A 37-year-old Pep Guardiola became manager of Barcelona’s first team with just one year’s experience in charge of the B side to his name in 2008. He was taking charge of a club that had finished 18 points behind Real Madrid in La Liga and a squad rife with indiscipline.
Over the next four years, he would create arguably the greatest club side of the modern era, as his Barcelona team combined phenomenal football with unbridled success.
Before Guardiola could focus on recruitment, he first had to thin the squad. In search of discipline – a lack of which had undermined the previous regime – Ronaldinho and Deco were jettisoned immediately while Samuel Eto’o was given a final warning.
Arguably, the most pivotal additions to Guardiola’s squad came in the form of Sergio Busquets and Pedro who he promoted, with him, from the B team. But the Catalan’s first ten transfers of his tenure at Barcelona provide a window into his aims for the club and the reassuring realisation that Guardiola is, in fact, fallible.
After winning the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League in Guardiola’s first season of senior management, it would take some formidable talent to break into that squad. Unfortunately for Keirrison (whose name is his father’s tribute to Jim Morrison) he didn’t quite fit the bill.
After paying £12.6m for the Brazilian in 2009, Barcelona terminated his contract five years later as Keirrison failed to play a single minute in that famous blue and red shirt.
Another Brazilian who failed to make an appearance for the Catalan club, Henrique arrived in the summer of 2008 for £7.2m before being swiftly loaned out to numerous clubs, and he too was eventually allowed to leave on a free transfer.
The central defender belonged to the same agency as Keirrison and the theory goes that Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s president at the time, had no intention of playing either South American but instead hoping to turn a profit after impressive performances on loan.
After spending nearly £20m on the pair and not a penny come his way, it’s fair to say that the experiment emphatically failed.
8. Dmytro Chygrynskiy
The 6’3 Ukrainian centre-back doesn’t exactly embody the typical Barcelona player who thrived under Pep Guardiola – although he was, incredibly, once confused with Lionel Messi in a referee’s official match report.
But Chygrynskiy arrived at Camp Nou in 2009 on a wave of unreasonably high expectations, and left the following year at a €10m loss on the back of unfairly harsh criticism.
Amid injuries, it was also going to take time to adapt to the specific demands Guardiola demands of his defence, but Chygrynskiy, who was afforded only 851 La Liga minutes (and whistled for most of them), wasn’t given that time.
7. Martín Cáceres
As one of the most forgotten transfers in Barcelona’s history, Cáceres joined the Catalans after impressing with Recreativo de Huelva in the top flight in 2008. However, his appearances in a Barcelona shirt were limited to just eight La Liga starts, three of which came after the title had been won.
The Uruguayan only spent one season at Camp Nou before a string of loan moves, including spells at Sevilla and Juventus, as he was eventually sold for a loss of more than £10m.
6. Aleksandr Hleb
Hleb followed Thierry Henry in moving from Arsenal to Barcelona a year after his teammate in 2008, but didn’t enjoy a fraction of the success his French colleague could boast.
Injuries plagued Hleb’s time at Barcelona – and were a burden throughout his career – as the Belarusian made a smattering of appearances in the starting XI, before he followed the usual path of plentiful loan-spells on his way out of the club.
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
We all know that Zlatan’s time in Spain didn’t end well – and involved kicking kit bags, brandishing Guardiola as ‘the philosopher’ and the Swede developing an overwhelming dislike for his manager’s ‘grey suits and brooding expressions’ – but it started brilliantly.
After arriving in 2009 for the outrageous fee of €46m plus Eto’o, Ibrahimovic became the first player to score in his first five La Liga appearances. By February, he’d scored 15 goals in all competitions but became increasingly bored by having to ‘sacrifice’ himself so that Messi could drift inside.
Unsurprisingly, Ibrahimovic didn’t take kindly to this, and his relationship with Guardiola and the club deteriorated so much so that, after supposedly threatening Barcelona with the promise of a move to Real Madrid, Zlatan eventually secured a route back to Italy with AC Milan.
Maxwell, as he tended to do throughout his career, formed a double-act with Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, although in this instance, the Brazilian full-back arrived in Spain two weeks before his good friend.
One of the most decorated players in the history of the game stayed a year longer than Ibrahimovic to add the Champions League to his collection in 2011, even if he didn’t feature in the final.
3. Seydou Keita
Guardiola’s first ever signing as a senior manager left Camp Nou the same summer as he did.
During those four years with Barcelona, Keita won 14 trophies and although he often played the role of substitute, his versatility saw him become a valued member of the squad in that historic period for the club.
2. Gerard Piqué
During a visit to the home of a former vice-president, Barcelona’s then manager Louis van Gaal was introduced to his grandson, a promising 12-year-old centre-back in the club’s youth system. Van Gaal looked him up and down, gave him a sharp shove in the chest and peering over the fallen child said: “Not strong enough for a centre-back.”
Naturally, the child was Gerard Piqué.
Four years later a teenage Piqué had been snapped up by Manchester United and it was Guardiola who brought him back to Catalonia within days of officially becoming head coach in 2008.
The two didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but Piqué ultimately rewarded his manager’s faith by becoming the club’s most dependable centre-back for more than a decade and has continued to put out fires this season.
1. Dani Alves
Alves was one of the first players Guardiola identified prior to taking the Barcelona job and the Brazilian immediately accepted the ideals his manager was indoctrinating the entire squad with.
The Brazilian’s tireless running and tactical intelligence allowed him to essentially occupy the entire Barcelona right-flank. There, he formed a wonderfully deadly partnership with Messi, as the two bewildered opponents with intricate combinations between those forests of legs.
Alves was so effusive in his praise of the Spanish manager that he described Guardiola’s coaching as ‘better than sex’.