Grimaldo’s transfer, with more questions than answers

The mystery of Alejandro Grimaldo.

Grimaldo had been transferred to Benfica for just a tick over EUR 1m. Benfica immediately slapped a 60m buyout tag on him. The culerverse reacted negatively to the move, the overwhelming consensus being that the club screwed up and Luis Enrique is a dolt for not giving Grimaldo the first-team minutes that he deserved. There is consensus, but is there truth?

Any situation as complex as this one defies easy answers. To say that the Grimaldo thang has been fraught would be an understatement. Journalists haven’t asked about it at pressers, even at Enrique’s on the very day that Grimaldo was transferred. The player himself had some strong words for the situation with the first team coach that he later walked back, saying that he wanted nothing more than to stay at Barça. This, despite some scuttlebutt that the player had decided to leave as early as after the summer loan mess in which the club apparently wanted to move him to Levante, but didn’t consult with him. Grimaldo is rumored to have subsequently told his agent not to listen to any renewal offers from the club.

For Luis Enrique’s first season as manager, Grimaldo was part of a cadre of B-teamers who got a first-team rollout during preseason. His star was on the rise, but from here the picture gets murky. There were coaching changes and B was relegated. As captain of the team this season, a number of B teamers got tryouts, as well as Sandro and Munir finding semi-permanent homes with the first team. Gumbau got a look, and Samper seems to have been tapped as the player most likely to. Kaptoum has gotten looks, everyone worthy of any buzz, except for Grimaldo.

Luis Enrique said in a previous presser that minutes aren’t gifts that he doles out, and that they are earned rather than deserved. He also wasn’t particularly kind about the B team’s performance last season, nor should he have been. But other B teamers have received, and are receiving extended looks. What about Grimaldo?

He is one of the B team’s brightest talents, and its captain. It seems absurd that he hasn’t gotten any first-team time since that first season under Luis Enrique. There are lots of rumors, but nothing that can be substantiated, a mass of confusion that demands more than an instant, knee-jerk reaction.

Grimaldo said, even on his transfer day, that we wished that he could stay at Barça. Given that it took a team of strong men, a tranquilizer dart and begging to dislodge Jonathan Dos Santos, the last player who really wanted to stay at Barça, it strikes me that a solution could have been found. Who didn’t want the renewal, club or player? If the club didn’t want the player, why not? He’s the captain of the B team, a bright talent and a player for the future. He had a deal until 2016 with an option for an extra year that the club chose not to exercise.

If the player didn’t want to stay, why? Tired of waiting? That’s fair. In a recent interview, Thiago Alcantara said that at Barça he was a kid from the academy, but at Bayern he felt important. That was a very interesting phrase that not a lot of people picked up on, but it said quite a lot about his ultimate decision to leave. Is Grimaldo tired of waiting? Does he think that the club doesn’t value him? Were there circumstances under which he could stay that were unacceptable to him? There were rumors about any new contract coming with an automatic promotion demand. Rumors. So have your agent get busy, snark in the press, move stuff, make it clear that you want to stay. Public statements rarely equal private reality. He was renewed right after returning from blowing out two knee ligaments. What happened? Like everything else around the case except Grimaldo not getting first-team looks and leaving — rumors and speculation.

The difficulties of making sense of a situation that prima facie doesn’t make any sense are daunting. But here’s something to consider: What if Grimaldo wasn’t good enough? Being the best player on a relegated team means what, even if the team is punching below where its talent would dictate? What if people who are tasked with watching and evaluating players decided that Grimaldo leaving was a risk worth taking? “How do they know he wasn’t good enough, if they didn’t give him a chance?” Yet teams evaluate players all the time, and make decisions. Some work out, some don’t. For every Rakitic there is a Song. For every Messi there are 14 Assulins. With youth players, talent doesn’t always do what we want it to, or what it promises.

There is, right now, a Future Promises tournament going on, to which top teams are sending their young players to compete. Coming across it one day exposed this tiny, magnificent being playing for Barça, a mop of frizzy blond hair atop a dazzling skill set. Xavi Simons has pace, vision, the ball explodes off his foot. He’s a natural leader, tracks back, knows where to put the ball – the complete package. He is, rightly so, considered a sterling youth player. He might also turn out to be a much-touted dead end. Talent does that. Once upon a time, we didn’t hear about youth players until they got a first-team runout. Bojan Krkic was nicknamed Boy of a Thousand Goals. Today there would be an hour-long YouTube compilation of every one of them. Back then they weren’t on TV, nor were there websites and Internet spaces devoted to youth players. Everything is much more acute now. When Fabregas left, there wasn’t much. But each time a youth player leaves, the intensity ramps up. Reckon if Samper leaves, there will be ritual suicides.

Meanwhile, it’s worth a look at the competitive situation in which Grimaldo finds himself. Grimaldo is an attack-oriented player who occupies the LB position. He’s also 5-foot-7. If he wants to play left back, the first person that he will have to contend with is Jordi Alba, who is 26 years old. Alba is a 5-foot-7 inch tall, attacking LB. But Alba can’t play all the time, so who’s next? In the present rotation, Mathieu and Adriano. Shouldn’t Grimaldo be good enough to beat out those two? What if he isn’t? Or what if, already having a player that fits the Alba profile, the coach wants different types to allow for tactical versatility? Dunno. You can add my groans to the chorus when Alba is out and Luis Enrique rolls out Adriano or Mathieu at LB, but they add physicality that the diminutive incumbent lacks. Don’t forget that Vidal can also play on the left. Many assert that Grimaldo is better than Adriano, but is that really true. If so, he would be a life preserver to a first-team coach. So now what?

In another hypothetical, what if Grimaldo wants to have a go at the LW position. Neymar is there. Adriano also fills that role. And coming is Arda Turan. That spot is three first teamers deep, so what next for Grimaldo, beyond infinite patience? A plane flight to Portugal, where he will get regular first-team football and the chance to develop without waiting for a series of lightning strikes.

The incessant pressure to win, right now, forces a coach to make decisions that aren’t necessarily the same ones that he would make in a less-intense environment. They get conservative. Guardiola shortened his rotation as the season progressed. So did Tito Vilanova. Enrique has a bigger group to work with, that comes with a stupefying wage bill. That stunning collection of world-class talent also creates an immense barrier for a B-teamer to hurdle.

Grimaldo is excited about the chance to go to Benfica, and he should be. It’s the right course of action for him, as that is a next-level club that isn’t a huge club. He can develop his skills and, like any employee who leaves somewhere for a better job, be confident that his new employer will value him because that’s what happens with new employees. It’s his right to do whatever he wants to with his future, including deciding not to sit around waiting for better players to be given a day off or pick up a knock. A player wants to play. Football is a business where difficult decisions are made every day, and many of them suck from a supporter’s chair. Who wasn’t bummed to see Ronaldinho jettisoned, even as it was the right decision? Thiago Alcantara took the correct call for himself. So did Bellerin who starts for Arsenal rather than knocking around, waiting for a Barça first-team legend to take sick or something. Pique left. So did Alba, all because it was the right thing to do for their careers. And they returned to Barça as better players than when they left. It’s the risk. Grimaldo is leaving. It’s a shot, but one that will play out in front of thousands of eyes every week.

But the lingering question of is his departure an error is, right now, impossible to answer, even as it sucks when a youth talent leaves. If Grimaldo becomes a dazzler at Benfica, we can all call the club and Luis Enrique jackasses. But if he tanks, we shouldn’t be part of, the Stygian silence that will be there. At present all we can do is ask questions, queries for which there are no real answers, other than a talent is gone.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

9 Comments

  1. December 30, 2015

    I wish, he was given at least come chances like Gumbau got, before we decided to sell him. To hear that Benefica creates a 60m buy out clause for a kid from Barca, that is incredible. And such a kid is leaving even without having any opportunity with our first team? There could be something that we dont know, which could be even personal.

  2. G6O
    December 30, 2015

    So do we have a buyback clause or not? I did’t see anything about one

  3. Jim
    December 30, 2015

    First of all, belated season’s greetings to all here who write, post or even just lurk. 🙂 I’ve been on a Christmas tour of relatives’ hospitality and am now thoroughly worn out and ready for the footie to return. (,Especially if Ronaldo’s finishing doesn’t get any better than the effort I’ve just seen against RS). Nobody told me getting old also made having fun more tiring !

    I don’t have a huge amount to add to this topic as I’ve hardly ever seen Grimaldo play.
    However, as it seems to have been quiet here recently and I’m sitting down to watch RM I’ve got time on my hands so apologies for what will probably turn out to be a long post – possibly veering into rant as that is what tends to happen when I write too much ! So from a distance :

    He is the captain of the Bs and by all accounts (one of ) their best player last season. So, should be worth a look but it didn’t happen.

    To me, we aren’t well off at all at LB. Adriano won’t ( surely can’t) still be here after this season, Matthieu ( although he should be a regular at CB) is in no sense a good option at LB. as I’ve said before he doesn’t like the the narrower passing angles or the constant shift up and down the touch line . Add to that neither of these is the right side of 30 and you’d think you’d have a look at the promising youngster but didn’t happen.

    Beneficial slap a €60m buyout on an unproven youngster that we let go for €1m . Enough to make me sit up and say hang on that doesn’t fit . Why have I not seen a bit at least of him in the firsts to form an opinion ? Didn’t happen.

    I’ve seen easily enough of Gumbau to know that if he is the first in line for a shot in the firsts the manager can’t have a high opinion of the second string. Not as if it is a position we struggle at. Busi is the best in the world at his position and, yes, we’ve seen enough of him to know that his omission from the various lists, although irrelevant, tells us that most of the judges don’t see much of Barca – or don’t understand how our passing game works. ( I’m off on another tour of relatives – tell me RM haven’t just been given a penalty for a ball that was always a good foot above Benzema’s head ? ah, it’s ok, he’s missed :). ). Anyway, if Busi needs a rest Masche can play there quite satisfactorily. As long as it’s not against top opposition. After that we have Samper, easily the most promising youngster I’ve seen anywhere this year, but no, Gumbau got the chances and it’s nothing to do with being a different type of player.

    So what we’re left with is guessing why it has ended this way with Grimaldo. He says he would have preferred to stay at Barca. Ok, reading between the lines for me that means he’d have been prepared to stay, wait and fight for a place but he felt that wouldn’t happen anyway. Why not ?

    Now we’re ( that’s me and anyone who has has stayed with this ramble so far ) getting to the nub. Why would he think he wouldn’t get a shot ? Possibly partly LE’s pecking order ? Munir, Sandro, Gumbau given chances galore and not taking any of them ? Or was it a more personal thing ? Probably the telling. event was Grimaldo’s comment about LE not really having any contact with him . This is my problem with those who put forward the notion that there is a plan in place for our young talents. If Grimaldo did play well in a poor team last year was there not someone who sat him down at the end of the season and said ” look it’s been difficult but you’ve done well and I’ve said to LE you’re ready for a shot in the first team”. He’ll it’d have been nice for LE to take a couple of minutes to at last acknowledge that.

    However, that isn’t LE’s way. Every thing I’ve seen of his man management style worries me. Generally the lack of contact with players being substituted or as they come off at the end sits uneasily with me. The events of last year, from falling out with Pique, through the short notice for Matthieu at LB to the end of year debacle which could have ended us for years if Xavi hadn’t intervened speaks inability to understand players. Not the same type of human beings, I suspect, but SAF always made time for chats with promising youngsters on the basis of reports given by his coaching staff. Not a soft man but he knew human nature. I think what is much more likely is that LE took the hump at Grimaldo’s comments and made it clear his time at Barca was at an end. Just as he took the hump at Matthieu and was about to with Mesdi’s fine – I’m shaking my head just thinking about that. ( Bugger, is that another pen for RM ? For a ball that bounces off his leg to hand? )!

    All of which is why I think it was a shame for Grimaldo on a human level. Although as I said I’ve no idea of his quality personally. Tbh, I’m more worried about Samper. If LE couldn’t see from his quality last outing that he’s ready and he has disappeared again, then we could get a repeat. Sometime soon.

  4. lala10
    December 30, 2015

    Enter Your Comment…its shocking the pens madrid have had. Utterly shocking. And the gall to award them twice when Sociedad had two more legitimate calls of their own denied.

    Simeone may have been right

    • G6O
      December 30, 2015

      I was just about to post that.

      This is absolutely blatant

  5. Dar_vincy
    December 30, 2015

    La liga referees always seem not to know how to cover themselves in glory.
    Their calls are the most highly contentious and controversial in Europe’s top 5 league. I was thoroughly perplexed and gutted the ref awarded us such a comical penalty, ditto the Madrid game. I had a lot of sympathy and empathy for the Betis team for an incidence that surely would have triggered bedlam in our fan base.

  6. Davour
    December 30, 2015

    Yes, that was not a penalty… but we would probably have won either way, though I am happy we did not face more fierce competition; team did not look sharp at all. Leo sloppy, Neymar too, etc. But still nice win in the aftermath of world champs and x-mas… Arda and Vidal up!

    And nice that for the first time in ages, the pichichi is not a purely Messi-Ronaldo affair; this year might be a turning point, where they no longer a considered the overall stand-out pair, come next ballon d’or (Messi will surely and deservedly win this one).

    • mazimi
      December 30, 2015

      I didn’t see the match but from the highlights it seems like we created a lot of chances, didn’t we?

      It was not a penalty though… terrible officiating.

    • G6O
      December 30, 2015

      We hit the post 5 times

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