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.
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.
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.
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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