Every year, there has been a player. Under Pep Guardiola it was Toure Yaya, then Bojan Krkic.
Under Vilanova it was Thiago Alcantara.
Under Tata Martino is was … well, it doesn’t really matter.
Under Luis Enrique it was various players. Then it was Andre Gomes, various B team players (most notably Grimaldo).
Under Ernesto Valverde, a coach even less well liked than Luis Enrique — quite an extraodrdinary accomplishment — it is, this week, Malcom.
For the unfamiliar, Barça spent 40m for Malcom, hijacked from a prematurely announced Roma transfer. He is a quick, sharp winger with a dynamite foot, who kicked butt in Ligue 1. He is a massive talent, who works hard in every phase of the game. That he is a talent for the future is something lost on a lot of people, because money. In a transfer market gone mad, when 140m buys a messy-but-talented French winger, 40m is the new 15m. Rakitic, who was acquired for 18m from Sevilla what seems like ages ago, would cost more like 100m now. It’s crazy.
That same fiscal math that people use to lay expectations on Dembele should also apply to Malcom. At Roma, Malcom would have played with regularity, and grew, and learned. He would have made mistakes, people would have ridden him and his time would have been more or less erratic.
At Barça he is a talent, but a prospect. But because of the view of Valverde, Malcom is something much more. And that is wrong. Malcom and his qualities don’t change because he cost 40m, or because people don’t rate Valverde. It’s really hard to step back and look at a situation. It sucks, and the people who do it aren’t all that well accepted. Like Valverde.
A coach’s job is to win matches. To do that, he chooses players that will help him win. If he doesn’t win, he gets fired. Coaches don’t get fired for not doing what supporters want, for not playing players that supporters deem of value. Coashes don’t care about that. They shouldn’t. Weak ones do.
What killed Tata Martino was that he was weak. He started the season playing his style of football, and the team prospered. Midway though, when his team beat Rayo 4-0 but lost the possession stat, people freaked out. The entorno went wild, Barça Twitter went berserk, and players talked about getting away from “The Way.” Meetings were held, and the old way, the way that opponents had sussed out, returned.
And Mamtino’s team went silverless when it looked destined for so much more at the halfway point of the season. He was a weak man. Luis Enrique wasn’t, Ernesto Valverde isn’t. Of all things, it is important for a Barça coach not to be weak. It’s also important for a Barça coach to do his job, which is to win. Period. Yes, there is a style of football, and properly integrating academy players who are good enough. But even that isn’t sufficient for a pariah such as Valverde, who is being slated for including Carles Alena in a match squad over Malcom.
Goes to show how the goal posts can change. It wasn’t that long ago that he was being slated for misusing Alena, who came back from a long-term injury and worked his way back to fitness with the B squad. Alena came on for an injured Sergi Samper in the Copa match against Cultural Leonesa, and sparkled. To the manor born, he was. It was fantastic to see, even if it was against a Segunda B side, because dude was coming good.
There was a time we all would have been excited about Alena finishing off his long road back by making a match day squad. Not any longer. Now Valverde is a fool for not playing Malcom.
Malcom is a talent. Malcom has shown promise. Malcom has energy, works hard on defense. Malcom is also something of a headless chicken. If someone like me, who isn’t a trained avaluator of talent, can see that, what can we supposed a skilled, veteran coach such as Valverde can see? And what do we want to see?
When Malcom was signed, he wasn’t all that welcome. People wondered what of Dembele, how could the club sign someone who would threaten their prize transfer? What a stupid transfer. And they are stupid again, now that Malcom is here. Everything moves. Now Dembele is in doubt, Valverde is still a horrid man manager because he isn’t playing Malcom, who is this season’s cause celebre.
When you watch Malcom, it’s clear that he isn’t sufficiently refined enough to have a regular place in the Barça XI. Sorry. His touch is wayward, he makes poor decisions on and off the ball, and doesn’t know what to do. Ah. The best way to sort that out is to play him. No. Valverde wouldn’t be doing his job if he did that. He would be succumbing to a weird kind of pressure that no respected coach would succumb to. Most of us would think less of Valverde if he succumbed to that pressure. Malcom is where he belongs, in a place where he can improve in training, learn how to play and assimilate into the most difficult club in football.
Valverde is accused of “hating” Malcom, of being unfair. Valverde is doing what is necessary for him to do his job, which is to help that team win. Matches, trophies, to strive to make history. A barça coach has to do these things:
— Play correctly
— Win every trophy
— Integrate Masia players into the first team
— Be likable
Valverde brought in and assimilated Arthur, who with his presence that helped Barça play in a way that people like. He did the domestic double last season, and was one asful match away from probably winning Champions League. This season, he has worked with Alena, Puig, Miranda, Chumi, Cuenca and others, all with an eye toward assessing their talent. It has been a while since that has been an option for a Barça coach, which is something not everyone wants to hear. But it’s worth saying.
Valverde isn’t likable. We know this because when Sergi Samper suffered yet another horrible blow in his ongoing quest to succeed at his boyhood club, Valverde offered him consolation as he came off the pitch, in the way of a hug. And some were surprised. Not me. Because part of that job of winning and preparing his team is to tend to all of the players, not just the ones that people think are cool.
What is hard for us to accept is how little we know, and how little we will ever know. So we speculate. And natter. And chatter. And take to social media with various notions, all based in a lack of knowledge. It’s unfair. To the team, to the players who deserve the spot that we scream about being taken from others. It is every bit as unfair as we allege coaches being.
Discussion is part of football fandom. It’s always fun, or it should be. It becomes a lot less so when we tilt at windmills of ignorance.