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?