Discussing Nico Gonzalez’s loan move to Valencia, Twitter user NikolasFCB wondered when was the last time that a Barcelona player left on loan and came back to shine at Camp Nou.
Well, the answer to this question is not easy.
There have been players that did well on their loans and developed as players:
Mikel Arteta (PSG 2001/02)
Gerard Deulofeu (Everton 2013/14, Sevilla 2014/15)
Cristian Tello (Porto 2014-16, Fiorentina 2016/17)
Munir (Valencia 2016/17, Alaves 2017/18)
Marc Cucurella (Eibar 2018/19, Getafe 2019/20)
However, neither of these players managed to build a proper career at Camp Nou. They were sold immediately upon their return, except for Munir who left half a year later.
Technically, there is also Pedri. After signing him from Las Palmas, Barca loaned him back straight away for one more season. But does he really count? He didn’t spend a single day at the club before being loaned back.
After analyzing Barca’s loan deals over the last 25 years, the best answer we have is Rafinha.
The Brazilian midfielder spent the 2013/14 season on loan at Celta Vigo, where he recorded four goals in 33 appearances under Luis Enrique.
The next year Luis Enrique was appointed as Barca’s coach, and Rafinha got a place in the first team. He even had an important rotational role, making 36 appearances and scoring two goals as Barca won their second treble in history.
The following season, though, Rafinha suffered a serious injury and went on to make only 11 appearances. Here’s where Rafa’s injury struggles started.
He had a better 2016/17 season, scoring 7 goals in 28 games and being a useful squad player. However, his frequent injuries would lead to him missing several games throughout the season.
In March 2017, Rafinha suffered a serious meniscus injury. In November 2018, he tore his ACL, and in his last three years at Camp Nou, the La Masia graduate played only 11 games.
No doubt he would’ve had a much better career if not for the injuries. And even so, he remains the best answer to our question.