Kevin Prince Boateng became an FC Barcelona player all of a sudden, in a move that has heads being scratched hither and yon as people seek statistical ways, etc that the loan move makes sense. But permit a suggestion that a lot of people are looking in the wrong places.
The complexity of a transfer is that we bring our own baggage to it. This was, and still is most evident in the Paulinho move. Almost everyone saw a 29-year-old midfielder from China who came for 40m, instead of looking at what he did in the Barcelona team, or looking at 40m for a player who was an inked-in starter for the Brazil national team. At Barcelona, Paulinho made sense when he did what he did for Brazil but again, people were looking in the wrong places. Supporter transfer mentality reminds of the joke about the drunk looking under a streetlamp for his keys. When asked if this was where he dropped them he replies, “No, but the light is much better here.”
Boateng is a player who has been on quite a few teams, a laundry list of leagues and teams. The last time he was in La Liga was at Las Palmas, where he was coached by the current manager darling of culer cognoscenti, Quique Setien. A piece by Sport suggests that a convo between Setien, Valverde and the technical staff assuaged concerns about Boateng and his quality, as if memories of those days at Las Palmas didn’t already answer questions.
Luis Suarez is a unique forward. People think of him as a 9 but in reality he also functions as a winger who makes runs up the sideline, a facilitator who can play one-twos, a one-touch passer for an open teammate in the box. Finding a profile like that is quite difficult. Finding a profile like that who is a veteran player and understands his bench role, and doesn’t mind joining a big club for a brief stint is even more difficult. Grabbing Boateng is quite a coup because he meets all of those specifications.
A few months ago his former Serie A team, Sassuolo, played Genoa and there is a video that documents every Boateng touch. Look again at that list of Suarez attributes, then watch what Boateng does. He ticks every box on that list, in addition to being better at taking a long pass with his back to the defense, the holdup play necessary to get past a pressing opponent.
Boateng was front, left and center, running, pressing, scoring a goal off a Suarez-like break off the shoulder of the defense, flicking a deft pass into space to assist in the buildup for another goal. Late in the match he was even functioning for a bit as a 10. It’s important to step back and look at a profile rather than a player. Boateng fits that profile, and getting him was a great bit of business because the move is, in effect, a fiscal swap for Munir, a player who wasn’t going to be good enough in the environment that he was in at Barcelona. Even if Boateng does nothing, he will be as useful as Munir (sorry). Boateng’s visit also gives the club time to solve the deeper problem of a longer-term replacement for the aging Suarez.
Boateng also has an eye for the sharp pass, along with strength and stamina. He was running harder in the 90th minute than a lot of his younger Sassuolo teammates, laying off smart, precise passes at a time of the match when fatigue erodes skills. But, this all requires looking at the profile rather than the person. If you do that, Boateng makes sense.
And like it or not, the ghost of Griezmann beckons, who is also that kind of player, even as he is less Suarez-like than Boateng. It’s no secret that Barcelona made plans that fell apart — Griezmann staying at Atleti — including failed transfers, the Umtiti injury and Munir not working out. In the scrambles necessary to fix those glitches in the Matrix in the most efficient way possible, some slick moves have transpires. Jeison Murillo coming on loan was a strong move. So was Boateng. Both are in the cheap and cheerful category, understanding the stroke of luck that has befallen them and willing to, like Vidal, work like a dog to act like they belong.
The problem with Boateng has never been talent. Yes, he’s a 31-year-old forward who is considered something of a head case. Vidal was considered a head case when he came to Barcelona, and has been nothing short of a selfless, energetic force in the team. Suarez was considered a head case when he arrived, and his story speaks for itself. There is something about a locker room filled with assassins that tends to calm a rambunctious spirit.
In his first-day press remarks, Boateng said that he understands that he isn’t at Barcelona to start, that he is there because of his experience, and to help the team. Those are all good things. A fascinating stat came out this week, that Messi/Suarez/Dembele have as many goals at the same point of the season as Messi/Suarez/Neymar in its heyday: 50. The scoring is there. What Barcelona needs is someone to give Suarez rest, so that he isn’t the late-season zombie staggering about the pitch again. To be able to do that for a cool mil is pretty nifty.
Boateng will score some goals in this team. Mark it down. And given the type of game he plays, he will also help some goals be scored. He will work, pass, move, run, he will do everything except make perfect sense on paper. And that’s okay.