Barca's big spending highlighted as Madrid give up on Galacticos

The arrival of Ousmane Dembele for an initial €105m and the pursuit of Philippe Coutinho underlines a shift in philosophies between Spain's big two


Needs must at FC Barcelona. Having seen Real Madrid win La Liga and the Champions League all while assembling the world's strongest squad, the Catalan club have since suffered the blow of losing one of the world's finest footballers this summer. And now they are playing catch-up with their fierce rivals.

The departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for a world record fee of €222 million left Barca short of quality in attack and the Blaugrana soon found out that all of their transfer targets were much more expensive than they would have been before.

With the market distorted and everyone well aware that Barca have plenty of cash available, the Catalans have spent an initial €105m (with a possible €42m in add-ons to follow) for Ousmane Dembele, a player who moved from Rennes to Borussia Dortmund for just €15m a year ago.

Dembele becomes the world's second-most expensive player and for the first time since the turn of this century, Barca have a more expensive player than Real Madrid. And that trend could continue if Philippe Coutinho ends up at the Catalan club before the transfer window closes on September 1.

top five transfer deals Spain graphc

Liverpool have rejected three bids from Barca for Coutinho, the last of which was for €125m. However, the Blaugrana board have not given up on signing the Brazilian midfielder, despite the Reds' firm stance that the 25-year-old is not for sale, and could end the month with two of the world's three most expensive players in their squad.

"I think players still want to join Barcelona, and they are showing that as is the case with Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele," Gerard Pique said on Thursday. "The problem is, we sold Ney and the clubs know we have the money from that, and the market is the way it is."

He is right. However, it is also poor planning from the Catalan club that means such signings are now needed. Because aside from Samuel Umtiti, none of the players brought in since the 2014 window have been up to standard and in that time, the Blaugrana have seen themselves overtaken by Real.

Between 2000 and 2013, the world transfer record belonged to Madrid. That started with the arrival of Florentino Perez and the signing of Luis Figo that same summer (for €60m) and continued with the arrival of Zinedine Zidane in 2001 (€77m), later Kaka (€67m, but considered to be more money as previous deals were in pesetas) and Cristiano Ronaldo (€94m) in 2009, and then Gareth Bale (€100m) in 2013.

Marco Asensio Real Madrid

Casemiro Juventus Real Madrid

In his two spells as president, Perez has sought to make Madrid the world's most successful side and part of his philosophy has involved bringing in some of the best players on the planet.

Having seen his first mandate end in disappointment with resignation in 2005 as an expensive project plummeted, he has succeeded second time around. Madrid have won three of the last four Champions League titles and are currently the best team in the world.

And although Ronaldo and Bale have played a significant part in those triumphs, the biggest success of all has come since Madrid stopped spending astronomical sums and placed their focus instead on bringing in exciting young players to complement their stars.

Marco Asensio cost around €4m in 2014, Casemiro €7.5m in 2013, Isco €27m that same year and Dani Ceballos €18m earlier this summer. The key in all of their cases was signing them early, something Barca could have done with Dembele and also Coutinho.

GFX Transfer Ousmane Dembele Barcelona Borussia Dortmund

HD Phil Coutinho

Previously, Barca built their team around their talented players from La Masia. That is ideal, of course, but buying up youngsters from elsewhere at a young age is the most sensible alternative and it is Madrid who have been more intelligent in that area over the past few seasons, allowing Los Blancos to put together the strongest squad around.

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"We are working really well with the young players and that is a merit I attribute to Zidane," Florentino said after Madrid beat Juventus in Cardiff in early June to claim the Champions League for a second season running.

However, it is also a result of a shift in philosophy at Real. The club's last Galactico -style signing was James Rodriguez in 2014 and that did not really work out. And such is the quality at Madrid nowadays that huge spending is not necessary as it was when Los Blancos were trying everything they could to end Barcelona's dominance in years gone by.

Real still have the money and will spend on a superstar if they believe there is a player, like Monaco's Kylian Mbappe, who can improve their team for a number of years, or when the time comes to replace Ronaldo. It is no longer an obligation, however, because it is Barca playing catch-up these days.