It’s that time of year again. Little less travelling, no matches but a tsunami of questions about the transfer market – some of which I can answer, some of which I can’t.
Right now the key question in the transfer market seems to revolve around strikers, their availability and, above all, their price/value ratio.
I often recur to the teachers of Sir Alex “Confucious” Ferguson in matters like this – usually to quote good/savvy practice, sometimes not.
Sometimes even Fergie pitched his tent in the wrong place. He won’t worry about many of those occasions because one of his doctrines was that it was vital to take decisions, not to dither.
A guiding value in his football GPS was that others would postpone, would shrivel, and by prevaricating would fail.
At Manchester United he reaped the benefit of his wisdom on a myriad of occasions but the corollary of his idea was that, occasionally, he’d get something wrong but wouldn’t waste very much time lamenting it because there has to be a collateral price for strong decisive action.
The case in point was Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid striker just won his third Champions League final, playing an average of 78 minutes in each of the Lisbon, Milan and Cardiff showpieces.
He’s scored nearly 40 Champions League goals since joining Madrid in 2009 and his trophy total with los Blancos now reads: 12.
When he came up for sale eight years ago and Lyon had two suitors, United and Madrid, Ferguson was unusually forthright.
“We tried to get Benzema but as soon as that dropped through we went for Michael (Owen),” he explained. “The price tag on Benzema was beyond his value and if other clubs want to go to that then it’s entirely their business. We had a value and didn’t want to go above that.
“Lyon got 42 million Euros for him and they will be happy with that. They have done well. All this says is that we are sensible.”
That season United lost the title to Chelsea by a point having scored 17 goals fewer than them, lost in the FA Cup third round to Leeds at home (1-0) and went out to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final … wait for it! … on away goals.
The Benzema decision may have been “sensible”. But Michael Owen’s signing, instead, didn’t bring what the club needed, the lack of goals cost them instantly and the French striker, not that he’s an uncomplicated character, has gone on to achieve stellar success at the Santiago Bernabé* playing in all white.
More, he’s one of those footballers you’d pay to watch. Occasionally profligate he’s nevertheless that lovely mix of talents where he’s technically exceptional, full of flair, football-intelligent, capable of 25 goals a season but, most importantly, capable of bringing more out of those around him – notably Cristiano Ronaldo.
I liked Benzema’s social media comment on Saturday night when Fergie came down to the Real Madrid dressing room after the holders became the first club to retain this trophy and Benzema won this third medal (one more than Sir Alex).
“Fergie time” his tweet read. No hard feelings … obviously.
There was, too, an attraction for Benzema in playing for Madrid – Brazilian Ronaldo was always his hero growing up and while he was stellar with PSV, Inter and Barcelona it was at Madrid that he caught the Lyon trainee’s eye and captured Benzema’s heart.
So, back to today. People seem astonished that Madrid would value Álvaro Morata at over £50m.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Don’t imagine that I wouldn’t advocate some sanity in the football money-sphere – there is excess, the rich-middle class-poor gap has never been wider and the debate isn’t too unlike the issues facing us in yesterday’s general election.
However, Morata is a fabulous footballer. Still raw, but with more trophies at club and country level aged just 24 than should be feasible – including playing in three Champions League finals, scoring in the one he lost, winning the World Club Cup and becoming European champion with his Spain age-group. Twice.
His La Liga scoring-rate this season (goals per minute on the pitch) is second only to Leo Messi, he scored more than Karim Benzema and what’s plain to see is that once he’s given the responsibility for playing the lead-striker role there’s more to come. More goals, more trophies, more experience, more leadership, more flair.
Just take a look at his divine equaliser for Spain on Wednesday against Colombia. Exquisite.
Physically he’s built to stand the pace and power of any league, England included, and his “nous” was shown by the fact he not only survived but thrived for Juventus. Tough school Serie A.
So, lest there be any doubt – Madrid would rather keep him than sell him but if he MUST go (and they player wants to make the leap to principal striker rather than successful stand-in) then the Spanish champions must cash in.
Particularly while the market is so overheated. Kylian Mbappé may still leave Monaco, on balance I think that might happen despite the wisdom of him staying and gaining experience, and if he does it’ll generate a world record fee. For a kid, however talented he is.
Madrid, Man City and Arsenal are in a pitched-battle for the young Frenchman while, until Atleti’s transfer ban was upheld, there can be no doubt that United were on the point of setting a world record fee for Antoine Griezmann.
All of which makes me think that Antonio Conte has taken leave of his senses not only in deciding to dump Diego Costa, but doing it in such an offhand way. Unless, of course, he has Morata lined up.
Prepare for weeks of being bamboozled by rumours, stratospheric figures and transfer market irascibility. But it’s not just bragging rights at stake – it’s goals. And like in the San Francisco goldrush of the 19th Century you have to claim your stake. At almost any cost.