It is safe to say that few transfer rumors in recent history have caused a greater stir than that involving Douglas Pereira dos Santos, aka just call me Douglas.
After a season of Cuadrado, and this spendy player and that spendy player, and what is Enrique planning, all of a sudden the name Douglas popped up and the reaction was “Who? What?”
Then frantic research began as well as anecdotal commentary, and the general consensus is that he sucks, and would need GPS and a telescope to even get within taxicab distance of Barça quality.
The player’s eventual fate is unknown, but this situation does spark some rather interesting thoughts about the transfer market, rumors and how supporters deal with them.
Idiots, the lot of them
It seems that in general around Barça among many of its supporters, there is a notion that things that the club does is suspect. And while some aspects of this notion are supportable in a casual perusal of frequent-flyer miles piling up to Switzerland alongside lawyer bills, let’s stick with the transfer market. It isn’t difficult to find comments about our scouting being ineffective, and the technical staff — but not Enrique! — and ZubiZa (who gets credit and blame for far more than he should) being incompetent, and a player such as Douglas is the latest shining example of this.
Now, for this supposition to hold water, you have toss the transfer business that the club has done this season out of the window. So addressing depth and height shortcomings (yes, I had to …) with quality, and mostly cost-effective additions to a world-class nucleus, well, any fool could have accomplished that. So let’s get back to Douglas.
Any transfer is a risk. You needn’t look any farther than Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas, both integral, productive parts of a Champions League and Premiership Top 5 perennial in Arsenal. At Barça they became mostly detested laughingstocks. Risk. Afellay came to Barça for 3m with the rep that he was talented, but broke easily. And he promptly started living up to both parts of his reputation. In any transfer, a team is rolling the dice with millions and millions. Hleb, Ibrahimovic, Txigrinski can also be added to the Snarl List.
Managing this risk means a number of things to a big club. It can make it tentative or high risk, willing to take a chance on a player or only wanting a sure thing.
Plucking the apple early
People wonder why Barça doesn’t find players such as Benatia before they become high-profile, expensive players. RM did it with Varane, and look how he turned out, right? Roma signed Marquinhos for what, 2m? Now look! Then blame lands at the feet of the all-powerful ZubiZa and our scouts.
But it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to wonder if that is what Barça should be doing. Obviously every team wants that diamond in the rough, that Toure Yaya that comes for a low fee and blossoms into a world-beater. But really, how many of those are out there and further, how should that work in the context of a club with a powerful academy, such as Barça?
You might speculate that the first team looks for players who can drop directly in or at least be competitive for a shot at cracking the XI, or at worst adding depth to become a quality squad player. The other task, at the secondary level, is to find players who can develop in La Masia, and map out a path for them into the first team.
This means that a player such as an inexpensive Marquinhos or Benatia is a huge risk at that nascent stage, when a team thinks he might be ready. You have to buy him for the first team, rather than B. So he might develop, in which case you have your low-priced, high quality gem, or he might not, in which case you dump him on a free or something. While it is a risk that Barça can afford financially, it isn’t a risk that the club should be taking from the sporting sense. This ultimately means that it has to go in after these sorts of players once another club who can afford to take that risk, does so.
If you are Benatia and two clubs come calling, Barça and Roma, both offering the same transfer fee, but one says “We will buy you for our B team, and see how you do. If it works out, we can write in an auto-promotion clause or something, but you see how much talent we already have.” The other says, “We are buying you for our first team, where you will play, and probably start.”
So Roma rolled the dice on Benatia and Marquinhos and came up sevens. They snagged each of them for a comparative pittance, and are now hitting the CB jackpot as each blossomed into 40m players that we were or were not linked with. This prompted more rants about our scouts and why couldn’t they find that low-priced gem, they’re incompetent, etc. It’s an unfortunate narrative that I wish would stop even as I know it won’t anytime soon, because there is such a level of mistrust and apprehension around the team and club these days.
The last times the club took a risk on such a player, in Henrique and Keirrison, still echoes among culers. But rather than those situations demonstrating exactly why it is such a risk for a team such as Barça to slot a “maybe” into its first team, they have become so many other things, most of all a demonstration of the malleability of memory.
Henrique was a risk, a dice roll that a player had the stuff. So was Keirrison, who actually had more bona fides than Henrique. Neither one panned out. It happens. The larger danger than cost is that the team tosses away a first-team slot. We all know how that goes, with the likes of Cuenca, Afellay, Dos Santos and Tello sitting around last season for various reasons. I suggest that the very real danger of throwing away a first-team slot makes a huge club such as Barça more risk averse and further, that it should.
In specific …
Let’s delve deeper into the Three Examples, as I like to think of them, and ask ourselves if they pass the mirror test, as in what would we have done had their names come up in transfer conversation:
Marquinhos: Promising youngster at Corinthians, made 6 league appearances for the club, was an unused sub in the Libertadores final. Roma plucked him for 1.5m, a fee that would rise to 3m if he, essentially, didn’t suck enough to play X number of matches for Y duration. And to the first team he went. (“Brazilian football, and he couldn’t even make the squad for the final, his team’s biggest match. Hmph!)
Benatia: Joined Marseille, didn’t impress, knocked around L1 before going to L2 side Clermont. After two years went to Udinese, then signed to Roma for 13.5m. (“Hmph! Some dude who couldn’t even make it in France second division? Does anyone think he’s really Barça quality?”)
Varane: Came out of the vaunted Lens youth system and when he was ready, all the big clubs came nosing around him including us, if rumors are to be believed, but Zidane had him locked down for RM, and that was that.
Loves me, loves me not …
Supporters like players, and don’t like other players. When it comes to the transfer market, there is also the believing whom you like, or who fits your desires when it comes to a player, real or rumored. If you like a player, you will believe the sources that say he is good, and discount the ones that say he isn’t. The reverse is also true when you don’t like a player.
And in a world where every move, every signing is scrutinized, it’s hard to sit back and say, let’s wait to see how he does. So Vermaelen is an injury-riddled joke of a player. Mathieu is a chain-snoking has been. Bravo isn’t Barça quality, and a waste of money. Rakitic should have been Kroos … ZubiZa is stupid, and on it goes.
In the risky world of transfers, a team manages its risk as best it can. If the Douglas deal happens, I frankly have no idea who the heck he is. Some say it’s a risk worth taking, because 6m is a pittance to a big club, that he might develop (he’s 24 years old) into the next Alves. I reckon we will have to wait and see, something that for many folks, when you get right down to it, is part of the fun of transfers.