months. I went through hell.”
However, after making just seven appearances for Barca, Dugarry was allowed to move to Marseille in January 1998 and went on to help France win the World Cup that very summer.
11 Alex Song
Alex Song’s €18m (£15m/$18m) move was doomed from the start. He wasn’t the least bit interested in games or glory. He was motivated solely by money.
“When Barcelona offered me a contract, and I saw how much I would earn, I didn’t think twice,” the former Cameroon international admitted in an Instagram chat with Pascal Siakam.
“I felt my wife and children should have comfortable lives once my career is over.
“I met Barca’s sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games, but I didn’t give a f*ck – I knew that now I would become a millionaire.”
And he did. Also, despite unsurprisingly failing to become a first-team regular, he featured in 65 games across two seasons, winning La Liga in 2013.
However, it impossible to look back on his time at Camp Nou as anything but a waste.
10 Andre Gomes
Barcelona were justifiably thrilled with themselves after pipping Real Madrid to the €35m (£31m/$35m) signing of Andre Gomes.
The midfielder was, after all, coming off the back of a sensational season with Valencia which had ended with him helping Portugal win Euro 2016.
However, after a relatively positive start, his spell at Barcelona proved a disaster, and it took a devastating toll on Gomes’ mental health.
“It turned into a bit of a hell, because I started to feel more pressure,” he told Panenka in 2018. “On more than one occasion, I didn’t want to leave my house.”
Gomes’ Camp Nou nightmare eventually came to an end when he joined Everton after a successful loan spell at Goodison Park.
Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar – Barcelona have signed some brilliant Brazilian forwards down through the years.
Geovanni wasn’t one of them, though. He had enjoyed a breakout year at Cruzeiro in 2000 and Barca beat off intense competition from Arsenal and Juventus to sign the winger the following year for €18m (£15.7m/$18m) – a significant sum of money at the time.
Unfortunately, Geovanni failed dismally to justify his transfer fee, scoring just once in 26 appearances across two seasons in La Liga, before joining Benfica on a season-long loan.
The deal was made permanent in 2003 – and for absolutely nothing, with Barca more concerned with freeing up a Non-EU place in their squad for new signings.
8 Alexander Hleb
Alexander Hleb probably should have never left Arsenal. He wasn’t just a key member of the team, playing the best football of his career, he also had a strong bond with manager Arsene Wenger.
“When Arsene said that it was a matter of hours (before his €17m transfer to Barcelona in 2008), I felt devastated,” he admitted on the In Lockdown podcast. “It was really hard for me to accept that.
“Wenger did everything to make me stay at Arsenal. He even texted me as I was fishing. ‘Alex, I won’t let you go, we need you here.’ I cried when I read it.”
Hleb didn’t form anything like the same kind of connection with Pep Guardiola, who had just taken over from Frank Rijkaard, the coach that had pushed to sign the Belarussian.
Indeed, Hleb made just 19 Liga appearances during his first season at Barca before his contract was eventually terminated by mutual consent in January 2012 after loan spells at Stuttgart, Birmingham City and Wolfsburg.
7 Dmytro Chygrynskiy
“Desire is one thing,” Dmytro Chygrynskiy once told the Associated Press. “But reality is another.”
Certainly, nobody ever doubted the Ukrainian’s determination to make a success of his €25m (£22m/$25m) move to Barcelona in 2009 but the cold, hard truth was that he simply couldn’t cut it at Camp Nou.
He didn’t lack support either. Then-coach Pep Guardiola repeatedly took the blame for the Ukrainian’s struggles, while Carles Puyol insisted his “qualities were perfect for Barca”.
Those qualities were rarely seen on the pitch, though. Much like Chygrynskiy.
He certainly wasn’t helped by a nagging injury but he was regularly whistled by the fans and played just 851 minutes for Barca before being sold back to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010 at a loss of €10m (£8.7m/$10m).
Barcelona paid an initial €14m (£12m/$14m) to sign Keirrison from Palmeiras in 2009, with the potential for a further €2m in add-ons depending on first-team appearances.
However, just like fellow Brazilian Henrique, another infamous flop, Keirrison didn’t play a single game for Barca. Not one. Despite spending five years on the Blaugrana’s books.
He was instead repeatedly sent out loan, to Benfica, Fiorentina, Santos, Cruzeiro and Coritiba, whom he joined on a permanent basis when his Barca contract expired in 2014.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have known right from the start that Keirrison was never going to succeed at Barca.
While the player was talking optimistically in his first press conference about breaking into Pep Guardiola’s team, the coach was essentially admitting that he had had nothing to do with the deal.
“The club has decided to sign him,” the Barca boss said. “He’ll go out on loan. I won’t be counting on him for this season.”
Indeed, the suggestion was that Laporta had only signed Keirrison with a view to selling him for a profit further down the line but even that plan went up in smoke, making the forward one of the most calamitous signings in Barca’s history.
5 Miralem Pjanic
We arguably got our first real insight into Barcelona’s dire financial situation under Josep Maria Bartomeu in June 2020 with the signing of Miralem Pjanic from Juventus.
The fee was, in theory, €60m (£52m/$60m), with a possible €5m (£4.4m/$5m) in add-ons, but, in reality, this was a swap deal, with Pjanic’s arrival at Camp Nou coinciding with Arthur’s departure for Turin for a stated €72m.
The numbers involved made very little sense in terms of market value. Arthur may have been a player of promise but the injury-prone Brazilian had sparkled only sporadically in Catalunya, failing dismally to live up to his reputation as the ‘new Xavi’, while it had been clear for some time to Serie A fans that Pjanic was past his best.
However, as an exercise in balancing the books, it made perfect sense, as the inflated figures involved moved Barca – and indeed Juve – closer to meeting their financial targets before the end of the financial year.
Unsurprisingly, though, it proved a disaster in a sporting sense. Pjanic played just one season at Barca before being loaned to Besiktas and then joining Sharjah in September 2022 after his contract had been terminated by mutual consent.
4 Martin Braithwaite
One could easily argue that no transfer has made Barcelona look worse than the deal that brought Martin Braithwaite to Camp Nou.
Indeed, it made a mockery of the claim that Barca are somehow more than just a club, operating a different moral plain to other teams.
In February 2020, the Catalans had found themselves in a mess all of their own making. Having bizarrely chosen not to strengthen their attack during the winter window and instead rely on the notoriously injury-prone Ousmane Dembele, they had to request an emergency signing after the fragile Frenchman was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
So, Barca acquired Braithwaite for €18m (£16m/$18m) from Leganes, who were unable to sign a replacement and ended up being relegated.
The Dane rarely started for Barca, and managed just five goals in 44 Liga appearances.
Worse still, his departure was a horribly unceremonious affair, with Braithwaite being booed by fans and allegedly “bullied” by the club before eventually agreeing to terminate his contract by mutual consent in order to alleviate his employers’ financial problems.
From start to finish, one of the sorriest episodes Barca have ever been involved in.
3 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
As Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be the first to tell you, he’s an absolute legend of the game. However, his move to Barcelona ranks as one of the most disastrous deals of all time.
Remember, the Blaugrana didn’t just pay Inter €69.5m (£59m/$75m) for Ibrahimovic, they also handed over 2009 Champions League hero Samuel Eto’o, who then helped the Nerazzurri win the treble, after eliminating Barca in the semis.
By that stage, the Swede’s relationship with then Barca boss Pep Guardiola had completely collapsed, with Ibrahimovic having accused the Catalan of having “no balls” and “sh*tting himself” in front of his former boss Jose Mourinho.
The striker’s agent, the late Mino Raiola, also labelled Guardiola a “coward” and even went for the coach ahead of the 2012 Champions League final.
It is, of course, worth remembering that Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in all competitions, but what we’re talking about here is arguably the greatest personality clash in football history.
2 Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann humiliated Barcelona in 2018 by openly flirting with a €100m (£86m/$107m) transfer to Camp Nou before publicly rejecting them at the end of a video documentary produced by Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique.
The fans were furious. They wanted nothing more to do with the Atletico Madrid ace.
Bartomeu, though, inexplicably went back in for Griezmann the following year, agreeing to pay the €120m (£100m/$130m) buy-out clause in the Frenchman’s contract, as if determined to prove a point.
The versatile attacker had his moments at Camp Nou but they were few and far between, and he went crawling back to Madrid in 2021, re-joining Atletico on loan with a view to a permanent transfer.
His club career has since descended into farce with Griezmann only being brought on for the final half hour of games, as Atleti can avoid triggering his €40m (£35m/$40m) purchase clause if he plays less than 50 per cent of their matches.
1 Philippe Coutinho
One of the most important transfers in Liverpool’s history but the worst in Barcelona’s.
The Blaugrana agreed to pay €120m (£100m/$130m) – plus €40m (£34m/$43m) in potential bonuses – for a player that they simply didn’t need.
Was he an attacker, a midfielder or something in between? Bartomeu certainly had no idea but he went out of his way to sign the Brazilian regardless.
The net result was a nightmare. Indeed, Coutinho’s most significant contribution during his four years on Barca’s books was scoring two goals against the Catalans while on loan to Bayern Munich in 2020.
After spending what felt like an eternity trying to offload the Brazil international, they let him join Aston Villa for just €20m (£17m/$21.5m) in 2022 as they desperately tried to restore some financial order at Camp Nou after very nearly going bankrupt under Bartomeu.