The Pep Guardiola era has been the most glorious spell in FC Barcelona's illustrious history, even more so than Johan Cruyff's era in the early 90s. In three seasons, the club won a barely believable ten trophies, including three leagues and two Champions Leagues, and the current squad established themselves as one of the finest clubs sides in the game's history.
Much of this success can be attributed to Barcelona's unparalleled youth academy, La Masia. After all, eight players of Barcelona's usual starting XI are homegrown. But the real key behind Barcelona's success has been the ability to mix this homegrown talent with top quality imports.
Signing the right players is especially hard at Barcelona, not only must the players be exceptionally talented, they must suit the club's football ethos. While there have been some flops in the Guardiola era (Ibrahimovic), Pep has also made some extraordinary signings who ended up contributing for the team's success. Here are the top five:
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Javier Mascherano joined Barcelona in the summer of 2010, after leaving Liverpool in controversial fashion. He had some problems adapting to the club at first, but he turned out to be an inspiring signing. He was great back-up for Sergio Busquets and he filled in brilliantly at centre-back when Barcelona were affected by a huge injury crisis in defense.
It was an excellent first season for Mascherano, as he played a vital role in the decisive matches of the season, the ones that secured the trophies for the club. It is expected that he will be an even more influential player next season.
Signed for 14 million in the summer of 2008, the Malian midfielder has never established himself as a starter at Barcelona. But while his talents are not on a par with Xavi and Iniesta's, he has been the ultimate squad player. The fact that he had more appearances in 2010/2011 than any other Barcelona player clearly shows how useful Keita is.
Pep Guardiola has claimed that while he's at Barcelona Keita will never leave. The Malian has been Xavi and Iniesta's replacement since 2008, and while he can't match the duo for creativity, he's a solid and very reliable option, as proved this season in the Champions League semifinal at the Bernabeu. You can't win titles just with a squad full of ultra-talented players; humble and hard-working players like Keita are also a necessity. Keita knows his role and he doesn't complain. He's also scored six goals in each of his three seasons at Barcelona, a very respectable tally.
Now 31, Keita is expected to play his usual role next season, and Pep trusts that he will do it as brilliantly as in seasons past.
After Zlatan Ibrahimovic flopped monumentally, Pep Guardiola understood that he needed a proven world class striker who could fit with the team's system if he wanted to recapture the Champions League title. At the time, paying 40 million for Villa might have seemed a bit much, but hindsight has made it look like an absolute bargain.
The Asturian striker brought goals, assists and tireless work ethic, not to mention that he developed a fabulous partnership with Pedro Rodriguez and especially Lionel Messi. His arrival took the team to the next level; his goal in the Champions League final only capped off a truly wondeful season.
At 29, Villa still has at least a couple more seasons to shine at Barcelona. If he was so great in his first season, it's scary to think what he might do next season. Barcelona have finally found the ideal forward to complement their homegrown talent.
32 million might seem a lot for a defender, but it was actually a bargain in Daniel Alves's case. The Brazilian is a right back and a right winger at the same time for Barcelona, he pretty much covers the entire flank and never seems to tire out.
He's a solid defender and a key part of the team's offense. Last season, only Messi had more assists than Alves. In the past five seasons, no player in Europe has racked up more assists in all competitions than Alves, an incredible stat for a defender.
No other player in the world could do Alves's role at Barcelona, it was truly one of Pep Guardiola's most inspired signings.
The first place on this list could only go to Gerard Piqué, for the simple fact that he was an absolute bargain. Five million for one of the world's finest defenders, who's only turned 24 recently, is a genius piece of business.
Piqué is actually a La Masia graduate, but he joined Manchester United in 2004. He didn't get many opportunities in the first team at United, but Guardiola saw his potential and signed him. The rest is history. Piqué is now an indisputable starter at Barca, a world champion and one of the world's finest centre backs. Surely, Sir Alex Ferguson now regrets selling him so cheaply.
He remains the greatest signing of the Pep Guardiola era, and it's hard to see any future signing bettering this one.
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