The magic of money and Andre Gomes

As the misguided saying goes, money changes everyhing. Get a big enough pile and it can even change a worldview, can convert a young player trying to fit in, to a waste.

“Andre Gomes has very good qualities to continue to grow and be an important player. He’s at the best place to do it.”

— Andres Iniesta

So, what of this? What of the idea that some dude who doesn’t know a whole lot about what it takes to be a Barça midfielder thinks about a player who most believe to be a waste of money?

A favorite voice on Twitter, Ramzi (@footballmood), said when Gomes was signed that he was going to take some time, but has the talent to become something special. Even if the multitudes aren’t that interested in seeing it, Gomes has frequently displayed flashes of that potential. When Thierry Henry came to Barça, he was already a football legend. He struggled his first year. Eric Abidal, now considered an icon, was in his own words crap for his first season.

Thiago Alcantara, now considered one of the best mids in the world was, at Barça, a mess compared to the incumbents who were his real measuring stick. You could see him come on for Xavi and watch the chaos ensue, even as you could also see the immense talent that he had, and the potential to become what he is today.

It’s easy to forget that Gomes is 23 years old. Xavi and Iniesta weren’t Xavi and Iniesta at 23. They were young midfielders learning the game and how it is to be played at Barça. Gomes has a number of problems, none of which he can do a damned thing about, almost all related to perception and lack of patience by a fanbase accustomed to a certain standard. Then there’s the money thing. It’s worth considering what the view of Gomes would be had he not cost what he did, a sum that acclimates supporters to anticipate sure things and immediate improvements, even as we have seen, time and again, the acclimation difficulties.

What would the view of Gomes be if he was a Masia product? We have some indication of this in the view of Sergi Samper, a player who isn’t even starting for bottom-feeding Granada but whom so many believe has the quality to just walk right into the best XI in football. This isn’t a knock on Samper, who has the capability for more than he is showing. Instead it’s an observation about perception, talent and price.

Imagine a six-foot-plus mid coming out of La Masia, with the skills Gomes has. He would “just need time,” and we would hope that he isn’t kept from blossoming at the hands of the wrong coach. He would be considered a natural sub for, and heir to Busquets. Instead he cost 35m, and is struggling. What a waste, goes the general worldview.

What would the view of Gomes be if he was less expensive, say, the price of Denis Suarez, a player also struggling, who gets nothing approximating the venom received by Gomes.

During the recent internationals, Gomes started for Portugal against Hungary, and seemed a different player, even as you could see the same qualities that made him attraactive for the Barça braintrust — physicality, calm on the ball, feet that belie a man his size, the ability to play the right ball. Going a bit deeper into this, lots of players can play a pass. What will make or break an attack is how the pass is played. Does the ball hit the teammate at the boots, or does it glide into space, easily controlled and in stride?

For Portugal, Gomes played a role similar to Busquets’, that non-holding holding mid who can defend, intercept passes and always facilitate the attack. Gomes isn’t Busquets. No player in world football is. But that doesn’t mean the position and need should be abdicated.

Gomes has had his best matches for Barça in that role, and it’s easy to see why. His attributes are similar to Busquets. He has soft feet that can take a pass. He also moves well on the ball, and can make defenders miss. His height means that he can see over the fray, can see potential passing angles that other players might miss.

If you remember Gomes at Valencia, his role was similar to Sevilla Rakitic. He was up the pitch, making runs into the box, going for the end line, making defenders miss and crossing, shooting and scoring goals, playing through balls.

But Barça already has players who can do these things, so what the heck IS Gomes’ role?

Rakitic came from Sevilla and shone for the same reason Dani Alves did: he slid into a part written for him. Other players, who struggle, are working to fit an existing template. Note that once Alves left and the role of Rakitic changed, people started talking about his game differently, not understanding the new job he had.

The reality is that we have almost no idea what Gomes’ role is, because he’s still working to fit into a team of mutants. La Masia trains speed. Not physical speed, but speed with the ball. A player works at the physical acuity that can control time, the first touch that provides time and space to do what comes next, the mental acuity to already know what comes next. It’s why Messi is supernatural, why Iniesta seems to float about the pitch, more seer than midfielder. It takes years to get that nous, yet we expect new transfers to walk in the door with it, if they are expensive enough.

Neymar cost a small fortune. Neymar also showed up and the coaches said, “Do what you do.” Luis Enrique decided to develop him, press him, make him more. Look at the quality of his associative play and defending now, compared to when he arrived. Streets ahead. It took the second-best player in world football, a massive talent, three years to work into the system. And he is still improving. What can we possibly expect from Gomes?

During matches, he lives in the crucible, the midfield. It’s a packed area in which geniuses live. Busuets gets the ball and does some thing. Off it goes. Iniesta takes a pass, spins, moves, off it goes. Gomes takes a pass and hesitates. In that time, everything changes, even perception. Slow on the ball, easily dispossessed, etc. What is he is developing the speed of thought, the facility that Iniesta has identified? What if Andre Gomes is what he is, a hugely talented player struggling to meet the standard set by a team of geniuses, who have been raised learning to play that way?

What would a 23-year-old Iniesta do in the Barça midfield of today? How would he be judged compared to the current standards that have been established by legends? It’s a valid ask. Even more valid is what do we expect from transfers? Of course, every supporrer expects instant excellence. But how often does that happen? Usually it’s a gradual bedding in, unti. suddenly one match, people say, “Hey, where did this player come from,” forgetting that he has been there all along, learning to become that player.

Time and patience is how young players develop. We willingly grant that time to youth players, then become miserly with it when it comes to transfers. Gomes is a 23-year-old midfielder who starrs for his national team. He is also, like any new, wet behind the ears employee at a successful company, a goggle-eyed neophyte. A big fee doesn’t alter the rigidity of that formula.

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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.

13 Comments

  1. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    March 30, 2017

    \\

    Really nice article.
    Very balanced and the right perspective to take on a developing young player.
    Point is that the barca fan base expect a transfer that costs upwards of 40M to starrt delivering right away. Yes it is kind of unfair in today’s bloated market, but also to be expected.

    Neymar, Suarez, Villa, all north of 40 came and started delivering immediately. I loved the fact that even the darling catalan cesc was shipped out precisely on merit. I really love that about my club. So your suggestion that Gomes will be accepted differently were he a masia product does not hold that much water for me. I would like to (perhaps naively) believe that my club signs and retains and sells player based on merit and performances. But i dont think it is that far from the truth.

    On Andre Gomes, i think most people are objective enough to see that the barca directors and technical staff (who obviously know waaaay more than us) saw something in him to justify splashing that cash. It is just that it is unclear at the moment where he fits, what his precise role is and how that fits in to building the correct midfield for the future – a position and a zone on the pitch where barca has always fielded brains, skill, technique and consistency.

    Mentioning that he could be the one that could be sold, were Barca interested in strengthening their personnel does NOT mean that he is dismissed as shite and we have no patience.
    No.
    We all want our players to succeed.

    • Davour
      March 30, 2017

      I wonder, though. The players you mention are all attacking players, and I do believe the midfield is the most difficult position at Barca. Suarez was not great initially, but found his feet pretty quickly (when he found his role). Villa was solid for a season, but he had played with these guys for years in the NT. Neymar was pretty good his first season, but he is a unique and rare talent. Rakitic is a better comparison – he also delivered during his first season. But, as Kxevin points out, he had a clear role – and that was not a creative one; Ivan has always struggled with the speed of Barca’s passing, and has not shone in a more creative role.

      Gomes has had his moments of good play; for me, he has simply been given too much responsibility too soon, and that is on LE – though Iniesta’s injury perhaps left him with little choice, as neither Arda nor Denis have been solid as CM. If Gomes is able to find his confidence and to make his flashes of brilliance the norm, he might very well flourish at Barca. At the moment, he is overthinking his every move and getting lost in the process. Finish this season, add a full pre-season during which he must be given a clear Barca ID, and we might see a different player. Not a genius, I don’t think, but a facilitator, at least.

  2. PPos
    March 30, 2017

    Yeah I sometimes forget that he’s only 23 and that he just stepped into the best team in the world. I just hope the confidence will come and he starts contributing headers or long distance goals, because we need them. In order to break the reliance on MSN, we need midfielders that can shoot from far and score like Thiago, Nainggolan, Touré, Vidal (blegh), Kroos (blegh). My problem with Gomes is the lack of commitment in his body language. He sucks at pressing. He logs about the field with no fire in his chest. Just going through the motions. If you wanna know how to not to press, watch the first leg of the PSG game. Búsquets knows how to tackle. Gomes needs to learn that too. Sometimes at Barca we get so caught up in our beautiful attack minded game that we forget to defend. Looking at you Jordi! We need a balanced squad if we are to challenge for titles. The other day I read a great article in ESPN FC about the demise of football’s hard men like Roy Keane, Patrick Viera. Keita in a way was our hard man a few years back.

  3. Davour
    April 2, 2017

    I say, Suarez is back, Busi is king and Paco & Ney (nr 100) on the scoresheet. Decent!

    • Mishti
      April 2, 2017

      Busi truly was insane today. And Luis, just like last year, seems to be up for the business end of the season.

      If Rafa is out for a few weeks (seems to be the minimum), then, with Arda out, is it Paco Alcacer as our new RW? He didn’t do too badly today.

  4. luisthebeast
    April 2, 2017

    Good perfomance and we could score more.
    But it s bad that after Vidal and Turan also Rafa will be out for some time and we have 8 games in 28 days.
    For me it was not right that we did nt signed a replacement for Vidal,as i was mad back in 2011 when we did nt sign a replacement for Villa.

    • Grindelwald
      April 3, 2017

      It’s very obvious Neymar and Suarez were tired yesterday, kudos to Suarez for his all action display though, neymar later picked it up in the dying minutes to almost rack up two goals. I’m sure Arda will be fit before the classico games.

  5. Jim
    April 2, 2017

    Another decent result minus some important first teamers – not a whole lot more to say. Just popped on to say I’m off to Italy for a couple of weeks and may not be on as much lest anyone harbour concerns regarding my advanced years 🙂

    Well, it’s the Sistene chapel roof and the vineyards of Tuscany or the merits of a mixed zonal / man marking system for set pieces – what can I say . . .

    • Mishti
      April 3, 2017

      Thanks for the advanced notice this time around 🙂 And between the two options you outline, you have totally picked the right one!

      • Jim
        April 3, 2017

        Just arrived in our first stop, Venice, for the first time and it’s unbelievable ! . And why is it that ageing Italian gentleman can carry off that George Clooneyish casual elegance better than any other nation ?

        Just been stung for my first bottle of Brunello Di Montalcino and earlier had my first earnest discussion with what looked like two ex gondoliers about the merits,or in my case otherwise, of catenaccio ! ( I know, it’s not like me to get into an argument . . . ) They were harking back to a golden era of Italian defences to which I refused to award any merit. Thought I was doing well till My wife pointed out that they’d carried on the whole discussion in English and my expertise ended with “Grazie”.

        • Mishti
          April 3, 2017

          “And why is it that ageing Italian gentleman can carry off that George Clooneyish casual elegance better than any other nation ?” Sprezzatura comes to mind, they invented it.

  6. TITO
    April 3, 2017

    Concerning Rafinha and his constant injuries.
    Regardless his talent and impact on the field when he plays, he is injury prone, and if this trend continues he wont last long with us.

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