Umtiti and the value of a defender

Samuel Umtiti and his agent are greedy. We know they are, because Sport has told us that they are, that they are demanding 9m from the club, an entity that doesn’t like the demand, nor does it like how his agent is going about negotiating.

And people react to this, because in a world of uncertainty, supporters grab onto any news at all, even from a source that is known to be unreliable, and opinions are formed. On Twitter, the presumption is now that Umtiti wants 9m per. Why? Sport said that. And he’s greedy, wants to mess up the team’s salary structure, wants to make more than Pique and Busquets, fine Catalan lads who are from La Masia. How dare he?

People think this, even though they don’t know anything at all, and that’s okay, because there’s nothing like a bit of transfer worry to roil the international break.

At 9m, Samuel Umtiti would be the highest-paid defender in the history of the game by a significant margin. Higher than Thiago Silva, who is presumably still trying to feed his family, higher than the likes of Stones and Kompany, higher than anyone in the game, occupying a strata heretofore reserved for attackers, the people who supporters really want to see getting paid. Defenders? Pah. All they do is kick balls away. Anyone can do that. They aren’t the most skilled players on a team, and don’t even score goals, barring the occasional lucky strike.

Defenders don’t have significant value to most supporters. We like them as long as they understand where they are in the hierarchy, behind attackers, midfielders, even reserve forwards. Their place in the team’s salary structure is defined by perception. They don’t even have the ball at their feet that often, hell. They aren’t skilled players. Like keepers.

When Gareth Bale charged at Marc Bartra, to score the goal that cost Barca a trophy, the excoriation was fierce. His fault, should have taken out Bale, why so slow, etc, etc. But Bartra was just playing to value. Why didn’t the glory boy attackers just go and score another goal?

At 85m, Virgil Van Dijk is the current transfer fee record holder for a defender. That is only 25m more than the piddling (how it is portrayed among supporters) buyout clause for Umtiti. What is the value of a defender? If a CB denies the goal that helps a team win a championship, what is his value? If a CB becomes integral to the way that a team builds play from the back, creates and helps structure an attack, what is the value of a defender?

Culers revere the dictates of the late Johan Cruijff,who long believed that the attack starts with the defense and the defense starts with the attackers. But the game doesn’t see it that way. Attackers score the goals, make the pretty plays, do the stuff that people want to see. Defenders just mess stuff up.

On form, Samuel Umtiti is the best CB in the game. The cloub got him for the bargain price of 22m, and paid him based on uncertainty. He is a defender from the untested Ligue 1. Let’s wait to see how this all pans out. Now we know. On aggregate, he has been better than Pique this season. If Pique was to demand 9m from the club, how would supporters react? How would Sport react? Would the headlines be, “Club doesn’t like how greedy Pique and his agent are going about negotiations?”

Probably not. Pique is widely perceived by culers as being better than Umtiti. He has tenure, has been with the club longer, is an icon on and off the pitch. Pique has more value for supporters than Umtiti who, in the eyes of many thanks to Sport, has yet to learn his place. He is a defender, an unskilled lout who prevents things from happening. He doesn’t create. He destroys.

We talk of Piquenbauer. But these days, the defender bringing the ball out from the back, beating defenders and delivering it to mids when the opponent press prevents a traditional buildup is Umtiti. What is the value of that? Can anyone do it? If so, sell Umtiti and bring back Bartra, or Muniesa, or promote some Masia CB who can do that yeoman work. What is the value of the best CB in the game, and should the game, given how it is played, value defenders as much as attackers?

The price for Van Dijk in today’s market doesn’t get you much of an attacker, unless you find a bargain. Untested Dembele was 140m, Coutinho 160, and they aren’t even world beaters. Neymar went for 222m, and will go for more than that when he moves to his next club. Mbappe was 180m. Value is clear.

If your attackers don’t score, but your unvalued defenders let in a goal, what is their value then? People will blame the defense — CBs, keeper, another player down in the salary hierarchy, by the by. “We lost because the stupid defense couldn’t keep out a goal.” But why should we expect more from them? They are louts who kick stuff away? Sell Umtiti, use the proceeds to nail down Griezmann, and grab some old defender. Barca will just outscore its opponents and roll on to glory.

The 1-0 scoreline has been present for a significant number of matches this season, even at Barca. That value of defenders?

Everyone thinks that Umtiti’s clause is low, at 60m. Supporters want it raised, think the board was stupid for setting it so low in the first place, put the player in danger of having his head turned by another club with deep pockets such as United, who can get the best CB in the game for a lot less than the record fee paid by Liverpool for Van Dijk.

But what is Umtiti’s value? Is he supposed to understand where he is in the world, or is he supposed to seek his maximum value, just as any of us would do in the marketplace? And what is that value? Is Jose Mourinho imagining a back line of Bailly and Umtiti and telling his money men to make it happen, no matter the price? Maybe.

Maybe Umtiti is happy at Barca, will do his new deal, and Sport is full of shit. Maybe.

Umtiti signed for Barca, knowing the club’s salary structure and its tiers. Every player does. This would, prima facie, make his alleged 9m per demands silly. Why would a defender who understands the system want to make as much as attackers? You know what you are getting into when you get into it. But at present, Umtiti is underpaid in context, just as his clause is low in today’s market. Both salary and clause are still that of an untested new transfer from a lesser league.

The Barca salary structure is reality. If the club had been able to transfer say, Mbappe, would people be talking about his salary? He would have walked in the door, untested at this club, making significantly more than what Sport claims Umtiti is demanding. 9m per for Mbappe would have been considered a screaming bargain. But come on. He scores goals, right? Who counts the goals that a defender prevents? What is the context for assigning that value?

Nobody will suggest that the club pays Umtiti 9m per. That would bust the team’s salary structure and cause all kinds of complexities. We can assume that the player and his agent know that. But we can also assume that the player and his agent understand the value of the player within the team’s existing salary hierarchy and would like to be paid value within that context. And that is fair. Why is the player greedy for seeking his best possible value, but the club not miserly for not wanting to pay a valuable player? Supporters side with the club in contract talks more often than they side with a player, an odd thing when you think about it.

A negotiation is two parties seeking the best deal for itself. Umtiti is. So is the club. At the end of it, an agreement is reached or it isn’t. Right or wrong depends on media perception, and perception of the player.

Umtiti seems to be, as we don’t know anything about the players outside of what they present to us via social media and interviews, a humble man who is calm, and dedicated to the club for which he plays, a club he dreamed of joining. There would seem to be nothing about him that indicates Neymar of the Defense. But Sport says …

At present, Umtiti is underpaid, and undervalued by the club for which he plays. He is negotiating a contract with said club, a contract that we can wonder about, wonder why it hasn’t been done yet, wonder as the United rumors continue, worry about him leaving. What would happen if he did? Not much, really. Pique would step up, the club would find another ball-playing defender and life would move on.

But isn’t that also true of midfielders and attackers? Neymar left, and the team is better than it was last year. Players come and go. Teams adapt, and move on. Value is a concept, based solely in what someone is willing to pay. If Umtiti was to leave Barca, his fee would in this game at this time, be a bargain. And he could write his own ticket. What is his value, and isn’t it about high time we began to think of defenders as being as valuable as any other member of a team?

By Kxevin

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.


  1. First off, I get that just like any other employee employer situation an employee has every right to validate his market value and push for the best deal can get in his Limited career span.

    But my problem is that when Barcelona really plucks these players, gems from relative unknown-ness like umtiti, Marc ter stegen, mina and they become world beaters by leveraging being showcased to the world on the grandest stages .. just one or two years later … you cannot now start behaving like you are the shit. show some respect to the big club that give you the break into big time and let the demands be reasonable. If he wants to earn more than busquets, pique, please fuck off. I’m not even saying he’s not as good. He is. But this ain’t the time. It’s too early Imo. It’s not like he is approaching the 30s and wants to secure that last one. He can and should demand as much if not more maybe in 2 years. When he has shown consistency and durability.

    But of course if you ask me.. my personal opinion is that club should just pony up and Splash the cash on someone who I think is currently as important as any other person one can think of within the Barcelona setup and the best part is, with him, we are sorted for 10 years. That is not a luxury of comfort that one can put a price on. Umtiti gives us longevity. Umtiti, Ter Stegen, are the future and under no circumstances should a club like Barca give even the slightest chance of potentially losing them. Neymar went. But fuck him. Let’s hope umtiti isn’t as greedy.. sees the value of playing in a good team and sees the sporting value rather than pure financial value.

  2. Barca salaries are in the region of 292£ and i dont know if this number is pro taxes because tax in Spain is around 42% and that would take the number to almost 400m.
    For a club that generate 800m per season and must also pay other sections well we are talk about 500m only for salaries.
    I am not against paying Umtiti 9m but something have to happen in the future with that problem.
    Juventus pay Dymbala 6m and Chielini 3m.
    Barca doesnt have EPL or PSG money to fight for the salaries that this teams can offer.

  3. Umtiti will do what he will do. There’s thousands of players that want to come play at FC Barcelona. If he wants to give up that honor for money, then that’s his choice. Players come and go. The club is eternal. I’m going to be really pissed if Messi starts against Sevilla and plays a full 90. He’s close to a burn out, and a major injury. I don’t want to have to deal with Roma without him and without Coutinho. This is were Valverde needs to learn from the mistakes of Luis Enrique and rotate and rest our star just like Zidane is doing with Ronaldo who isn’t even going to travel to Leganes to play.
    We have an 11 point cushion. We can afford to rest Messi in La Liga.

    1. Messi won’t play vs Sevilla. He won’t be on bench either. I reckon he won’t play any more Liga away games this year.

    2. Well, Countinho can’t play for Barcelona during this UCL season. Cup tied.

      A rule that was recently thrown away by UEFA… I wonder if they have considered how to deal with the suspictions that can arise because of that rule removal. (I mean, it was put in there because of a reason, isn’t it?)

      As for the topic: Umtiti does deserve a pay raise and that’s something we all agree on. How much? That’s where’s the topic at. Personally, I think that he deserves to be at the level of Rakitic. I dunno, however, if we should believe the rumors about him being “greedy”.

      And yes, center back defenders and defensive midfielders aren’t appreciated enough. And yes, big part of why that happens is because their main job isn’t as “flashy” or “attractive” as the stuff skilled playmakers do or as “awesome” that the saves that goalkeepers do. However, their job is just as important…

  4. What I don’t get is why the hell doesn’t Eric abidal have a word with Samuel umtiti?
    French. Black. Defender. Left. Calm. Legend.

  5. Im somehow not so worried even if we lose this one which looks very likely. Like it was bound to happen, but the 11 points ahead of AM are just too much.
    And next week they play with RM, so one of them is dropping points, so, as i said, not much to worry for me.

  6. It shouldn’t be fair.
    To be
    Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
    Or Lionel Messi.
    In this World.

    1. It’s pretty unbelievable. If ever there was a game the team deserved to lose, it was this one. Slow, sluggish from international break, without Messi, up against a strong and motivated opponent…but it seems the team has forgotten how to lose by now ; )

  7. Also, anyone else think that Denis and Paco had an important role on Barça getting the draw? I mean surely Messi gets all the praise, but I do think that we shouldn’t forget both of them as well.

  8. Bad perfomance but that was expected after international break and a CL game coming.
    Still this team is so good that can draw a game like that in 53seconds.
    Energy and focus were nt there,many players had a off game and people i hope understand we doesnt have the tools for 4-3-3.
    Dembele and Coutinho dont communicate with the team and that is logical without preseason and with games every 3 days,not enough trainings.

  9. The question with Umtiti is who the hell was so stupid to set the release clause at 52M.

    It’s not as if he was a La Masia product or someone we bought from the lower leagues for peanuts.

    We paid 25M for him, which at the time (just before the market went fully bonkers) was far from nothing.

    You simply don’t set release clauses at 2X what you paid for the player, much less so in a rapidly inflating market.

    That right there is the source of the whole crisis.

    Had they set the release clause to 200M, the player has nowhere to go until the year when his contract is up, by which point 9M would be a more reasonable wage demand, and there is no problem.

    We’ve suffered a lot over the year because of these release clauses, yet we still don’t learn…

    1. Release clauses are not decreed by the club, but negotiated between the player and the club. Sure, Umtiti wanted to come to Barca, but if his release clause were initially set at 200 million and he wouldn’t have gotten playing time at the club, he would be in a worse situation than with a lower buyout for choosing another club. So he had an interest in lowering it, which is only fair.

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