Barcelona's last-ditch signing of Malcom latest indicator of unpredictable transfer market

Andy West 25/07/2018
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Barcelona gazumped AS Roma to sign the Bordeaux winger.

If there’s one thing we can learn from Barcelona’s snap signing of Brazilian winger Malcom from Bordeaux, it’s that we should never be surprised by anything that might happen in the transfer window.

If everybody is really honest, none of us expected the Spanish giants to make a move for the 21 year-old winger, who was flying distinctly under the radar despite delivering two and a half seasons of impressive performances with Bordeaux.

When Roma made their move for the man, it raised few eyebrows in the global media scene and the deal would have gone through as a fairly routine summer deal. But then Barca decided to gazump the Italian club, whisk Malcom away and now – quick as a flash – he finds himself ready to line up with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

This was also after, don’t forget, Barca were supposedly frustrated in their quest to sign another player in the same position, Willian from Chelsea.

That deal had been touted for a couple of weeks and, although the fee looked very inflated for a player who will soon turn 30, it made a certain amount of sense: here was a seasoned performer on the highest of stages who had just returned from the World Cup Finals with Brazil.

Barca has been pursuing Willian before switching their focus to Malcom.

Barca has been pursuing Willian before switching their focus to Malcom.

Whether Barcelona needed him or were getting a good deal was debateable, but Willian did at least look like a Barca-calibre kind of player. Malcom, however, came as a bolt out of the blue.

Or did he? Did Barca really only jump into the deal after he had already agreed to join Roma? Or had they been tracking him for months? And were they really pursuing Willian with determination? Or was that just speculation fuelled by agents or the media?

In truth, nobody knows. Every transfer within every transfer window contains layers of intrigue which mean ‘the truth’ is always tough to decipher – even for those in the middle of everything, never mind those of us peering in from the outside.

The biggest transfer story this summer, for example, is Neymar’s off-on-off switch to Real Madrid. At the moment, that move doesn’t look like happening. But it wouldn’t take much for the deal to reignite, and right now even Neymar’s father (probably the most important figure in the player’s future) won’t know for sure whether it will or won’t.

This uncertainty and unpredictability might be a frustrating state of affairs, especially in the fast-moving modern world where we like to veer between dramatic extremes with little margin for anything in between.

“Come on!” we might rage. “What’s happening with Neymar? Either he’s moving to Real Madrid or he’s not!”

To answer, “Well, he might. But he might not,” appears to be entirely unsatisfactory, but it’s the truth. The transfer market is a complex and complicated environment, where nobody really has full control over anything (even Jorge Mendes) and every potential deal depends on a range of unconnected factors which could blow up or subside at any given moment.

Ronaldo's move to Juventus came out of the blue.

Ronaldo’s move to Juventus came out of the blue.

This means that some ‘obvious’ deals never happen (Gareth Bale to Manchester United), whereas other apparently unlikely moves end up going through (Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus). Even the tightest of ‘done deals’ can unravel at the last minute, replaced instead by a sudden jolt which nobody had anticipated.

Similarly, it’s often very difficult to predict what will happen to signings when they join up with their new clubs, and that’s certainly the case for Malcom at Barcelona.

Does Ernesto Valverde intend to plug him straight into the first team, presumably on the right wing? Or is he intended to be a bench-warmer, competing with fellow youngster Ousmane Dembele for a place in the starting line-up?

We just don’t know, and at the moment neither does Valverde, because a range of factors will have their say including: which formation will Valverde employ, a continuation of his 4-4-2 or a return to the club’s traditional 4-3-3? Where does the coach see Coutinho fitting in, as a midfielder or a winger? Will new signing Arthur command a starting place, and what would that mean for Ivan Rakitic? Has Luis Suarez, now 31 years old, entered a decline? Is Dembele ready to contribute with more consistency? Where will Messi play? And, of course, how quickly will Malcom himself settle and adapt?

Before we can assess whether the young Brazilian will have a major impact at the Camp Nou, all those questions have to be answered. And at the moment, the only honest answer to all of them is that we don’t know. In most cases, even Valverde doesn’t know.

Of course, that shouldn’t stop us from speculating and debating – that’s part of the fun of football. And the more informed our speculations and debates are, the better. But we should always bear in mind that nobody has all the answers, and that anyone who claims otherwise is lying.

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Ronaldo wins fifth Ballon d'Or but Real Madrid star's toughest challenge still ahead

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A sixth Ballon D'Or crown will not come easy for Ronaldo.

Peak Cristiano Ronaldo was reached this week, in a multitude of ways, when football’s grand ego received a fifth Ballon d’Or near the summit of Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower.

Sharp suit, eyebrows plucked to such perfection that a Kardashian would ‘throw shade’ at them and a self-satisfied thumbs up. This was fittingly gaudy further confirmation, if needed, about the Portuguese’s unchecked ascension to phenom.

Away from the diatribes about the sport’s premier narcissist and the trophy which caters to this behaviour, an innate truth is to be found.

To move level with the apparently incomparable Lionel Messi on a quintet of victories is incredible.

But to achieve parity from 4-1 down to the Argentine speaks volumes about a figure who has allied insatiable desire and divine talent like no other figure in the storied history of the Beautiful Game.

Another supreme challenge awaits in 2018. For the first time since the Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder seven years ago, existential threats to football’s duopoly can be found in both the rise of Neymar and increasing prominence of a rising Real Madrid superstar.

The question now is whether Ronaldo – and even Messi, to a lesser extent – can go to the well once more?

The likes of PSG star Neymar will be serious contenders in 2018.

The likes of PSG star Neymar will be serious contenders in 2018.

Ronaldo’s sweeping up of the individual honours has come at a time when careers are traditionally beginning to wind down. Of the multiple Ballon d’Or winners, only fellow Madrid luminary Alfredo Di Stefano was older when he collected his last one – the Argentine at 33 in 1959 edging out his Portuguese successor by one year.

France playmaker Michel Platini was 30 when handed it for the last time. Johan Cruyff’s run of success ended at 27.

There have been diverging hints this term about which fork Ronaldo is charging down. Just two of his 67 attempts on goal in La Liga have gone in, yet in the Champions League he’s become the first footballer to score in all six group matches.

That European competition also defined his greatness in 2016/17. An incredible 10 strikes were registered in the knockouts on the way to Real becoming the first club to return the trophy since AC Milan from 1988-90.

History will need to be repeated to hold off the pretenders to his throne during a year which will be defined by World Cup 2018.

Chief among them is Neymar. With the lavish Paris Saint-Germain project built around the €222 million (Dh961m) forward and with Brazil installed as favourites for next summer’s global extravaganza, usurpation could be at hand.

An enemy within also exists for Ronaldo. The irrepressible Isco was unquestionably Spain’s best performer this year, head coach Zinedine Zidane unpicking his latent talents.

The playmaker already looks on course to better last season’s combined tallies of eight assists and 11 goals in La Liga and the Champions League.

If Madrid become European kings for a third time in a row, the Andalusian might be their major source of inspiration.

Ronaldo’s unquenchable drive to be No1 means he will be aware of old rivals and emerging claimants.

Not that their challenge will create fear. Precedent dictates it’ll only drive him to new heights.

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UAE football must benefit from moment in the sun hosting FIFA Club World Cup UAE

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The UAE is set to take centre stage.

The eyes of world football return to the UAE on Wednesday evening.

After seven years away, the 2017 Club World Cup kicks-off in earnest when Al Jazira, the sole Emirates entrants, battle the veteran semi-professionals of Auckland City. At stake in the resplendent Hazza bin Zayed Stadium is a place in the tournament proper and the true oasis in the middle of the desert; a potential semi-final meeting with European grandees Real Madrid.

Football in the UAE is in need of the adrenaline burst provided by such exalted visitors. The heralded ‘Golden Generation’ of Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil and company was recently found to be made of pyrite, coming up short in an apparently predestined quest to make World Cup 2018.

Similar depression can be found in the domestic game. Declining oil prices have drained several star names away, while continued indifference and isolation make average crowds in the Arabian Gulf League remain small by most standards across the globe.

Yet holding marquee sporting events – with 2018’s competition to follow – is usually something in which the country has excelled. Optimism is not misguided about the football extravaganza ahead.

From the iconic Dubai World Cup and its $10 million bonanza for horse racing’s finest, to the glamorous Formula One circuit winding down its season in style at Yas Marina. This sense of grandeur is extended to golf and tennis, where the Race to Dubai and Dubai Duty Free Tennis tournament are among those cherished.

Will be the team to beat: Real Madrid

The team to beat: Real Madrid

Madrid are adored in the UAE, fervent fans sure to pack out each game and event they arrange once they arrive next Monday. ‘Fly Emirates’ adorns their treasured jerseys, while IPIC remain officially attached to the Bernabeu redevelopment despite reports in Spain of a split.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and the rest of their illustrious cohorts will be treated like sporting gods from the moment they set foot in the Middle East.

It is hoped that reverence is also granted to Gremio, Urawa Red Diamonds, Wydad Casablanca and Pachuca.
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Internazionale attracted huge crowds during both previous runnings nearly a decade ago, but large swathes of empty seats were regular sights for the best of the rest.

Organisers will be tested by such intense interest in Europe’s finest. Madrid’s last visit to Dubai in December 2014 led to ugly scenes outside The Sevens as an unexpected onslaught of fans caused about 2,000 spectators to be denied access to the friendly with AC Milan.

For a true legacy to be created, AGL holders Jazira must experience similarly exacting times. The Pride of Abu Dhabi’s Emirati contingent have missed out on an invaluable stint next summer in Russia.

For the continued development of the next generation in moustached playmaker Khalfan Mubarak, emerging full-back Mohammed Al Attas and his 22-year-old uncle Ahmed Al Attas, more exposure to elite action is invaluable.

Beat Auckland’s semi-pros, and this opportunity opens up.

Precedents for success by the domestic entrants are fresh. J1 League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima – with Al Ain’s Douglas scoring twice – finished third in 2015, while Kashima Antlers memorably pushed Madrid to extra-time in last year’s showpiece.

This is 10, rare, days in the sun for UAE football. It can’t let this chance go by.

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