By 90Min
June 02, 2019

Having retained the La Liga crown and suffered their latest Champions League disappointment, Barcelona once again head into the summer transfer window with big plans.

Recent attempts to maintain their remarkable golden era of success in the post-Guardiola era have, in some respects, proven to be hit and miss. Five La Liga titles, four Copa del Rey wins and one Champions League triumph have followed the Spaniard's departure, but those successes do not tell the full story.

The times of home-grown crops of superstars who emerged through La Masia to form the spine of Pep Guardiola's all-conquering juggernaut are all but over in Catalonia, with Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi the last survivors of a dying breed in Barca's first team.

Sergi Roberto is the only other academy product who currently features in the Blaugrana's first team squad, along with the promising but largely overlooked Carles Alena. The modern Barcelona is a very different animal to that which conquered Europe at the start of the decade.

The likes of Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and so on had previously emerged through the in-house conveyor belt of talent to earn success which defied the big-spending exploits of the 'Galacticos' movement of Real Madrid.

Nowadays, Barcelona's business model has taken on a comparatively similar approach to that of their arch-rivals. Since Guardiola's departure in 2012, the Catalans have invested huge sums to recruit external superstars as a means of maintaining success.

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Neymar's arrival at Camp Nou in a transfer worth up to €86.2m in 2013 set the wheels in motion for a new era of big-spending at Barcelona - one which has since spiralled out of control.

The Brazilian's £200m departure to PSG in 2017 was a blow for the Blaugrana, given the level of influence which Neymar had assumed in Barca's attack over four years, and the Spaniards responded with another huge deal of their own - signing Ousmane Dembele for £135.5m.

The spending levels had reached unprecedented levels at the club, but they were far from finished there. Dembele's slow start to life in Catalonia after moving from Borussia Dortmund was defined by inconsistent form and injuries, so the club dipped into the market once more.

Just six months on from the club-record capture of Dembele, Barca surpassed themselves with the £142m capture of long-term target Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. Between Dembele and Coutinho, the Blaugrana looked certain to have enough talent to successfully replace Neymar.

However, 18 months on from Coutinho's arrival in Catalonia, the picture remains largely the same. Coutinho, like Dembele, has failed to hit the ground running, and Barcelona are reportedly open to offloading the pair to help fund their latest summer transfer splurge.

The club have already completed the £65m capture of Frenkie de Jong, and his Ajax teammate Matthijs de Ligt looks almost certain to follow suit in another deal which would likely exceed the £60m mark.

The Dutch duo are, however, just the starting point of Barca's mega-money plans. Recent reports suggest that not only are the Catalans prepared to meet Antoine Griezmann's £108m release clause, but they also have their sights set on re-signing Neymar.

What's more, in what would complete a vicious circle for Ernesto Valverde's side, both Dembele and Coutinho could reportedly be sacrificed to help fund a move to bring their former superstar back to Catalonia.

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Barca's attack has suffered from a lack of an extra dimension in the last two seasons, the likes of which Neymar previously provided at Camp Nou, with the La Liga champions appearing increasingly over-reliant on the brilliant but ageing duo of Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar once completed a formidable trio alongside his South American counterparts in Catalonia, but the Blaugrana's frontline simply has not possessed the same cutting edge since the Brazilian's departure.

It is no coincidence that Barca's last Champions League triumph came in 2015, in which Neymar starred and scored in the final, and they have not been able to recapture the European crown since his departure - desperately capitulating in the later stages in the last two seasons.

However, bringing back the mercurial attacker would by no means be a straightforward solution, nor a simple fix for Barca.

Now 27, Neymar is no longer the infectious and galvanising raw talent that he once was in Spain.

The Brazilian's reputation has accumulated some significant baggage since his move to Paris, and was stripped of his captaincy of the Brazil national team due to disciplinary issues, and was recently accused of sexual assault

Having cited personal reasons behind his Barcelona exit two years ago, Neymar is simply not the kind of team player that is required to revitalise the Blaugrana and lead their attack forward beyond Messi's days at the club.

The Argentine icon wears the captain's armband for his side with greater frequency these days, but his leadership qualities and team mentality were never in question, even back in his prodigious younger days.

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Ousmane Dembele, meanwhile, is still only 22. Despite the notable years of top-level experience already at his disposal, and despite already being established as something of a household name, the Frenchman still has vast amounts of room for improvement.

A natural dribbler blessed with raw pace, tremendous power, and a willingness to work hard for his team make Dembele a far more effective solution to Barca's attacking issues than Neymar, who would provide more of a showman seeking centre stage at this point in his career.

Neymar had the chance to become the leader of the Blaugrana's next generation, but blew the opportunity in favour of high publicity, a huge payday and an unfulfilling stint in Ligue 1.

The Brazilian would not return to Camp Nou as the same force which departed for Paris two years ago, and moving to bring Neymar back to Barcelona would ultimately represent a broken transfer strategy which is devoid of direction and shot of its previously world-class integrity.

AFP Contributor/GettyImages

Barca's current youth ranks do not appear to have another Xavi-Iniesta-Messi-esque crop near on the horizon but, in Dembele, the club already have a young and prodigious talent on their hands who is still capable of making his mark.

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