FC Barcelona has a history of nurturing talent until it explodes into world-beating class, but that doesn’t mean every player that graces the club is a guaranteed success. Plenty of players have crashed out of either La Masia or the adult side, but usually they do so because they lack the talent to succeed. Even talent, however, is no guarantee of success.
Every player on this list had the talent to succeed at Barcelona, but were pushed out of the club because they did not play the "Barcelona way." Some players would have let such a rejection destroy their confidence and their careers, but not these ones.
On that note, The18 presents the five greatest players Barcelona ever turned away:
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2009-2010 at Barcelona; Currently at PSG)
When Barcelona signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer of 2009, we thought it was the end of soccer as we knew it. Zlatan was Barcelona’s answer to Real Madrid signing Cristiano Ronaldo that summer and, honestly, at the time Zlatan was the better signing.
This is not to dismiss how amazing Ronaldo was at the time as well, but it seemed like Zlatan immediately fit better at Barca than Ronaldo did at Real. Zlatan’s target-man-cut-with-a-creative-genius style of play was the perfect complement to Barca’s tiki-taka passing and, well, lack of height.
But as good a fit as he may have been on the pitch, he just didn’t gel with the culture that then-manager Pep Guardiola was trying to instill. Like, at all. As one could imagine, this led to many, many disagreements between Ibra and Guardiola.
When Zlatan was pushed out wide so Messi could occupy more space in the middle, Zlatan was frustrated. “I was sacrificed,” he said of it later. “[I] no longer had the freedom on the pitch I [needed] to succeed.”
Zlatan being Zlatan, he approached Guardiola and attempted to reason with the manager, in the only way Zlatan knows. “You bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat,” Zlatan said in a meeting with the Barca manager at one point, according to his (Zlatan's) biography.
But if Guardiola heard him, he never made any effort to cater to Zlatan’s needs. Actually, he began to blatantly ignore Zlatan, who would later recall how Pep would address everyone in a room except for him, and would never give him straight answers. Eventually this all led to Zlatan yelling at Pep, “You have no balls!”
At the end of his first season at Barcelona, Zlatan would leave on loan for - and eventually would fully transfer to - AC Milan. Shocking, we know.
2. Thiago Alcantara (2005-2013 at Barcelona; Currently at Bayern Munich)
If Zlatan goes down as the biggest mistake in Barcelona’s history of player management, then Thiango Alcantara is a close second. He is not yet the player Ibra is, so you may have never heard of him, but trust us, he’s really good.
Everyone at Barcelona wanted Thiago to stay. He had graduated from the club’s famous youth academy, La Masia, and even had a reported €90 million buy-out clause in his contract. No one was going to pay that much money for an unproven player, no matter how talented he might be. So how in the world did he end up leaving?
As it turns out, that release clause had some fine print: If Thiago did not average a certain amount of minutes played each game, that astronomical release clause would drop to €18 million. Barca couldn’t find room for Thiago in their stacked midfield to keep that €90 million price tag.
When the price dropped, this previously prohibitively expensive talent become the steal of the year, and Bayern Munich were only too happy to play the role of robber.
Now, Thaigo is part of one of the most stacked teams in the entire world: Bayern Munich. Everyone wants to go on about Real Madrid’s Galacticos, but listen to the names on Bayern’s roster: Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Mario Gotze, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, David Alaba, and Bastian Scheinsteiger.
You know what all those names sounds like to us? A step up.
Thiago will have to fight for his right to play at Bayern, but that is exactly the kind of fight he should be in. Competition demands the best of the best, and Thiago is more that capable of providing it.
3. Alexis Sanchez (2011-2014 at Barcelona; Currently at Arsenal)
Alexis suffered from the same problem that forced Ibra out of Barcelona. He was not given the attention he deserved. Unlike Ibra, Alexis did not have any personal problems with the team or its coaches. He just was not given the attention he needed to be the best he could be. The powers that be at Barcelona never found out how to get the best out of Messi, Neymar, and Sanchez at the same time.
In the end Barcelona decided “it’s not us, it’s you,” and shipped him off to Arsenal where he has proceeded to immediately tear up the league. It turns out it wasn’t him Barcelona. It wasn’t him; it was you.
4. Cesc Fabregas (1997-2003 & 2011-2014 at Barcelona; Currently at Chelsea)
Speaking of Arsenal, Barcelona bought Fabregas from the Gunners back in 2011, while he was their captain, no less. Like Thiago, Cesc was also a La Masia graduate and, having graced those grounds at the same time as Lionel Messi, it was hoped that he could be a continuation of the La Masia laden squad that had taken over the world in the years prior to his return. He was to continue the tradition forged by Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Pique, Puyol, Victor Valdes, and, of course, Messi. But it was not to be.
With Fabregas, Barcelona never reached the same heights it had prior to his arrival. No Champion’s League wins, one league title and one Copa del Rey trophy simply was not enough in the land of Catalonia. Fabregas failed to make himself a lock in the starting XI, and it wasn’t long before Fabregas was painted as part of the problem.
This past summer he was sold to Chelsea and all he’s done since then is dish out a league-leading 15 assists. That’s almost double second place Leighton Baines’ 7. Fabregas has been the master of the Chelsea midfield, and with the form he and his club are in, he could well end up winning the very thing that Barcelona sold him in order to chase: The Champion’s League.
5. Mauro Icardi (2008-2011 at Barcelona; Currently at Inter Milan)
Icardi is by far the least known player on this list, but make no mistake, this former La Masia student has the potential to be one of the greatest strikers of the next generation.
Icardi’s immense talent impressed the coaches at La Masia when he first arrived, but “his playing style was more Gabriel Batistuta than La Masia pass and move,” and Icardi quickly figured out that Barca would never make him a regular feature on the first team. He left for Serie A’s Sampdoria on loan in 2011, and hasn’t looked back since.
2012-13 was Icardi’s breakout season. He scored 10 goals in 31 matches for Sampdoria, and guided them out of relegation.
He now plays for Inter Milan, where he has the opportunity to fight for Champion’s League qualification year after year. It’s the prefect place for him. He can grow as a player there, and help turn around a franchise fallen from glory. Inter Milan craves the superstar that Icardi has the potential of becoming. Here’s hoping he grows into that role sooner than later.