FC Barcelona brought in four new players and let a handful of players depart in an unusually busy winter transfer window. With the arrival of Xavi as manager, and a clear goal left - finish in the top four - we now evaluate how it went.
Let’s start chronologically. The first signing was Dani Alves, Barcelona’s legendary right-back coming back for one last ride. Alves came for free and has played for the minimum wage allowed by the Spanish federation. It’s as low-cost a signing as possible, and despite his advanced age, Alves still has some left in the tank. It reinforced an area that has been a problem since ... well, since Alves originally left.
Then Álex Collado was sent out on loan. While Collado is a good player, he was not even registered to a team, so his departure ofr Granada meant very little apart from saving a bit on wages. And while not a transfer, Sergio Agüero’s early retirement changed how the squad would be composed.
Then came the signing of Ferran Torres. The Spaniard is without a doubt the crown jewel of Barcelona’s winter. He was not cheap, though for a player of his quality and potential, €55M is a fair deal. While it remains to be seen whether he can live up to that potential, getting him from Manchester City was a big coup.
Barcelona moved Philippe Coutinho on loan to Aston Villa to free up wages to register Torres, but it wasn’t enough until Samuel Umtiti restructured his contract. Those two deals gave Barcelona some space to make moves.
Then, Yusuf Demir was returned from his loan to Rapid Wien. Barcelona did not want to activate a mandatory purchase clause, and were fine with him leaving.
Next came the signing on loan of Adama Traoré from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Once again, he was on very low wages. The forward is a former Barcelona youth player who adds a lot of speed and dribbling to the attack. On the other hand, he lacks ability to score goals or create chances.
On deadline day, Barcelona sent third goalkeeper Iñaki Peña to Turkey to play for Galatasaray on loan. While considered a good keeper for his age, he was not getting minutes to develop, so it was a good loan.
Finally, the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which is not official yet. Still, the fact that he has terminated his contract with Arsenal and was seen training with Barcelona shows that this is - barring some catastrophe - a done deal.
Aubameyang is a very talented player, and was considered Arsenal’s main star about a year ago. What has transpired since has been a bit bizarre - a loss of form, a falling out with the manager, and rumors of disciplinary issues. The Gabonese striker is also not necessarily a great fit for Xavi’s system. But on the other hand, he came at a low cost and perhaps a change of scenery is exactly what he needed to be back to his best. He was signed on a free transfer and for reduced wages, and could be an upgrade over Barcelona’s current corps of striker.
Barcelona was able to add four players with very little money, and at least some of them, if not all, are bound to contribute. Alves will start most matches, while Torres is a building block not just for now, but for the future. Traoré and Aubameyang are short-term signings, at least for now, but the team desperately needs goals and creativity. The outlay for them was relatively small, and they showed a willingness and hunger to join that could prove essential in the fight for top four. In addition, the team was able to get a few high-earning underperformers to earn a bit less. Coutinho was sent on loan, and perhaps Villa will buy him outright later. And Umtiti reduced the impact of his wages on the team’s salary cap. In addition, the team took care of certain loans that needed to be done.
The biggest failure was an inability to resolve things with another high-earning player, Ousmane Dembélé. The winger is a good contributor when fit, but not fit very often, and certainly not worth the money he was looking for to extend his contract. Barcelona has promised to send him to the stands for the remainder of the season as punishment. The club also probably would’ve liked to find a new club for Neto, who earns a lot for a second keeper. And finally, the team clearly needed another left-back. Nicolás Tagliafico was targeted, but no deal was agreed. There are questions of whether the signings that were made were the right choices, or if the team could have prioritized differently - for example, getting a left-back instead of three new attackers.
Barcelona needed to have a good window in order to reinforce the team and shoot for a top-four finish, which is essential in the club’s rebuilding. The problem was that the team had very little room in the salary cap to make those signings. Given those circumstances, the window went well for the Catalans. The team was strengthened in key positions, with some additions intended as pure stopgaps and others more for the present as well as the future. However, the team is far from finished. A second left-back is the most glaring hole in the squad. Long-term there are other questions, too. But you have to take into account the limitations of the wage cap and other problems. Given all of that, it was a successful window.