Malcom in the middle, aka “This year’s cause celebre”

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.

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Written by:

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.

39 Comments

  1. damaso
    November 2, 2018

    spot on as always. its refreshing to see a fc barcelona blog which isn’t overrun with negativity and hate. malcom is a tremendous player, but not barca quality as of yet. i do hope he stays and develops…

  2. mvarfi
    November 2, 2018

    Brilliant summation.

    Malcom did look like an eager pup (“Deulofeu 2.0” would be harsh), but it’s still early days to hold it against him. As far as I’m concerned, he can take his time this season to fully integrate himself. Coming from Bordeaux to Barca is quite the upgrade. He can’t rush himself.

    Malcolm may have been great against Ligue 1 teams, but I don’t find that terribly reassuring. Not sure about other folks, but I remember the quality of the French league…

    • Khing_prince
      November 2, 2018

      What then do you call a Gremio to Barcelona move?

      • mvarfi
        November 2, 2018

        A dream-come-true move for Arthur and a lucky one for Barcelona.

    • Khing_prince
      November 2, 2018

      Why can’t that be said about Malcom, just hope he doesn’t end up regretting the move but as always EV’s actions must be justified.

      • mvarfi
        November 2, 2018

        It CAN be said about Malcom, potentially. But not at the moment. “Not at the moment” is the part folks seem to have difficulty accepting as unremarkable two and a half months into the season, or viewing as anything but calamitous for Malcom and/or absolutely indicative of Valverde’s ____________ (fill in the blank).

    • Khing_prince
      November 2, 2018

      I just don’t see how someone learns by sitting at home(where’s the logic in that), it’s much better he’s on the bench watching and learning then getting few minutes here and there and grow from there. I know I’m not an expert in coaching matters but I just feel EV is being a lil bit ignorant just like LE treatment of Alba

      • mvarfi
        November 2, 2018

        You say you’re not an expert, but you feel justified to call Valverde “a lil bit ignorant”. Where is the logic in that?

      • damaso
        November 2, 2018

        learning is done during training. like the article said, the pressure to win at barca is too intense and EV cannot afford mistakes during a match by a player who clearly isn’t ready.

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      I didn’t say he should be thrust into a match all willy nilly, but even if he could play atleast 10minutes at the end of few matches, that’s a start, it helps in match sharpness and builds rhytmn. Not all can be learnt in training

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      You know what I mean @mvarfi

  3. Khing_prince
    November 2, 2018

    “Valverde is accused of “hating” Malcom,of being unfair”.- I think he brought it on himself with his first comments on Malcom’s arrival. Loved the post but just don’t see how Tata Martino is weaker than Ernesto Valverde.

    • November 2, 2018

      Assessing Valverde starts with admitting that we don’t know anything, and that he has forgotten more about coaching football and selecting players than any of us will ever know. Without accepting that, all we have is animus and lack of knowledge.

      Decisions are affirmation, or no. We like what a coach does, or we don’t. If we like it, we applaud it. If we don’t, we label that coach “stupid,” or other such monikers. We don’t see training, don’t see anything except what (quite often) we want to see. It’s how people see goals, passes, etc, etc.

      As noted above, so many think that Valverde is somehow wrong not to play Malcom. Based on what? That is the entire point here. Based on what. He just isn’t that good yet, but has massive talent. He would start for a lot of clubs. Not Barça.

      But it means accepting that we do NOT know more than an experienced coach about assessing the talent at his disposal, that he doesn’t have ulterior motives in choosing or not choosing players, that he is there to do his job of winning championships. It isn’t blind trust. But when someone fixes your car, you might be a quite good driveway mechanic, but there is a reason you go to a professional.

      If we can’t admit that. there is no basis for discussion.

      • Hristo
        November 3, 2018

        Kevin i meet experience people in my profession all the time. Experience on its own does not make u wise, not even smart. Jeez…

  4. TITO
    November 3, 2018

    That professional can also make a mistake..

    To blindly have faith in your coach because, well, he knows more than you because he is there, inside, he sees things first hand…than, what’s the point of discussing at all?
    No coach is hired not to win something. It doesn’t necesseraly means that he cannot make a mistake, and Valverde has surely has a number of mistakes on his shoulder.
    Nobody here as i can tell is saying that Valverde hates Malcolm, some, same as i, are just wondering why he doesn’t get more minutes in a game when he should. It’s different from training. I know. We all can agree that there’s a hell lot of talent in him, just need to be nurtured.
    We as a club have a long history of misjudgement of a player, letting players go, buying wrong ones (you can put here a blind faith in your coach or the management), etc.
    Simply put, just because we are not a part of the coaching staff doesnt mean that we are wrong on some issue.

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      Couldn’t have said it any better Tito

    • mvarfi
      November 3, 2018

      Simply because I accept the possibility of other explanations besides ‘Valverde is a petty, stubborn dunce’, doesn’t mean necessarily that I’m lenient, let alone that I have blind faith. If anything, and purely in mathematical terms, it increases my chances of being right in the end. The faith I have, both Valverde and the team has earned.
      Also, in this very blog, I have accepted that Valverde will make mistakes, as part of the process. I just happen to agree with his decision about Malcom, especially after watching him play. Simple.

      • TITO
        November 3, 2018

        Is it so important for you to be right at the end of the day? To me is not, as long as i like to discuss about something, regardless how it ends.
        You assume that you know why Valverde is sitting down Malcolm, which can be totally wrong, unless you are a good friend with EV and he tells you these management secrets.
        When did you watched Malcom play? In his 25 minutes in total in league games along with our best line up, or in this one and only cup game with our second line up where almost everybody was shit?

      • mvarfi
        November 3, 2018

        Hmm… I’ll clarify. What is important for me is that the team and the coach do well, that I am fair when discussing players’ and coach’s performances, and that I keep my pouting in check. I have made no claim to know Valverde’s motives, quite the contrary if you’ve read all comments. I’m only willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it.

      • mvarfi
        November 3, 2018

        PS. Generally, folks discuss to make a point. How compelling their point is depends on how much thought they put into it. Aimless discussion, or discussion for the sake of saying something, is a waste of time.

  5. squeen
    November 3, 2018

    Kxevin, spot on.

    Let’s flip the page for a second and consider a season/squad where Valverde is forced to play Malcolm in big games because he has no other options. We would then be in a “transition” season and lower our expectations. The football would be spotty, less beautiful, and many of us would wonder if Barca was “losing it’s way” since we would be playing the type of football found at second-tier clubs like Bordeaux.

    Let’s just count our blessings in that we both have Malcolm, AND we aren’t forced to use him until/unless he’s ready to help the team play at the Barca level. He seems to have a good work ethic and he’s taking the critique of his game in the right way—i.e. by working harder and not complaining. Good lad and lucky us!

    • squeen
      November 3, 2018

      Also, this coach-antagonism and second-guessing—which has been going on FOREVER—seems to be its own sport, only loosely related to football. A variant of “If I were king for a day…”?

    • squeen
      November 3, 2018

      And again,

      To Kxevin, I don’t recall if I have said “thank you” for this space and your efforts recently….but I should, and do so now.

      Muchas Gracias.

  6. Víctor
    November 3, 2018

    He left out Malcom and that seems bad to many… OK, which player would you take out? Valverde called up: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho, Arthur, Luis Suarez, Dembele, Rafinha, Cillessen, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Munir, Sergi Roberto, Arturo Vidal, Alena and Chumi.

    If Valverde leaves out Rafinha people are gonna say “oh my god, he had an average match against RM and he gets dropped? How is he gonna get confidence?”, leaves out Lenglet, “what? is he crazy? he’s playing like a boss?”, leave out Munir, “guess he doesn’t trust our young players, what a farce!”, he doesn’t take Alena, “WTF? He played well in CDR, Valverde is an idiot, we need to develop players”…

    I guess that people would take out either Chumi or Munir for Malcom, but even if Chumi is out I guess people would be fretting about how Valverde didn’t take a reserve defender in case Pique or Lenglet get injured… and if he leaves out any of the big players like Rakitic, Pique, Luis Suarez, Busquets, Semedo, Coutinho, Dembele, Arturo Vidal, Jordi Alba or Sergi Roberto then all hell breaks loose…

    Either way: yes, I’ll bite, maybe leaving out Rakitic wouldn’t be a bad idea… he has played a lot of games this year, let him rest a bit more for the upcoming Inter match…

    However, and this is the important point… once Messi, Umtiti and Vermaelen return, there’s gonna be way too few spots for developing players… unless we agree that some “big names” should be dropped out for a few matches here and there…

    • Víctor
      November 3, 2018

      I swear, sometimes it looks like people want Valverde to roll out these players in games: Arthur, Vidal, Busquets, Malcom, Dembele, Coutinho, Messi, Rakitic, Luis Suarez… all at the same time… leaving just 2 spots, one for the GK and another one for a defender… of course, we wouldn’t have a LB nor a RB… or perhaps people think that he can put 16 players on the pitch in any given game…

      • TITO
        November 3, 2018

        We all wanted a big quality squad because our first eleven gets burned out by spring. Thats where Malcom or Vidal gets in, or Lenglet, or Alena, Rafinha. What if Malcom is a must do to various reasons, mainly injuries and he only has few minutes of play because, well, who knows, i surely dont. And of course,he is not ready.
        If he gets Andre Gomes minutes of previous two seasons and he is equally shit, then i wont mind we sell him.
        But, until i see him play reguraly to show what he is capable of, i wont judge him.

  7. Khing_prince
    November 3, 2018

    I wouldn’t say Valverde is “stupid”, I actually think he’s quite brilliant and very tactically astute but on the other hand he’s reluctant towards change(if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) unless he’s forced. On Tata, he just wanted to please everyone and ended up making a mess of it all

    • Hristo
      November 3, 2018

      Tactically astute? The whole world knows we don’t rely on tactics not even 40%. He is. Ery, very avarage.

      • Jassper
        November 3, 2018

        an average coach wouldn’t disorganize modric,kroos and casemiro with an unknown-Arthur, slow-rakitic, and busquets… just remember that…

  8. Khing_prince
    November 3, 2018

    @VICTOR…18 players called up right,only 11 are in the starting lineup and we already know the gala X which leaves a straight choice between Dembele and Rafinha…Which leaves 7 players on the bench and only a maximum of 3 substitutions are allowed…Who are our indispensables: Suarez,MATS,Rakitic,Alba,Pique,Lenglet and probably Busquets(a total of 7 players) which means only 4 players could get a chance to play(if he does a like for like replacement)…Taking a shot in the dark and predicting by usual patterns in the last few games barring injuries, it’s Coutinho for Dembele, Rafinha for Semedo and Arthur for Arturo leaving the rest that have no chance to play…This pattern leads to questions such as why doesn’t he give Malcom some of those Dembele’s minutes occasionally? Or why start Roberto and end with Semedo?(that’s a waste of substitution,why not trust one?).

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      On the issue of him watching the match and learning from the bench, to be blunt Munir is not gonna get minutes neither is Chumi and Alena except if something goes wrong bar injuries, why can’t Malcom be accommodated ahead of Munir or Chumi ocassionally and don’t give me that BS that they are backups when Alba has been playing all season without a backup… It would be better for him to get match experience than seat at home but what do I know right!

  9. Hristo
    November 3, 2018

    I’m begging to believe that Valverde is not only slow, rigid, lacking Imagination but feel deeply disturbed.
    Look at our line up! Rafinha starting again. Even though he was pretty bad. Semedo permanently benched. Vidals performance is awarded with a bench. And Roberto at RB.
    What a cunt of coach. He benches any players who does not kiss his ass.

    This twisted man will bring us another Roma night.

  10. squeen
    November 3, 2018

    Think about what Munir has paid in terms of waiting-dues for his game minutes (which are still few). Two years on the bench and two on loan. Can Malcolm really show up this summer and expect to start ahead of him? Similarly consider Semedo versus the years Roberto spend waiting.

    What is at the root of this (I believe) is the deep hunger some have for a more direct playing style and a player who will deliver it.

    With regards to Valverde and Roma—think about Guardiola at Bayern and his evisceration by Real Madrid in the Champions League (2014?). Coaches make mistakes, let’s not lynch him over it (or read too much into his motives).

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      “waiting-dues”-Hogwash…what about Denis Suarez, Alena that Arthur stole their thunder or Cillessen…when should their dues be paid?

  11. TITO
    November 3, 2018

    Aha, and Malcom cannot get some minutes in this Barcelona?

    • Khing_prince
      November 3, 2018

      Yeah, cause everyone is playing like a demi-god…what a rollercoaster of a match emotionally, hope we don’t use this approach against inter…the enthusiasts won’t see the flaws and be a bit realistic.

  12. georgjorge
    November 3, 2018

    Wow, what a truly bad game that was.

    I wouldn’t even call out players who were bad – which also makes the discussion about whether Malcom would have been better instead of X a bit moot – because pretty much everyone was bad today. Team win, team loss, as Kxevin likes to point out. Fatigue? Not taking this game seriously? Who knows, but better this game than the Clásico for such a performance.

    Except that Barca actually won this game, and that’s the one positive note to take away from this game: this team has a number of player who just won’t give up. They won’t fold under pressure, and won’t keep quiet if things don’t come together (and we know they surely didn’t today). Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba, Piqué, Vidal, Suarez – it’s enough to keep the team going until the final whistle, and that paid off today.

  13. Hristo
    November 3, 2018

    “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.”
    Thise are plain ignorant statements.
    Have u seen how many games Yaya played? Not 25 minutes Kevin. It became apparent he did not suit our style. Same like Ibrahimovic.
    Bojan played a lot more than Malcom… but in no world would have been able to make it in the starting eleven. Regardless of his talent. Just like Thiago.

    Thiago played a lot of minutes. His last season really showed his immaturity on the pitch. Dribbling himself into walls. But he is so good.
    Tito did not wantes him to go. No body did.

    U know what… Im gonna go and find the amount of games these have played in a single season.

    Yaya played 3 seasons; 38,43,37 games
    Thiago played in 27 la liga games,and 36 altogether. His best league total is 27 games for both Barca and Bayern.

    Bojan: 48,42,37,36 games played in.
    Andre Gomes: 47 & 31(Enrique supported his talent). So much so he played him out of position.

    MALCOM – 95 MINUTES.

    So Kevin how does your analogy makes sense or even fair comparison?

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