This is a dagger in the heart for the Blaugrana, who signed Neymar in 2013 with the intention that he one day replace Leo Messi as the team’s talisman in attack. That transition had already begun in 2016/17, with Messi playing more of a midfield role as Neymar became a featured forward.
But when PSG started waving the chequebook that indentured-servitude enthusiasts Qatar gave them, suddenly that transition wasn’t happening fast enough. So now he’s off to Doha-backed PSG for a massive amount of money and Barcelona are left looking very, very silly.
This transfer hurts Barça, it really does. And it’s not the first such deal to cut the Blaugrana deep. It joins six previous transfer sales in the Champions League era that have absolutely cut Barcelona to the core. Who are they? Where did they go? Read on to find out!
Left for: Real Madrid
Won: 1994/95 La Liga
When Neymar signed for Barcelona, Johan Cruyff famously said you cannot have “two captains” on the “same ship” – and he said that from a place of experience. Back when he was coach of Barcelona’s Dream Team, due to the “three foreigner rule” and the presence of Romario, Ronald Koeman and Hristo Stoichkov, Cruyff often found himself leaving Michael Laudrup out of the side.
In a fit of revenge, Laudrup engineered a move to hated rivals Real Madrid. There, his fury drove a scintillating campaign of revenge where he helped Los Blancos win La Liga, beating Barcelona 5-0 along the way and ending the Blaugrana’s incredible streak of four Titles in a row.
Laudrup withered and faded as a force after that, and left Madrid a year later after they surrendered their Title. After struggling for nearly half a decade (despite a phenomenal Ronaldo-powered season just two years after Laudrup’s exit) Barcelona finally got back to their best under Louis van Gaal.
Left for: Inter
Won: 1998 UEFA Cup
Ronaldo was once destined to be the greatest player in history, or certainly in the top three. His electric season for Barcelona, at just 20 years of age, was a devastating indication of what was to come. This was meant to be the start of the Brazilian’s brilliant future in Blaugrana.
Instead he left for Inter after just one year in Catalunya. This devastated Barcelona as Ronaldo was intended to be the crown jewel of the club’s post-Cruyff era. Luckily for Barça though, they gave Figo more importance and invested wisely in Patrick Kluivert.
And with Louis van Gaal as coach, the Blaugrana won consecutive Liga titles to close out the millennium whilst Ronaldo spent that time sat injured in Italy. It’s impossible for Barça fans to not regret this move, however. Oh what could have been if he hadn’t left!
Left for: Real Madrid
Won: La Liga (2), Supercopa de España (2), 2001/02 UEFA Champions League, 2002 UEFA Cup, 2002 Intercontinental Cup
The big move. The gut punch. Figo was Barça captain and the club’s best player (or second best after Rivaldo) and decided to move across town to Real Madrid for no reason. At least with Michael Laudrup there was an understanding that Cruyff was cruel to him. Figo? Figo was adored.
Barcelona were defending Liga and Copa champions when Figo joined Madrid. They didn’t win a single trophy for half a decade after Figo’s move. They spiralled into despair and never really recovered. It took a new President, a new coach and a magical Brazilian to bring Barça back to life.
Left for: Inter
Won: 2009/10 Serie A, Coppa Italia (2), 2009/10 UEFA Champions League, 2010 Supercoppa Italiana, 2010 FIFA Club World Cup
Samuel Eto’o was once the world’s best striker. His arrival catapulted Barcelona into the stratosphere. Injury robbed him of a lot of his true potential but he was nevertheless essential to Pep Guardiola’s first Treble win in 2008/09. How strange, then, that the club was happy to sell him in the summer.
It was a move they instantly regretted. Eto’o was brilliant for Inter and absolutely crucial in driving them to win a Treble in 2009/10, directly after Barça’s. This included knocking the Blaugrana out of the Champions League in the semi-finals.
Barcelona recovered by signing David Villa and went on to reclaim the Champions League in 2010/11, but by letting Eto’o leave the Blaugrana wrecked their chances to retain the Champions League when they were clearly the best side in the world.
Left for: Monaco
This one was even more of a moral failing than a footballing one. Eric Abidal battled back from cancer in 2010/11, and then in 2011/12 he did the same from a liver transplant needed because of said cancer. He was a survivor, a wonderful human, and moreover a key player in the Blaugrana’s tactical system under Pep Guardiola (irrelevant overall, but relevant in this context).
Abidal was promised that, should he recover from the illness and play again, he would be offered a contract no questions asked. Well, he did that, featuring for Barça in 2012/13 as they won La Liga. Club captain Carles Puyol honoured Abidal (and coach Tito Vilanova who also battled back from cancer) by having them lift the trophy together at season’s end.
But the Barça board disgraced themselves by not renewing Abidal. He left on a free transfer for Monaco and the club didn’t truly replace his skill-set until they signed Samuel Umtiti in 2016. The club has since brought him back as an “ambassador” but that does nothing to mitigate the outright stomach-churning nature of their decision to not renew him. That was heartless mendacity of the highest order and now-deposed Sandro Rosell (and then-VP and current President Josep Bartomeu) should be reminded of their involvement in it every day of their waking lives.
Left for: Bayern Munich
Won: 2013 FIFA Club World Cup, Bundesliga (4), DFB-Pokal (2), 2016 DFL-Supercup
If Abidal’s departure was the greatest moral failing, Thiago’s is up there with the sporting disaster of losing Figo. Unlike those other two, though, this was entirely a move of their own making. By failing to give Thiago enough minutes to grow as a footballer, they frustrated him.
Then, when both Thiago and Cesc Fabregas came to the club with complaints over playing time, Sandro Rosell (who won the Presidency with a campaign of nationalism) sided with the Catalan and Thiago left. Cesc then crashed and burned and was forced out of the club by Luis Enrique a year later.
But it’s worse than simply losing a back-up midfielder. Thiago was Barcelona’s future. The player destined to take over from Xavi when the greatest midfielder of all-time faded away. In truth, that should have happened during the 2012/13 season but by losing Thiago, it couldn’t happen at all.
READ MORE: Five ways Barcelona could spend the Neymar money
Xavi aged out of the Barça line-up and, when Luis Enrique had to replace him, he did so with a player of a different profile. Leo Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets all adjusted their game to compensate and provide the kind of match control Xavi used to.
While Barça won a Treble by shifting focus to the forward line (emphasising Neymar) neglecting midfield was always going to be a major problem once Iniesta got too old to help cover for Xavi’s absence, which happened in summer 2016. It’s now been four years since Thiago left and Barça still haven’t replaced him.
Three of the greatest players of all-time adjusted their game to cover Barça for selling Thiago. But now that makeshift system is collapsing and Neymar is leaving, Barça are facing a prospect of a needing to sign two world-class players in a month. Moreover those players have to come in and thrive immediately. Barcelona will probably need to spend every bit of that €222m to recover this time.