Memphis Depay’s move from Barcelona to Atletico Madrid — which was confirmed on Friday for €3m, plus another €1m in add-ons — is the latest transfer involving two of LaLiga’s biggest clubs in recent years.
Without the animosity generated by the Clasico rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Barca and Atleti have been able to sit down to discuss a number of high-profile transfers, from a €120m move for Antoine Griezmann — who has even gone in both directions (albeit for just €20m on the way back) — to Luis Suarez, Arda Turan and David Villa.
Looking at how those signings turned out, you wonder if Barcelona might be reluctant to do much business with Atletico in the future. Or could the Depay deal — with Barca receiving a fee of up to €4m for a bit-part player at Camp Nou who could have left for nothing in the summer when his contract expired — begin to turn the tide?
Here’s a look at the deals involving Barcelona and Atletico over the past 15 years, why they happened, and who ended up benefiting the most.
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David Villa (Barcelona to Atletico Madrid, €5.1m, July 2013)
Why he moved: By the time he joined Atletico, Villa had already starred for Real Zaragoza, Valencia and Barcelona and was recognised as one of Spain’s best-ever forwards, all-time top scorer for the national team and a key part of the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup-winning squads. However, at 31 he was viewed as past his best. Barca had just signed Neymar for €86.2m and also had Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro to choose from up front. Meanwhile, Atletico needed a replacement for Radamel Falcao, who had just left for Monaco.
How it worked out: Atletico won LaLiga, with Villa scoring 13 times. Atletico even clinched the 2013-14 title against Barca with a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in their last game of the season. Villa also helped Atletico reach the Champions League final (by beating Barca in their quarterfinal along the way), and he started in the 4-1 defeat to Real Madrid in Lisbon. It was a brief but glorious year-long swansong in Spain, before he moved overseas to MLS side New York City FC.
Arda Turan (Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, €34m, January 2016)
Why he moved: Turan was an important player for Atletico over four seasons after joining from Galatasaray in 2011 and a key part of their 2013-14 title-winning side. The attacking midfielder’s transfer to Barca was agreed in July 2015, but a transfer ban imposed on the club for breaching FIFA rules on signing under-18 players meant he couldn’t be registered until the following January. It was an unusual move. Barca were in the middle of presidential elections when the deal was done and an option was included to return the player to Atletico if the winning candidate wasn’t keen.
How it worked out: Being unable to play for his first six months in Barcelona was bad enough, but things went downhill from there. Turan made a respectable 18 league appearances in the second half of 2015-16, but half of those came as a substitute. He never came close to matching his influence at Atletico, while injuries also took their toll, playing another 18 league games in his first full season, 2016-17. Turan eventually joined Turkey’s Istanbul Basaksehir on loan in January 2018 and is often cited as one of Barcelona’s most disappointing signings.
Luis Suarez (Barcelona to Atletico Madrid, Free, September 2020)
Why he moved: Suarez was forced out of Barcelona as part of attempts to refresh the squad in the aftermath of their 8-2 Champions League thrashing to Bayern Munich. The Uruguay striker later revealed that new boss Ronald Koeman — appointed in August 2020 — told him he was surplus to requirements in a 40-second phone call. It was an ugly end to a spell which saw Suarez form part of an iconic front three with Messi and Neymar, winning four LaLiga titles and a Champions League, while establishing himself as the club’s third-highest all-time top scorer with 198 goals in 283 games. After a move Juventus broke down, a deal was agreed with Atletico.
How it worked out: It happened again! Atletico won LaLiga in 2020-21 thanks to Suarez’s 21 goals, including the crucial second in a 2-1 win at Real Valladolid which secured the title. Suarez didn’t have quite the same impact in his second season, scoring 11 times in LaLiga as Atletico finished third, but his contribution in that first year — motivated by a desire to demonstrate that Barca were wrong to ditch him — makes him among the best value signings Spanish football has ever seen. Suarez left when his contract expired in July 2022, returning home to Uruguay’s Nacional before joining Brazilian side Gremio after the World Cup.
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Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, €120m, July 2019)
Why he moved: Griezmann was one of LaLiga’s star players in his first spell at Atletico, with standout performances in 2015-16 — when they reached their second Champions League final in three years — and 2017-18, when he won the Europa League with Atletico and the World Cup with France. The summer of 2018 saw him agonise over a switch to Barcelona — a process documented in his infamous documentary “The Decision” — before deciding to stay, only to give the green light to a deal a year later. It was a controversial move, with Barcelona paying Griezmann’s €120m release clause and Atletico claiming they were owed another €80m, believing Barca had agreed a deal with the player months earlier, when the clause was set at €200m.
How it worked out: Not very well. Griezmann never settled at Camp Nou and there were difficulties integrating him into a team that already contained Messi as its focal point. Griezmann wasn’t an abject failure, but neither did he live up to his Atletico form and reputation. In his two seasons at Barcelona, the team finished behind Real Madrid and Atletico in LaLiga and were heavily beaten by Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. Griezmann’s return of nine league goals in 2019-20 was his worst in eight years, although he did a little better in 2020-21, finding the net 13 times.
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Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona to Atletico Madrid, loan in August 2021, made permanent in October 2022)
Why he moved: After failing to live up to expectations in two years at Camp Nou, Griezmann returned to Atletico on a two-year loan in a deal which was concluded on deadline day on Aug. 31, 2021. Barcelona had been keen to move him on all summer, knowing that their financial issues made keeping Griezmann and Messi impossible. They ended up losing both. A swap deal for Griezmann involving Saul Niguez was discussed and ruled out, before Barca eventually decided to let him go for €20m just two years after paying a €120m fee and a few weeks after Messi had completed a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.
How it worked out: Griezmann struggled for confidence in his first season back at the Metropolitano, scoring three times in LaLiga. The 2022-23 campaign also got off to a difficult start as wrangling with Barcelona saw him comically introduced after an hour by coach Diego Simeone, week after week, as Atletico tried to force a reduction of the agreed €40m fee to make his deal permanent, which would have become obligatory if he played at least 45 minutes in over 50% of their games. He regained his form and status as one of the world’s best with France at the World Cup, though, and looks much happier now.
With the Villa, Turan, Suarez and Griezmann deals all turning out in Atletico’s favour and making Barca look silly, all eyes are now on how Memphis performs.
If his goals help Atletico finish in the top four — which is no certainty, given that they’re in fourth place level on points with Villarreal and Real Betis — it might just go down as another masterstroke. Given his limited role at Camp Nou, though, he’s unlikely to become a Villa or Suarez style embarrassment either.