FC Barcelona are one of the biggest and most successful sporting institutions on the planet. With over 88 major trophies across Spain, Europe and the world, their quality is renown in the most far-flung reaches of the planet. Their unparalleled footballing identity – which started in 1988 with Johan Cruyff and peaked in the Guardiola era (2008-2012) – is known as tiki-taka, and its effects on football are still felt today.
Not only were Barcelona able to dominate the club stage using their very own brand of football, they also played a huge role in shaping the Spain national team that won the 3 biggest international trophies on the trot. In the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa, 7 players who graduated from the famous La Masia played (with 6 starters) in Spain’s victorious final against the Netherlands.
When it comes to football players, they have arguably fielded the finest players of all time. Argentinian superstars Lionel Messi & Diego Maradona head the list, followed by the Brazilians – Ronaldinho, Ronaldo & Romario. Dutch supremo (Johan Cruyff), Cameroonian lion (Samuel Eto’o) and Spanish legends like Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all wowed crowds there.
With 11 Ballon D’Or awards & 7 World Player of the Year honours, the Camp Nou is the home of the superstars of football. Many were raised at home, but some of the very best were purchased for marquee prices – so who are the men to go to Barcelona for huge transfer fees?
10. Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal 2011/2012) – €34 million
To start with, we have the prodigal son who returned home to the club that nurtured him and styled his game when he was as young as 10 years old. Back then, his previous coach at CE Mataro used to play him in every match except against the Barcelona kids – because he knew they’d snap him up.
However, the young Catalan was so in love with Barcelona that he couldn’t dash his dreams any longer and eventually fielded him against his dream club. They swooped almost immediately, signing him when he was just 10 years old in 1997.
He immediately made an impression there, scoring up to 30 goals for their youth teams (alongside a young Argentinian boy who would dominate football) and receiving a gift from his idol Pep Guardiola (not the last). However, he was unable to crack into the first team and in 2003 he moved to England to join the Arsenal academy.
Although his was just a typical 16yr-old’s apprenticeship under Arsene Wenger, he made a very early impact, becoming their youngest ever player in the first team and youngest ever scorer (in a 5-1 win against Wycombe) as Arsenal became the only Invincible side in Premier League history in 2003/2004.
The following season, he was expected to get a slightly more hands-on introduction but injuries to Patrick Vieira, Edu & Gilberto Silva meant that he wound up making 46 appearances for the defending champions. His quality was so clear that Wenger started the 17yr-old midfielder in the 2005 FA Cup final which would signal the end of a sustained period of success as they won their last trophy for the next 9 years.
Fabregas’ influence on Arsenal’s style became more pronounced as he played 50 matches the next season, reaching the Champions League against a familiar foe – Barcelona. In a painful meeting with his past, Cesc Fabregas lost 2-1 to hand his old team the European crown.
The following season he reached even greater heights, winning the Golden Boy & Arsenal Player of the Year awards as he hit 13 league assists and scored 4 goals. The following year saw Barcelona come calling again – but for his French teammate, Thierry Henry – a genuine Arsenal legend.
The deal was sealed, leaving Fabregas as the new star of Arsenal. Despite injuries limiting his appearances, he played a crucial part in the team scoring 13 goals and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. That earned him the captaincy in the following season, and he responded with aplomb, leading his team to the top of the table after half the season.
However, he was injured winning the penalty that he scored for the equalizer against none other Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal. With him out, Arsenal’s form dipped and they finished another mediocre season.
But Barcelona chiefs were wondering how they’d let such a mercurial talent go already, and murmurs of interest from his home club culminated in a €35 million being rejected by the club in 2010. Destiny is destiny however, and Fabregas once again faced Barcelona in the Champions League, but a poorly-judged backheel allowed Barcelona to hit the aggregate equalizer and knock his team out of the Champions League.
His 2010 World Cup win seemed a pivotal moment as his feasting Barcelona teammates pulled a blaugrana shirt over the then Arsenal captain. Months later, Arsenal could not restrain him any longer and Barcelona coughed up the fee that finally made Cesc Fabregas go home. In fact, he contributed €1 million himself to make it happen. It was one of the most incredible homecomings after years and years of clashes, injuries, goals and courtship.