Life After Neymar: What Barcelona Can Expect This Season
During this year’s summer transfer window, one story has been absolutely unavoidable. Neymar’s move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain broke all records, as well as Catalan hearts, and the aftershocks are still being felt across the continent.
If recent reports are to be believed, the €222m received by Barca is already burning a hole in their pocket, with the club targeting big money moves for immediate, like-for-like replacements in the form of Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
It’s an understandable course of action, given that they have lost one of world football’s brightest attacking talents, but will it pay dividends in the long run? To try and answer that question, we’ve taken a look at how other clubs fared after receiving world record transfer fees for their top stars.
Luis Figo to Real Madrid in 2000.
The last man to leave Barcelona for a world record fee was Luis Figo in the summer of 2000, and it’s a memory still fresh in the minds of the Catalan crowd. In the season before his departure, Barcelona had finished second in La Liga, and had lost in the semi-finals of both the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League. Plenty of disappointment, yes, but with a squad including the likes of Rivaldo, Pep Guardiola and Patrick Kluivert, there was a feeling they could go one better the following season. Then Real Madrid came knocking.
Around £37m was enough to prize Figo away from the Camp Nou, and it remains one of the most controversial transfers of all time.
Much like now, Barcelona went seeking immediate replacements with, amongst others, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit arriving from Arsenal for around £32m. They were helpless, however, to prevent the club slumping the following season. Barca would go on to finish 4th in La Liga, losing on 9 occasions, as Real were crowned champions. Further humiliation came that season as they were knocked out of Europe twice by English opposition (Leeds in the Champions League group stage, Liverpool in the UEFA Cup semi-finals). A grim campaign all round.
Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid in 2001.
Heading into the 2000/01 season, Juventus had a squad packed to the rafters with stars. The likes of Edgar Davids, Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Zinedine Zidane were lining up alongside each other on a weekly basis, and expectations were sky-high.
Huge disappointment followed, however, as the Old Lady finished 2nd in Serie A, lost in the Coppa Italia 2nd round and finished bottom of their Champions League group behind Deportivo de La Coruña, Panathinaikos and Hamburg. All of this was enough to convince Zidane that the time was right to move on, and he secured a move to Real Madrid for around €75m that summer.
Now, some decisions are looked upon kindly by history, and what Juventus chose to do next is certainly one of them. They marched straight to Parma and handed over a whopping €52m for goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Huge in today’s market, mind-boggling in 2001. At the time many questioned whether they had wasted their huge influx of cash, but the following year Juve were champions. Buffon’s new side won Serie A by a single point whilst keeping the division’s best defensive record – conceding just 23 goals in 34 games – and his transfer fee was almost immediately vindicated.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009.
In the 2008/09 season, Manchester United were absolutely rampant. Spearheaded by Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came within 1 match of securing the second treble of his tenure. With Premier League and League Cup winners’ medals in the bag, United headed to Rome for a Champions League final showdown against Barcelona, only to be humbled by Pep Guardiola’s magnificent side. That night of disappointment would prove to be Ronaldo’s last in a United shirt, as just a few short weeks later he was smiling to the crowds at the Santiago Bernabéu as a Real Madrid player.
United resisted the urge to splurge their world record fee, with the modestly priced Antonio Valencia arriving to take Ronaldo’s place on the right. Whilst the Ecuadorian went on to be a success at the club, United failed to push on the following season. Ferguson’s men lost their Premier League title to Chelsea and were thwarted at the quarter final stage by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Although they retained the League Cup, it was a drop in performance by anyone’s standards.
Paul Pogba to Manchester United in 2016.
Finally, we come to the man whose record Neymar broke this summer – Paul Pogba. Juventus allowed Pogba to leave the club for around £89m after a 2015/16 season in which they’d won a domestic treble. Their last 16 exit from the Champions League was seen as slightly disappointing by a fanbase expecting better, but it was a highly successful season nonetheless.
As in 2001, Juve again chose to spend their record fee on a leading light in Serie A, and again it was not one to occupy the position left vacant by their star departure. Gonzalo Higuain was the man this time round, arriving for £75.3m, and it could be easily argued that the side has improved as a result. Juve’s domestic dominance continued last season with the retention of Serie A and the Coppa Italia, and their quest for European glory was only thwarted by a Real Madrid side hell-bent on making history with a second successive Champions League title.
So what have we learnt from all this?
First of all, it’s not all doom and gloom for Barcelona. Sides have gone on to bigger and better things after a star departure, and they certainly have the elite-level squad to do exactly that. What they should avoid, however, is the urge to rush out and spend fortunes on what they see as a like-for-like replacement. It rarely works. The real success stories here are clubs that have used their influx of cash to fix the weakest parts of their team and improve as a whole, rather than fixating on a single vacated position.
If Dembélé or Coutinho do arrive it’ll definitely be fun at the Camp Nou next season. Goals, goals, goals will be on the menu and if that’s the case sports spread betting markets will be a happy hunting ground for punters, but the ultimate success Barcelona are seeking may slip further away than an already disgruntled fan base is willing to accept.
Tim is a keen sports fan and has been writing about European football for many years.