Barcelona are arguably the World’s best club in recent times owing to the array of players on offer at the Nou Camp and the fact that the Blaugrana are favourites for the major trophies every season. These have attracted the top players at other clubs to seek for pastures new there. In recent seasons, top players from other clubs especially Arsenal have moved to the Nou Camp with the hope that they are moving to a field with greener pastures but end up facing the stark reality of bench roles. In the Wenger era at Arsenal, the Gunners have lost 7 of their top stars to Barcelona and all those players left at the height of their careers at Arsenal ; Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Alexander Hleb, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song.
Despite forcing a move to Nou Camp and winning trophies, just a few of these players really enjoyed their stint with the Catalans. Below is a look at how well ex Arsenal players have done at Barcelona.
Marc Overmars – the Dutch speedy winger that swapped Highbury for Nou Camp in 2000. Following his record switch to Barca, he endured a torrid first season notching just 31 appearances out of which he bagged 8 goals. In his 4 year spell with Barcelona, Overmars couldn’t replicate the form that made him strike fear in the hearts of Premier League defenses. He left Arsenal for trophies but couldn’t inspire Barca to any while he was on their books.
Emmanuel Petit – the French midfielder who enjoyed a successful spell at Arsenal also moved with former Gunner Marc Overmars in 2000 to Barcelona and just like his friend, he flopped at Nou Camp. Instead of the defensive midfield role he played so well at Arsenal, he was deployed in the defence at Barca and that coupled with niggling injuries made his Nou Camp sojourn a living hell. He left after just a season. He didn’t have good words for his manager while at Barcelona Llorence Serra Ferrer alleging the Spaniard didn’t know what position he played when he joined the team. Yet again, he won no trophy with the Nou Camp outfit.
Thierry Henry – Arsenal’s record goal scorer and French striker Thierry Henry made a switch to the Nou Camp in 2007. Despite winning glut of trophies including the elusive UEFA Champions League trophy with the Blaugrana, he didn’t enjoy as much spell as a starter as he did at Arsenal. One of the things that counted against Henry in his maiden season at the Nou Camp was Rijkaard’s decision to play him out of position. The Frenchman was played on the left side of a three-man attack with Eto’o playing through the center. This limited his goal outlay as he could only manage a paltry 19 La Liga goals albeit he created 9 assists. In his second season, he fared better but still played on the left side of the attack. In his third season, it was worse off as he was more of a peripheral figure at Barca. He started just 14 La Liga games having lost his place to a La Masia graduate, Spanish striker Pedro. He eventually left for New York Red Bulls.
Alex Hleb – yet another Arsenal star that thought the heavens of his abilities and decided to take a plunge into the mighty waters of Barcelona. Of course, he drowned. He signed a four contract with Barcelona in 2008 but he spent just only a full season at Nou Camp with the other three spent away from the club on loan. In the single season he spent there, he featured irregularly with just 17 starts in all competitions and missed out of the biggest games like the UEFA Champions league final albeit he got a winners medal. After his maiden season, he expressed an interest to join Bayern Munich stating that he was in his best years and wouldn’t want to spend them on the bench. He also famously said the Champions League quarter-final stage he got to with Arsenal meant more to him that the Champions League trophy he won with Barca.
Cesc Fabregas – he is one of their own, having cut his footballing teeth at the famous La Masia academy, he joined Arsenal and after been nurtured and groomed into a one of the finest midfielders in Europe, Barca pressured Arsenal into selling and the Gunners eventually caved in 2011. Regular starts in his favourite position has been hard to come by but because he was one their own (La Masia graduate, Catalan and Spaniard), they carved a place for him at the left side of their three-man attack albeit it was at the expense of another star David Villa. Compared to his days at Arsenal, he is doing badly in terms of regular football but compared to Henry, Hleb and Song, he is doing fantastically well.
Alex Song – he was Arsenal’s defensive lynchpin in the 2011/2012 albeit a bit indiscipline. He had a fine season owing to his numerous volleyed assists for Van Persie. When Barca came calling, he jumped at the opportunity branding the Blaugrana a team of champions. Agreed, he didn’t win any trophy while at Arsenal but he was a super regular. Now, he has joined Barca and it seems he is set to win trophies but at the expense of his regular football and career. His case looks set to be worse than that of Hleb. So far this season, he has had only 13 starts in all competitions for Barca (6 La Liga, 4 Spanish Cup and 3 Champions League).
With the facts above, it is obvious Arsenal stars that make a switch to Barcelona rarely have a regular game time. What could be responsible for this unwholesome fate?
Barcelona have a very unique style of play that not every ‘good’ player can fit into. Ibrahimovic couldn’t fit into it and was swiftly shipped away. There is the notion that Barca and Arsenal share similar style of play, hence, a good Arsenal player should fit the grade at Barcelona. That is not always the case as Henry, Hleb and Song must have found out.
The issue of academy is another major factor at Barcelona. It is incontrovertible that the La Masia academy stands tall amongst other European football academies owing to the calibre of players they have churned out. Hence, Barca rates their academy products high and above any external import. A position could be controlled by a player they bought but such player is just holding it in trust pending when the La Masia academy would produce a player good enough for it. Henry was enjoying regular spell in the side until Pedro and Bojan emerged. Ditto for Yaya Toure who was a super regular in the side following his transfer from Olympiakos but the moment La Masia produced Busquet, Yaya Toure had to relinquish the starting spot for the new graduant. Dani Alves has started suffering the same fate as he seems to be fighting for his place with another academy graduate Montoya.
Besides, there is the Catalan bond. Barcelona have the highest number of Catalans in the squad; Valdez, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets,Fabregas, Puyol, Pique, Thiago Alcantra, Montoya. With the ongoing agitation for an independent state for Catalonia, Barca that is a team in the Catalan area tend to give preference to Catalans in their squad high and above fellow Spaniards not to talk of outsiders; Europeans or other nationals. The only player a Catalan cannot unseat in the current Barca set up is Lionel Messi. Song hoping for a defensive midfield role at Barcelona was a mission impossible not because he is a bad player but simply because that role is the forte of a Catalan La Masia graduate. I know song can play central defence but in defence, Barca already have Puyol (captain), Pique (La Masia and Catalan) and Mascherano who though isn’t La Masis raised or of Catalan descent, he has played long enough at Barcelona to be trusted unlike Song. David Villa’s peripheral role in the side now is simply because Pedro and Fabregas who were La Masia raised and need to play and the only role up for grabs is Villa’s.
The things that bring a player joy are regular playing time, trophies and money. Song would almost certainly win trophies this season at Barcelona but I doubt if he would be happy since he was been more of an onlooker than an active participant at the happenings at Nou Camp. I doubt if he won’t corroborate Hleb’s verdict at the end of the season. Barca is a great club but with lots of sentimental egos : La Masia and Catalonia. To succeed there, you must hope your role is not been contested by a La Masia product or Catalan or be simply far better than any Catalan or LA Masia product can ever be just like Messi.
Written By Kolade Omotosho