In light of Ousmane Dembele’s situation, here are some other players who had a difficult time adjusting to the Barcelona way.
€46 million plus Samuel Eto’o and Alexander Hleb. That was the price Barcelona paid to acquire Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter in 2009. At the time, it was the most expensive transfer in Europe, but it all seemed worth while for one of the greatest strikers on the continent. Well, as it turned out, Zlatan and Barcelona weren’t a match made in heaven, but rather, a match made in hell. The Swede’s complicated personality did not sit well with Pep Guardiola, who’s known for wanting to have everything under control. The problem? Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a “beast” you can’t control. Other than a few moments of inspiration, such as the game-winner in El Clasico, Ibrahimovic’s stay in Catalonia was a forgettable one. He couldn’t wait to get away and he did just a year after joining the club. He was loaned and eventually sold to AC Milan for €24 million. Barcelona’s estimated loss on his transfer? The same €46 million they paid to initially buy him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t the only player having a hard time adapting to Pep Guardiola’s demands. Alexis Sanchez became the first Chilean to play for the club, coming over from Udinese for a fee of €26 million. At the time of his arrival, he was considered to be one of the best, if not the best young player in Italian football. However, Sanchez struggled with Barcelona’s indirect style of play in which his pace was of no use. Finding a place in the starting lineup was not easy pickings either, which made for a rather frustrating three years at the club. Alexis Sanchez eventually departed for Arsenal, where he found success under Arsene Wenger.
Diego Simeone made a player out of Arda Turan. The Argentinian coach managed to bring the best qualities out of the Turkish international and turned him into an irreplaceable member of Atletico Madrid’s starting lineup. Yet, he was a player who fit a certain mold. Unfortunately, Barca’s management failed to see that and acquired his services for €34 million (plus bonuses) in 2015. As expected, Arda Turan never repeated the level he reached in Atletico at Barca. The move was a dream come true for him and even though he got along with his teammates perfectly, it wasn’t enough to earn him playing time. He stayed on board for as long as he could, but after not playing a single game for Barcelona during the 2017–18 season, he was loaned to Istanbul Basaksehir. It’s probably safe to say Arda’s career took a turn for the worse once he joined the Catalan giants.
In the summer of 2012, Barcelona were looking for a player who could cover two positions – defensive midfield and center back. They found one in Alex Song. The player Arsene Wenger created didn’t find a home in Barcelona, where he’s still remembered as one of the worst signings the club has ever made. He looked out of place and out of sorts whenever he took the pitch, making it nearly impossible for Tito Vilanova to start him. Song did make 65 appearances for the club, mostly as a substitute, before being shipped off to West Ham United on a loan deal. He eventually became a free agent and signed for Rubin Kazan.
Honorable mentions: Paco Alcacer, Andre Gomes, Alexander Hleb, Javier Saviola.