The wait, that arduous wait for a major Barça signing, is over. I was able to relax this summer thanks to the seemingly endless rumours flowing through Twitter and the daily sports rags—and yes, I'm pretty impervious to Cesc Fabregas rumours—but now my holiday is over and it's time to welcome Barça's first ever Chilean signing.
Benvingut Alexis Sánchez, a 22-year old winger slash all-purpose player capable, if his Copa America performances are anything to go by, of filling gaps in the front five. His transfer fee is a €26m deal with an additional €11.5m in performance-based variables while the contract itself is a five-year deal.
He’ll play on the wing, in the middle, and up front, but he’ll also get back on defence. At times during Chile’s recent match with Venezuela, he played almost too much defence in a desperate attempt to get the ball back and score the equalizing goal. His tenacity was remarkable and at one point he raced from Venezuela’s box back to just outside his own to thwart a vinotinto attack. Unfortunately he was therefore out of position for the counterattack. It’s hard to fault him, however, for making up for his teammates’ own lack of positional discipline. There will be moments, no doubt, when his Barça teammates require him to dash in to cover some breakaway and we’ll all sing his praises if he pulls a Mascherano and keeps Bendtner from dashing our Champions League hopes in the final minute.
Whatever your thoughts about him, he’s most assuredly not a regular goal scorer. He scored 12 in Serie A this year, 4 of them in a single game, but has only scored 21 at Udinese in 3 years and 50 some in his whole career. There are players who would envy such numbers, but few attackers would; judging from comments around the internet, there is a significant number of cules who believe, like they believed with Ibrahimovic and Villa before him, that Alexis will score 30+ goals in his first year. You can put it out of your mind because it won’t happen. Certainly not in the first year and I’d bet not at all in his career.
Interestingly, according to Opta, Sánchez received the most fouls of any player in Serie A last year: 115. Generally this shows a willingness to take on players and the gifts to beat them and force them into bad tackles, which is good. He’s certainly fast - or perhaps he should be described as “quick” instead - and he’s got good dribbling skills, which should make his wing play effective. He’ll get plenty of games, especially with Bojan heading to Roma on a 2-year deal (more on that at the bottom of this column), but he shouldn’t be considered a starter from the beginning. He has to earn his place in the system through the kind of hard work that got him where he is.
I’ve previously called the signing a classic case of Barça over-paying and I stand by that assessment, but I do not believe there was any other way to get Sánchez if, indeed, Guardiola was hell-bent on getting him. I should also note that “overpaying” is a very subjective statement and it depends on what you consider the real value of a player (“whatever the market dictates is the real value of a player” is one way to look at it) and how you adapt to changing policies, inflation, and the rise of the global game. It would be a mistake to compare the transfer fees of 2 players from different years - is Alexis Sánchez 3 times the player that Yaya Touré was in 2008? Or is he just 1.1 times the player Touré was in 2010? If we end up paying all €37.5m for Sánchez, is he really a more valuable player than Dani Alves, who came in for €32m?
I’m not sure which squad number Sánchez will occupy, but the 9 is free thanks to Bojan’s glorified loan move to Roma that brings in €12m for Barça. What I mean is, Bojan goes to Roma while Roma loans us €12m; there is a buy-back clause of €13m that must be enacted in 2013 unless Roma stumps up €40m for Bojan (or, effectively €28m on top of the 12 they have already loaned to Barça). No matter what happens in the next two years with the little guy - and I hope great things happen for him - I sincerely doubt that Roma will exercise that option. And if they do, he’ll have to be worth it and we’ll be losing out on a fantastic player.
Would the perfect situation be that Bojan gets good enough to be worth €25m or so but not €28m and so Roma forgoes their option and we get a 22-year old €25m rated player back for, effectively, €1m? You could call it €13m and it’s still a great deal. Good luck to you, Bojan! Score some goals, win some trophies, etc. Just not against us.
Welcome Alexis and goodbye Bojan. It is not the dawning of a new era, but it is certainly the dawning of a new season and it’s just about time to get really, really excited.
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