What to make of Malcom’s short stint with Barcelona?

VIGO, SPAIN - MAY 04: Malcom of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between RC Celta de Vigo and FC Barcelona at Abanca Balaidos Stadium on May 04, 2019 in Vigo, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
VIGO, SPAIN - MAY 04: Malcom of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between RC Celta de Vigo and FC Barcelona at Abanca Balaidos Stadium on May 04, 2019 in Vigo, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Malcom recently completed a transfer move to FC Zenit Saint Petersburg just a year after signing with Barcelona. What can we learn and take away from his one year with the Blaugrana?

Within a span of just a couple of hours on July 23rd, 2018, Malcom made the biggest and most perplexing decision of his professional career to date. In a dramatic turn of events, Malcom wound up with his dream club Barcelona in a move no one could have seen coming.

The Brazilian was just coming off of a stellar season with Bordeaux where he contributed 20 goals in all competitions for the French club. More importantly, he began to solidify himself as one of the most coveted young wingers in all of Europe. From the Premier League to Serie A, teams from across the continent began to show interest in acquiring his talent and started to accelerate talks with both agent and club for a potential transfer.

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AS Roma eventually became the frontrunner in the Malcom sweepstakes and soon afterwards, they came to an agreement with his agent. The dust had settled, and Roma were crown victors in the race for the Brazilian as his future would now reside in the capital of Italy playing for one of the most historic clubs in the country — or so we all thought.

In a shocking development, FC Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu swarmed in and hijacked the deal. Within hours, Malcom’s agent agreed to a deal for his client to join the Catalan club; the Brazilian’s boyhood dream became a reality.

But even after the entire debacle and the criticism it garnered, Malcom’s dream move was short lived. In one of the most unexpected transfer moves of the summer, Malcom agreed to a deal with Russian Premier League club FC Zenit Saint Petersburg just one year after moving to Barcelona.

For a player that was seemingly enthralled to play for Barcelona, the Brazilian is now back at square one trying to make a name for himself while looking to move up the ladder for an eventual return to Europe’s top five leagues.

The disillusionment from both Barcelona’s board and Malcom on everything that had transpired over the past 12 months from the Brazilian’s unexpected arrival to eventual departure does bring forth learning lessons that many other young players and clubs can learn and takeaway from.

From Malcom’s perspective, the decision that he faced on July 23rd, 2018 was one that many of the most promising young talents from across Europe face every year: move to a top club or go to another team that will provide guaranteed minutes?

For example, then 20-year-old Goncalo Guedes made the move from Benfica to PSG in the winter transfer window in 2017; however, the move did not pan out for either side. Guedes went from playing in 28 games for Benfica during the 2016/2017 season to a mere 11 with PSG. The Portuguese prospect was subsequently loaned out to Valencia in the following season.

It is essentially a risk for any young player to make an early jump to a top club but if it works in the favor of the player, it would all be well worth it.

When Malcom was confronted with this dilemma, he did not have much time to gather his thoughts and mull over his options; Barcelona needed an imminent answer considering his agent had already agreed to a deal with Roma. But a decision like this one is not an easy one to make considering both the internal and external factors that come with moving to either club.

Many agents and scouts in world football always place a high emphasis on younger players maximizing and making the most of the minutes that they receive on a game-by-game basis. Playing time in Europe is extremely valuable to any emerging young prospect and it should never be taken for granted.

Whether it is playing for a team in Europe’s top five leagues or elsewhere, the experience that comes with playing against a variety of tactical systems and under different settings can come a long way in both the growth and development of the talent.

This was something that Malcom and his agent internally discussed. Had he chosen to move to Roma instead, playing time would never have been the main issue unless his performances on the pitch became an unbearable burden for the rest of the team.

Roma would have not deprived him of guaranteed minutes on the team but rather looked to add him to their young core that featured Nicolo Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini. The opportunities were going to be bountiful had he moved to a league featuring some of the best defensive talents in world football.

But of course, Malcom — like many other young prospects over the years — jumped at the opportunity when Barcelona began to budge in and hijack the deal. It was a moment that he did not think would come so early in his career.

“All players dream of playing with Barça,” Malcom said after completing his Barcelona transfer. “I didn’t imagine it would be so soon, but I knew I could fulfil my dream of playing here.”

So, Malcom is here. Now what?

This was a question that Malcom seemed to face in his lone season with Barcelona. There was no clear-cut plan as to how he was going to be utilized aside from being the main backup winger, but even that option was not a guarantee for the Brazilian.

Before the home fixture against Athletic Bilbao in September, manager Ernesto Valverde made the tactical switch of moving Philippe Coutinho from the midfield to the left-winger role. This created a domino effect of changes as now Malcom was not going to be the main backup winger due to the rotation between Coutinho and Dembele up front on the left in the 4-3-3 setup.

As a result, playing time came at even fewer instances. He featured in 24 games in all competitions, including a mere six La Liga starts for Barca. From being a regular for a Ligue 1 team to now seemingly a castaway on Barca’s bench, Malcom had hoped for a much broader experience with the Blaugrana.

In retrospect, the move was far from a catastrophic flop by any measures. Yes, he did not feature in many games and the season could be viewed as a waste for the Brazilian considering the low amount of games that he played.

But he did make a significant impact in the opportunities that he was given such as with his Champions League group stage goal against Inter Milan and Copa Del Rey knockout stage goal against Real Madrid.

There were aspects of his that lacked such as with his 1.94 key passes per 90 and 0.7 successful dribbles per game in La Liga but nonetheless, his talent and exponential potential on display throughout the season overrode any major doubts over his abilities on the pitch

While his expectations of becoming the next generational Brazilian talent for Barcelona did not come to fruition, there is one silver lining in that he was able to learn from the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez from watching them up close in games and training. But other than that, the transfer move in hindsight for Malcom was far from the dream that he had once envisioned.

Needless to say, his transfer to Barcelona is one example of the downsides that come when a young prospect chooses a top club that has no game plan in place for the player over another one that can provide guaranteed minutes.

Now from Barcelona’s standpoint, there is one component of how they handled the Malcom transfer that they can learn and improve from. Of course, there are glaring issues about the professionalism displayed by the board in how they went about acquiring Malcom — a transfer move filled with drama and controversies. But more importantly, the one concern is how the board went about their decision process regarding making the aggressive push for Malcom.

According to RAC1 reporter Gerard Romero, Malcom was not a player that was asked for by Valverde. Now this is not to suggest nor plant the seed that Malcom was not featured in more games than he had hoped for because Valverde had a personal vendetta against the club over his acquisition.

As alluded to before, Malcom’s playing time hindered on the fact that Coutinho was moved to the left-wing position. Instead, the main takeaway over Barcelona’s acquisition of the Brazilian is that there should be more communication between the board and manager over transfers.

It is important that there is constant contact between the two regarding transfer deals, whether it could be because the board wants the opinion of a particular player or if the manager wants to request a talent to be brought in. They each should have the same vision as to how the club should approach the transfer window.

For now, Malcom’s Barcelona chapter has closed for good and both sides seem to be in good shape moving forward.

Malcom is now on a Zenit team that will certainly provide him with unlimited opportunities to succeed in multiple positions and flourish with distinguished roles on the pitch. But there is one factor that he must keep in mind while in Russia: scouts are always watching.

This move should provide him with an opportunity to showcase his immense talents in a new league. If he is able to enjoy great success and raise his value just like Leandro Paredes recently did while with Zenit, Malcom could soon find his way back to a top team in Europe’s top five leagues in a much larger capacity than he had while with Barca.

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Meanwhile for Barca, they were able to successfully make a small profit in their sale to Zenit. Even with Malcom’s departure, the team is satisfied with their overall attacking depth at the winger position.

As both sides move on, there is one good lesson to be learned that resonates strongly in world football today: always look out for the best interests in the long run.