Ranking the 20 Most Important Signings Since FCB Femení's Professionalization
In the years 2011 through 2015, FC Barcelona Femení experienced a period of unprecedented, unmatched dominance in Spain’s domestic competitions. In these four seasons, Barcelona won four league titles, three Copas de la Reina, and made their UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) debut. Like any club who has an era of success like this, they were destined for a transitional period.
The transitional period in question happened in 2015, when FC Barcelona made the decision to professionalize their women's team. After spending half a decade conquering Spain, the club had new demands for success in Europe, which required the addition of new personnel in the form of a near-complete squad overhaul. Many years later, through plenty of growing pains and heartbreaks on the road to success, the team has achieved their dream of winning the Champions League, and went even further to win the treble in the same season. Astronomical feats like this could only be accomplished by a group of players specifically chosen to bring them to such a high level.
That being said, our criteria for “importance” asks the following questions:
Was the player an essential signing?
Were they a signing for the future, or were they meant to be a temporary fix?
Did the player have instant impact?
Did the player improve marketing and/or the club’s public image?
Have the player’s performances improved the team as a collective?
Did the player meet up to their expectations?
We look at the 20 most important players to sign (or re-sign) for Barcelona since that summer of 2015, and which of those players have had the most impact in bringing the club to its highest possible level.
20. Nataša Andonova (2017-2019)
Andonova playing with Barcelona against Fundación Albacete in 2019 / Quality Sport Images via Getty Images
North Macedonian forward Nataša Andonova was one of Barcelona’s first signings in the summer of 2017. Before Andonova was at Barcelona, she played two seasons at Rosengård where she combined for 12 goals, and then played a half season at PSG, where she had only 7 appearances with zero goals.
In Andonova’s two seasons at the club, she was utilized almost solely as a rotation player, starting just 22 times out of a total 58 appearances. Despite scoring only eight times, she averaged a goal about every two and a half matches, which are not bad numbers for an inconsistently-played forward. Unfortunately, Andonova was a player with a very low level comparable to what Barcelona demanded, and she never really improved throughout her time with the club.
Andonova left Barcelona the summer after reaching a UWCL final with the club, but remained in Spain and signed for Levante, where she reached the UWCL with them after two much more involved campaigns.
19. Line Røddik Hansen (2016-2018)
Hansen defending Cristiane in the 2016-17 UEFA Women's Champions League / Catherine Steenkestevia via Getty Images
Line Røddik Hansen’s arrival from Lyon in the summer of 2016 was, at the time, one of Barcelona’s most significant transfers. She came to the club as an accomplished veteran with extensive experience across multiple European leagues, including being a pivotal part of Tyresö’s 2014 UEFA Women’s Champions League run. In her first season at the club, she started semi-regularly in the league, but played in each of Barcelona’s matches in the Champions League where they reached the semifinal for the first time in their history.
The following 2017-2018 season didn’t work out in favor of Hansen in more ways than one. When the club made a move for Mapi León in the summer of 2017, Hansen fell down the pecking order behind her. To make matters worse, she spent most of the 2017-18 season hindered by injury. She ended up making just 3 league appearances in her final season, as she left for Ajax after spending 2 seasons in Catalonia. Hansen was an important part of the 2016-17 squad that made history with Barcelona, but the glory didn’t last long and her career in Spain was short-lived. The defender announced her retirement from football in December of 2020.
18. Stefanie van der Gragt (2018-2020)
van der Gragt playing with Barcelona against Juventus in the 2019-20 UEFA Women's Champions League / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
Stephanie van der Gragt was signed in the summer of 2018 with the intention of being a starter that would greatly solidify Barcelona’s backline among some defensive woes. A year prior to her signing, the Dutch center back was an integral part of the Netherlands side that won their country’s first EURO title, so her signing understandably came alongside some big expectations.
It became clear soon enough that she was going to have frequent issues with injuries when she finished the 2018-19 league season playing just seven matches. In the beginning of the 2019-20 season, she picked up an injury against Juventus that required surgery. As the season went on, it became more and more clear that her signing simply wasn’t working out. van der Gragt never ended up solidifying a place for herself in the team, picking up more injuries after recovering from her surgery and only making seven league appearances for Barcelona that season. The center back left the club once the 2019-20 league season ended to return to playing football with Ajax and to start a family in her home country.
17. Ana-Maria Crnogorčević (2020- present)
Crnogorčević playing with Barcelona against Santa Teresa in 2020 / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
The winter window signing of Ana-Maria Crnogorčević was puzzling to many of Barcelona’s fans. She wasn’t highly rated in her most recent role with the Portland Thorns where she almost exclusively played out of position at fullback. Her natural position of striker is where she excelled throughout most of her career; Crnogorčević is the Switzerland women’s national team all-time top scorer and was the starting striker for 1. FFC Frankfurt’s 2015 UWCL Final win. Unfortunately for her, the striker position was already overcrowded by Jenni Hermoso, Asisat Oshoala and Clàudia Pina, so it was unclear how and where she would fit into Lluís Cortés’ plans.
Crnogorčević ended up being a depth signing and was kept in her out-of-position fullback role, allowing Marta Torrejón time to rest as well as filling in for Leila Ouahabi and Melanie Serrano through their periods of injury in the second half of the 2019-20 season. Although it’s a guarantee that she will never establish herself as a regular starter, her signing has proven to be relatively successful in its goal of strengthening squad depth, and her presence contributes a lot to the squad’s chemistry.
16. Toni Duggan (2017-2019)
Duggan playing with Barcelona against Olympique Lyonnais in the 2019 UEFA Women's Champion's League Final / VI Images via Getty Images
In 2017, Barça signed English international Toni Duggan from Manchester City as a replacement for Jenni Hermoso, who left for Paris Saint-Germain that same summer. Duggan’s numbers in her final season at City weren’t anything outstanding- she scored just 5 goals for the club in the WSL during the 2016-17 league campaign. On an individual level, her career at Barça turned out to be a marginal improvement as she scored 11 goals from 26 league matches in her first season and scored another 9 goals in 25 league matches the following season.
Despite the turnaround in her goalscoring, Duggan’s numbers just weren’t good enough for a starting striker at Barcelona, especially considering the defensive issues the team had at the time. Her average of a goal every 2-3 matches was definitely a downgrade from Jenni, who was scoring well over a goal a game the season before she left. In her second season, Duggan ended up being out-scored by Alexia Putellas, who was primarily playing as a center-midfielder or a left-winger. On top of that, Duggan said herself that she didn’t feel like she didn’t fit Barcelona’s style. She ultimately left for Atlético Madrid at the end of her contract, which prompted Jenni Hermoso’s triumphant return to Barcelona.
15. Olga García (2015-2018)
García (right) playing with Barcelona against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2015-16 UEFA Women's Champions League / Alex Caparros via Getty Images
Olga García spent six years growing up in the FC Barcelona youth system and was one of Barcelona's most important players in her first senior-team stint at the club. She scored a total of 60 league goals in her first three years as a senior player, combining with Sonia Bermúdez to become Spain’s most clinical attacking duo at the time. She also notably scored the game-winning goal in the 2011 Copa de la Reina, giving FCB Femení the trophy for the first time since 1994. Olga left Barcelona for the first time in 2013 and stayed at Levante for two seasons.
After being unable to replicate her goalscoring form at Levante, Olga García returned to Barcelona in the summer of 2015. She regained her position as a starter for that 2015-16 season, scoring 10 goals and being the difference-maker in their Round of 16 UWCL draw against FC Twente, where she scored the two goals that put Barcelona through to the quarterfinals. The following season she put up good numbers by scoring 14 goals, but she gradually took on more and more of a substitution role and didn’t have much involvement in the later stages of Barcelona’s UWCL campaign.
Multiple high-profile attacking signings in the summer of 2017 like Lieke Martens and Toni Duggan pushed Olga further down the depth chart. The 2017-18 season would end up being her final year at the club due to her dramatic drop in playing time. By the time she left, Olga spent a total of 14 seasons at the club. Although her second stint wasn’t as successful as her first, her legacy as a central figure in one of Barcelona’s most successful periods will live on for a long time.
14. Andressa Alves: (2016-2019)
Alves playing with Barcelona against LSK Kvinner in the 2018-19 UEFA Women's Champions League / Quality Sport Images via Getty Images
Brazilian Andressa Alves joined Barcelona in 2016 as an exciting attacking talent. The year prior to her signing, she scored 8 international goals, many against sizable opposition, including the goal that knocked Spain out of the 2015 Women's World Cup. That international form carried over to her club play where she did well in her first season at Barcelona. Alves was an important part of Barcelona's earlier 2016-17 UWCL campaign, as well as scoring 13 goals in 23 league matches.
In the 2017-18 season, she found herself in a more consistent role, and was finally able to achieve good scoring form for the club. Andressa ended up being the club's top scorer for that league season with twelve goals as Barcelona lacked a consistent presence in front of goal.
As the midfield continued to improve without her in the 2018-19 season, Alves became a substitute more often than she was a starter. The midfielder ended her final campaign with 7 total goals and 16 total starts. That following summer it became clear upon the arrival of right-winger Caroline Graham Hansen that Alves would likely have little to no role in a Barcelona team if she stayed. Alves moved on in July 2019 and went east to play for Roma in Italy.
13. Bárbara Latorre (2015-2019)
Latorre (left) playing with Barcelona against RCD Espanyol in 2017 / VI Images via Getty Images
Bárbara Latorre was one of the first signings of 2015 in Barcelona’s new post-professionalization era. From the beginning, Latorre wasn’t part of Barcelona’s full-strength XI, mostly being played as a substitute for one of Alexia Putellas, Jenni Hermoso, Olga García or Gemma Gili. When she did play, she put up quality numbers, but was mostly inconsistent.
Although she wasn’t the most consistent of forwards, she had many moments where she shone on an individual level. In the 2016-17 season, Latorre was the first Barcelona player to score in a UWCL semifinal against European giants PSG. In the same season, one of her goals against Espanyol went viral in 2016, giving the women's team some of the most attention they had ever received by that point. To this day, many Barcelona fans cite that as the goal that attracted them to the women’s team.
In her final season, the club had outgrown her level as she was almost completely phased out of her position on the right wing. She turned into a rotation player and only made 3 starts out of 15 total appearances, scoring zero goals. Latorre moved on to Real Sociedad in the summer of 2019 where she regained some of her goalscoring form with the club. There weren't many negative repercussions to her departure, yet she left the club with a more lasting legacy than a lot of players in her time.
12. Cata Coll (2020- )
Coll playing with Barcelona against Atlético Madrid in 2020 / Alex Caparros via Getty Images
Although goalkeeper Cata Coll has made just a handful of appearances since joining the club from Sevilla, she has had plenty of big moments, showing immense potential. At just 19, the keeper has had extensive experience at the youth national team level for Spain and at the highest club level with Sevilla. This past year, she received her first senior national team call-up, a testament to the quality of her performances in Paños's absence.
Paños is 28 and likely isn't nearing the end of her career, but Cata has already proven that she will be an excellent second-choice as long as Paños is active. If everything goes to plan, she will likely overtake Paños in her later years and continue to show her ability at the highest level. Cata has a very high potential to be great, and her signing could turn out to be one of the best investments FCB Femení has made in a young player.
11. Leila Ouahabi (2016- present)
Ouahabi playing with Barcelona against Real Madrid in 2020 / Diego Souto for Quality Sport Images via Getty Images
Leila Ouahabi, a La Masia product, was re-signed in the summer of 2016 after leaving for Valencia CF three years prior to find consistent minutes in the Spanish league. Barcelona understood the need for Leila’s return given how much she had improved in her time at Valencia, so the 23 year old came back to the club and has for the most part been starting at left back since.
Aside from an ACL tear in the 2017-18 season that kept her out for a year, she mostly maintained her starting position despite competition from Melanie Serrano. Unfortunately, Leila’s performances haven’t much improved as she’s gotten older, and she has a tendency to be inconsistent. On a bad day, her poor positioning and decision-making can be one of the team’s biggest weak points. On a good day, she can be a great addition to the team’s attacking presence, as well as having the occasional big defensive moment. As of this season, the club seems to have outgrown her on-the-pitch performances, but in her time back, she’s offered a steady presence in a very difficult position to fill.
10. Vicky Losada (2016- 2021)
Losada playing with Barcelona against Valencia CF in 2021 / Urbanandsport for NurPhoto via Getty Images
Barcelona legend Vicky Losada made her return to Barcelona in the winter of 2016 after spending two and a half years playing club football in the United States and England. The La Masia graduate had been a major figure in the record-breaking Barcelona sides of the 2010’s, and had been with the club between the years of 2004 and 2015, with a year away from the club as they sorted out their 2007 relegation.
In the 2017-18 season, Losada regained her role as Barcelona’s captain, and spent the next two seasons leading the club through a major transitional phase. Through plenty of rotations in midfield and new faces in nearly every position, she was an ever-present face in the team. One of her most important contributions to the team in her time back was when she captained the team in their first ever Champions League fin. A team like Barcelona with very little experience or confidence needed a strong, qualified leader.
Since her hamstring injury in the 2019-20 season, Vicky was unable to make a full return to starting status, as Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí had formed a second-to-none duo in center midfield that would be irresponsible for Cortés to disrupt. In 2021, after two seasons of being an off-the-bench player, Vicky announced her departure from the club in an emotional farewell. Losada ended her Barcelona career with the second-most matches played out of any player in the history of the club with 370, only behind Melanie Serrano. Capping her 16-year-long Barcelona career off with a treble, Vicky will go down as one of the club’s most legendary, trailblazing figures.
9. Kheira Hamraoui (2018-2021)
Hamraoui playing with Barcelona against Fortuna Hjørring in 2021 / Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Kheira came to the club in the summer of 2018, fresh off a treble with Lyon, and unhappy with her lack of minutes in their historic campaign. Barcelona picked her up with the intention of making her a short-term, off-the-bench signing, but in her first three years at the club she ended up having an unprecedented level of impact on the club’s success.
Her first season at the club was one of unexpected opportunities when Patri Guijarro was out for almost an entire season with a ganglion cyst on her ankle. The former Lyon player stepped up in her new role as a starter, and kept balance in defensive midfield for the entire season while Barcelona fought for all three titles. Her most prolific moment that season was by far her strike against Bayern in the away leg of the 2019 UWCL semifinals that spurred the team onto their first UWCL final in history. She did, however, miss the final with a red card suspension, so her disciplinary record hurt the club that season as much as her goal helped them.
In the following 2019-20 campaign, Kheira didn’t play nearly as much as she did the previous year, but that didn’t prevent her from having any more big-game moments. That season, she scored the winner in two more win-or-go-home matches- her goal against Depor in the second period of extra time in the Copa de la Reina quarterfinal, and her 80th minute goal against Atlético in the Champions League quarter finals that kept Barcelona’s European dreams alive.
This past season, she had her lowest average minutes per game at the club, but still did what she does best and showed up huge when she was called upon. In the 2021 Champions League final, after Andrea Pereira was suspended, Kheira was forced to start the match in place of Patri Guijarro, who was covering Pereira’s spot. It was the first Champions League final she played after experiencing three others either benched or suspended, and in one of the biggest matches of her life, she put up one of the best performances of her career.
Since 2018-19, Kheira has never been a consistent starter for Barcelona, and at points, her composure and discipline have been questioned, but her many big-game moments speak for themselves. Regardless of the consistency of her minutes, Kheira left Barcelona as a key player in their success each year, winning everything she did while riding the bench at Lyon. She came, saw, and conquered, succeeding at Barcelona in the most unanticipated of ways.
8. Asisat Oshoala (2019-present)
Oshoala playing for Barcelona against Real Sociedad in 2020 / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
Asisat Oshoala came to Barcelona in the 2018-19 winter window as a player who had already achieved something of a legend status at just 24 years old. Oshoala has been an icon in African football since she was a teenager, and is undeniably Nigeria’s greatest ever female footballer.
These high expectations of performance followed her to Spain, and she more than met them in her first season at the club. The Nigerian made an immediate impact for Barcelona when she scored the first goal against Atlético Madrid in a 60,739 spectator Wanda Metropolitano stadium, a match that shattered attendance records for women’s club football. She continued performing well throughout the remainder of the 2018-19 season by scoring 8 goals in 10 matches, one of those being her iconic strike in the 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Her 89th minute goal against Lyon made her the first FCB Femení player, the first Nigerian, the third African after Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba, and the first African woman to ever score in a Champions League final.
She carried on by amassing a total of 28 goals in her first full season at the club, becoming the leading scorer for the club across all competitions. In the following 2020-21 season, her two goals against Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals were essential in advancing Barcelona to the semis. When they won the whole thing, Oshoala once again made football history by being the first ever African woman to win a Champions League title.
Oshoala’s career at Barcelona has been illustrious, no doubt, but at times her achievements have been partially overshadowed by both her injuries and her inconsistency. At many points in her Barcelona career, failing to convert her chances has been a stain on her performances. Her plethora of missed 1v1 chances has cost the club a lot of unnecessary stress and even a few losses. Super Zee may not have been the most ideal striker profile for Barcelona, but overall, she’s been a largely positive signing for the club.
7. Andrea Pereira: (2018-present)
Pereira playing with Barcelona against Santa Teresa in 2020 / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
Andrea Pereira appeared on Barcelona’s radar after an outstanding performance in the 2018 Copa de la Reina Final, where her team Atlético Madrid held off Barcelona for 120 minutes before conceding a late goal to Mariona Caldentey. After refusing a contract extension from Atlético, Pereira joined the blaugrana side for the coming season.
Signed alongside her in the same window was Dutch center back Stephanie van der Gragt, who for all intents and purposes was meant to be a starter in Barcelona. van der Gragt’s many injuries put that plan on hold, as Pereira was forced to step up into a starting role in a position with little depth. She formed a formidable centerback partnership with Spanish national teammate Mapi León, who the club had picked up a year prior, and has been a regular starter ever since.
Pereira’s presence has kept Barcelona’s defense at a high level for the past 3 seasons. At some points in this past season, she has been Barcelona’s best defender, making quality saves and producing many big defensive moments in important matches.
6. Sandra Paños (2015- present)
Paños playing with Barcelona gainst Manchester City in the 2020-21 UEFA Women's Champions League / Zac Goodwin for PA Images via Getty Images
One of the first players Barcelona pursued the summer they decided to professionalize was Levante keeper Sandra Paños. At that time, she was one of the most sought-after players in the Spanish league, but chose Barcelona, knowing she would be sharing playing time with team captain Laura Ràfols for a season or two.
It didn’t take long for Paños to establish herself as Barcelona’s first-choice keeper. In her first season at the club, was named to the 2015-16 UEFA Women’s Champions League Squad of the Season, the first ever Barcelona player to do so. Since then, she has won 4 Zamora Trophies and has made it to the UWCL Squad of the Season four more times in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Paños’s many accolades are demonstrative of her Barcelona career- a beacon of consistency, able to conjure up huge saves in the most important of matches, especially in the Champions League. Some of the most noteworthy- the 2015-16 Champions League where she kept PSG shut out for almost a full 180 minutes, her save against Bayern Munich in the 2018-19 semifinals to keep the score 1-1, and her penalty save against Manchester City in the quarterfinals of the 2020-21 campaign.
Standing tall as Barcelona’s fourth captain, Paños has spent the past 6 years commanding Barcelona’s backline. Still only 28, she has plenty of years ahead of her to continue being one of the club’s best ever investments.
5. Jenni Hermoso (2019-present)
Hermoso playing with Barcelona against PSV Eindhoven in the 2020-21 UEFA Women's Champions League / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
Jenni Hermoso had already established herself as a club legend by the time she departed Barcelona for PSG in the summer of 2017. In her original four-year-long stint at Barcelona, she won the league twice and the Copa de la Reina twice, receiving top scorer awards in both campaigns. After an unsuccessful season in Paris, she returned home to Spain to play for Barcelona's league rivals Atlético Madrid, winning the league and top scorer with them.
In what was essentially a trade deal, Jenni left Atlético to return to Barcelona and Toni Duggan went the other way around, joining the Madrid-based club from Barcelona. As expected, Jenni proved to be a significant upgrade on Toni, as she fits in better with the club’s playing style, is more versatile as a player, and is a better, more consistent goalscorer. In her first season back, she picked up where she left off and once again won the Pichichi by scoring 23 league goals. Alongside her many, many goals, Jenni’s presence on the pitch brought some much-needed calmness and experience to the team. In her second season back, she overtook Sonia Bermúdez as the club’s highest all-time scorer, further writing her name in the record books of Spanish women’s football. She also scored Barcelona's valuable away goal in the first leg of the 2020-21 Champions League semifinal that helped the club reach their second ever UWCL final, where her performance was essential in driving up the score to 4-0.
Jenni’s consistency made her a valuable re-addition to a team that was aching for that exact trait in a striker. Although her age makes it likely that she isn’t in Barcelona’s long-term plans, her immediate impact for the team has been undeniable. Her international recognition and marketability isn’t a bad touch either.
4. Patri Guijarro (2015- present)
Guijarro playing with Barcelona against Real Madrid in 2021 / Eric Alonso via Getty Images
In 2013, former FCB Femení coach Xavi Llorens scouted Patri Guijarro when she was starting for Primera División side UD Collerense at just 15 years old. Two years later he made his move to sign her, and at 17, Patri Guijarro was already a senior-team Barcelona player. By that point, Patri was unknown outside of dedicated Spanish futfem circles. Now at just 23, she is one of Barcelona’s most important core figures, one of the club’s five captains, and one of the best midfielders in the world.
It didn’t take long for Patri to transition into a regular starter in various midfield positions, but she truly settled in when she became Barcelona’s mainstay at defensive midfield. The trio of her, Alexia Putellas, and Aitana Bonmatí could easily be considered the best midfield three in the world.
As an individual, Patri is the full package. She excels at defensive midfield, but is even better as a center-midfielder, and is even better in attacking midfield. She can also play as a striker, as a 10, and if needed, as a center back. In fact, one of the biggest matches of her life thus far was the 2021 Champions League Final, where she was played as a center back in replacement of Andrea Pereira, who was suspended for the match. Patri ended up being one of Barcelona’s most solid players that day, preventing the likes of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder from getting a single look at goal.
On top of her versatility, Patri notoriously shows up to perform in big matches and has an eye for goal, completed with an insane long-range shot. A solid argument could be made that she is the best all-around player in the world right now. All of that considered, it is almost certain that Patri has not yet reached the peak of her performance, and that her signing has paid off as one of Barcelona’s best long-term investments.
3. Mapi León (2017-present)
León playing with Barcelona against Valencia CF in 2021 / Alex Caparros via Getty Images
As part of Barcelona’s commitment to growing the women’s side, the club dished out a transfer fee for a player for the first time in Spanish women’s football history. The player in question was none other than 22-year-old Mapi León, one of the most promising defensive talents in Spain. Considering this transfer was the first of its kind, the deal was done with a lot of optimism that they would get what they paid for with her performances on the field. In the past four years, Mapi has more than lived up to her price tag.
At 26, Mapi is regarded as one of the best center backs in the world due to her excellent positioning, technical skill, passing ability, and outstanding consistency. In prior seasons where the defense has been much lesser in quality, she did the best she could in covering the frequent holes at left back and right centre back. Now with a more settled, consistent backline, Mapi shines in her role as a defender and excels as a commanding presence among the defense.
Barcelona had one of Europe’s best ever goal differences this past league season, which has been mostly highlighted by the 150+ goals scored. However, an equally remarkable feat is how the backline has only conceded 13 goals. In Barcelona's most demanding season that required all players to stay consistent, healthy, and on top of their game, Mapi was perhaps the player who best exemplified those traits. One of the best parts of Mapi’s signing is that she still has a lot of years ahead of her, making her one of the club’s best ever investments.
2. Caroline Graham Hansen (2019-)
Hansen playing with Barcelona against Rayo Vallecano in 2021 / Alex Caparros via Getty Images
For many years, Barcelona's biggest area of weakness was the absence of a dominant figure on the right-wing. This role was temporarily and unsuccessfully filled by Aitana Bonmatí, a midfielder, Lieke Martens, a left-sided player, and Alexia Putellas, a left-sided midfielder, amongst many other players that could never quite click. After Barcelona’s lack of balance and experience was exposed against Lyon in the 2019 Champions League Final, it became more obvious than ever that Barcelona needed to bring someone in who could finally sort out these issues. Otherwise, they weren’t at the level they needed to be at to compete in Europe.
The summer following that loss, the club moved to sign 24-year-old Caroline Graham Hansen, one of VfL Wolfsburg’s best players and one of the world’s best wingers. Most of Hansen’s career had been marred by serious injuries, leaving her out of a World Cup and two Champions League finals. In that aspect, her signing was somewhat of a gamble, but clearly it was a gamble that paid off. CGH's presence brought an immediate impact to the team, unlocking a layer of coherence and dominance that FCB Femení had never seen before. Her arrival allowed for Lieke and Alexia to stay in their respective positions, creating one of Europe’s best attacking forces as well as Europe’s best midfield trio. She also found a new dynamic with Marta Torrejón, their joint understanding of the game enabling the rightback to play the best football she’s ever played.
As soon as she stepped on the pitch at the Estadi Johan Cruyff, she started scoring and assisting goals, moving effortlessly between defenders, and giving support up and down the right side when she was needed. Her elite performances continued throughout the 2019-20 season as she proved to be the missing piece Barça needed for so long. Her, Lieke, Jenni and Oshoala combined to create one of the best groups of forwards in Europe, and they fought to earn back the league title that eluded them for the last 4 years. It’s no coincidence that her signing coincided with the season that Barcelona showed complete dominance by winning Spain’s domestic treble, along with winning the continental treble a year later. Considering how radically she has transformed the club in such little time, Caroline Graham Hansen has had the most instant impact out of any signing FCB Femení has made since the summer of 2015.
1. Lieke Martens (2017-present)
Martens in the 2021 Copa de la Reina final against Levante UD / Angel Martinez via Getty Images
In the summer of 2017, the signing of 24-year-old Lieke Martens from Rosengård caused something of a stir in the women’s football world. It wasn’t very often that one of Europe’s most sought-after players took their career to Spain to play for a team far behind their German and French peers.
For context on where the team was by that point, FCB Femení were definite up-and-comers in Europe, but they still needed a push to break out amongst Europe’s best. Xavi Llorens’s side reached their first UWCL semifinal just months prior, but despite that accomplishment and their many years of domestic dominance in the early 2010’s, they had still yet to find the missing piece that would help establish themselves amongst Europe’s top teams. Unbeknownst to everyone, Lieke would end up being the catalyst that brought Barcelona’s European dream to fruition, and her arrival brought about a new era for the women’s section of the club.
Within a month of her signing, the winger went on to become a UEFA Women's EURO winner with the Netherlands and was awarded Player of the Tournament for her performances. Her achievements with her national team coupled with her win at that year's TheBest awards skyrocketed her to international stardom. Lieke started being featured as the standout female player in advertisements and stood alone as the pivotal marketing figure for the women’s team for the following few years. She had such a high profile that in 2018, Forbes ranked her at 22 on the list of most powerful women in international sports, one of just two footballers on the list. Lieke’s mere presence made it so Barcelona had the pull to attract some of the world’s biggest stars and best developing talents.
Her massive public presence is in contrast to her story on the pitch, however. In seasons past, to no fault of her own, Lieke spent a significant part of her Barcelona career plugging in the holes in attack, filling in on the right and in the center. Regardless, she's been one of Barcelona's most productive forwards, averaging over 20 G+A for her first two seasons. With the arrival of right-winger Caroline Graham-Hansen, she has finally been able to keep to her natural position on Barcelona's left wing alongside Alexia Putellas, combining with her to form a dominant left side. Nowadays, there is a significant difference in team cohesiveness when she is and isn’t playing. A fit Lieke Martens makes her team calmer, smarter, and more efficient in front of goal. The peak of her abilities were demonstrated at the end of the 2020-21 treble-winning season, with her goals, assists, and playmaking ability being perhaps the single most important part of Barcelona’s attack.
For Barcelona, there is a period marked before Lieke’s signing and after Lieke’s signing. Adding one of the world's best forwards to a team still in it’s developing stages was a statement of intent from the club that they were going to build a project that would make FCB Femení a force in Europe. Her presence on and off the pitch has more than solidified that statement. In the four years she's been at the club, Barcelona have made it to three UWCL semifinals and two UWCL finals. In the first final in 2019, she assisted Barcelona's first and only goal. On the route to the second final, she scored a brace in the second leg of the semifinal to defeat PSG and bring Barcelona back where they were in 2019. In her second final with the club, she was involved in nearly every goal, as well as assisting Caroline Graham Hansen’s goal to run up the score 4-0, giving Barcelona the single biggest margin of victory in a UWCL final.
When she was signed in 2017, Lieke’s arrival set off a domino effect that pushed Barcelona to transition to complete, unanswered European dominance. Without her, FCB Femení would not be the team they are today in any sense. All things considered, Lieke Martens is the most important signing Barcelona has made since they professionalized.