We talk about Arsenal being Manchester City’s feeder club having sold them Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor in recent years, but Barcelona are the real vultures that hover over the Emirates. After signing Alex Song for £15 million, the Catalan giants have now purchased seven players off the Gunners since Arsene Wenger’s arrival at the club back in 1996.
That statement suggests two things. One, it’s a testament to Wenger’s transfer policy in bringing in young, unproven players and converting them into superstars during their time with the club before he sells them on at the right price. Two, it suggests that Arsenal have never been big enough to compete with Europe’s best and once a genuine quality player does appear on the scene, the Gunners are unable to fend off interest from bigger clubs. We take a look at the seven players who made the switch to the Nou Camp and see how they fared:
Arrived: Ajax, 1997, £5.5 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2000, £25 million
Having won the European Cup with Ajax in 1995, Overmars began to attract attention all over Europe. However, he was picked up by the Gunners at a modest price and contributed plenty to the double winning side of 1997/98, including the goal at Old Trafford that handed Arsenal the initiative in the title race. However, these proved to be Overmars’s only honours with the club as they were pipped by Manchester United to the Premier League title the year after and came a sound second the year after that. He then made the switch to the Nou Camp, but spent four trophyless seasons at the club despite being the most expensive Dutch player of all time. He retired from a knee injury in 2004 after 99 appearances in Spain, where he didn’t exactly make the impact expected.
Arrived: Monaco, 1997, £2.5 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2000, £7 million
Petit was signed by Wenger at the same time as Overmars after captaining his side to the Ligue 1 title with Monaco the year before. The Arsenal boss turned him into a defensive midfielder where he formed an extremely effective partnership with Patrick Vieira in the centre of the park. A key member of that double winning team, Petit also left with Overmars to join Barca, but not before he’d established himself as a firm fans’ favourite thanks to those long flowing blonde locks and stellar midfield performances. He was a disaster in Spain though and failed to settle in, suffering a series of injuries and positional changes. Lasted just the one season before moving back to England to join Chelsea.
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
Arrived: Rangers, 2001, £8.5 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2003, (Initial Loan), £1.2 million
The Dutch left back made a big name for himself in Scotland where he impressed initially in midfield for Rangers. Arsenal paid a reasonable amount of money for him to try and fill the void in midfield left by Petit. A cruciate knee ligament injury scuppered those plans though and he failed to find his way past Vieira or Edu in the first team. Despite winning a Premier League winner’s medal in 2002 and two FA Cup winners medals as an unused substitute, he left for Barcelona, initially on loan. Frank Rijkaard converted him into a left back and Van Bronckhorst became an instant success, making his move permanent. He won two La Ligas, two Spanish Cups and the Champions League and Barca have arguably struggled for a better left back since his departure.
Arrived: Juventus, 1999, £11 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2007, £16 million
Simply the greatest many argue, Thierry Henry is revered by all those who’ve ever supported the Gunners. He signed as a wide forward from Juventus and people didn’t know what to expect, but by the time he left, he cemented his place as the greatest Premier League import. He scored 174 goals for the Gunners in 254 games and won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups. However, by 2007, it became apparent that Henry’s time was up and made the switch to the Nou Camp, where he scored 35 goals in 80 games. His trophy cabinet looked incredible after his spell in Spain, with two La Ligas under his belt, he won several other cups, including the Champions League in 2009. He left for New York Red Bulls as one of the iconic players of the last decade, helped firmly on his way by Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.
Arrived: Stuttgart, 2005, £11 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2008, £11 million
Hleb was a relative nobody when he signed for the Gunners from the Bundesliga in 2005, but once again, it seemed as if Arsene Wenger had got it spot on. Playing out wide, Hleb impressed the Emirates faithful with his tricky performances and he made 89 appearances for the club, scoring seven goals. He didn’t pick up a trophy with Arsenal though and completed a switch to Barca in the summer of 2008. However, it turned out to be a disastrous move for both player and club as Hleb failed to shine, spending the majority of his three years at the club out on loan. He only made 19 league appearances in the red and blue and soon discovered the grass was much greener back in England.
Arrived: Barcelona, 2003, Academy
Departed: Barcelona, 2011, £25 million
Ah, the boyhood hero for both Arsenal and Barcelona fans. Fabregas can lay claim to having come through both teams’ academies having started off at Barcelona before joining Arsenal as a 16-year-old. His talent was obvious from an early age and he forced his way into the first team before too long, making his mark in Arsenal colours. He became a talisman as the years wore on, especially after the departure of Henry and captained the side brilliantly as well. Fabregas only ever won the 2005 FA Cup with the club though and made no secret of the fact that he wanted a move back to the Nou Camp at some point his career. After Barca courted him for years, he finally completed that dream switch last summer and enjoyed a profitable first season back, though his new side missed out on the big prize of La Liga. Maybe Cesc is the unlucky omen?
Arrived: Bastia, 2004, £1 million
Departed: Barcelona, 2012, £15 million
Another player who proves Wenger’s transfer policy is a successful one as Song was plucked out of obscurity as an 18-year-old in 2004. He spent time on loan at Charlton but made his breakthrough in the 2008/09 season, establishing himself as a destructive central midfielder. Song also developed his ball-playing skills and ended up providing 11 assists last season as he proved himself to be one of Arsenal’s key players in a tough year for the club. His move to Barcelona is therefore a huge blow to the Gunners and Song could prove difficult to replace in the long run. Whether he will play at the Nou Camp is another question, but he possesses all the attributes to succeed in La Liga.