El Pivote (The Pivot) is a weekly totalBarça column by Anoop Jethwa about the trials and tribulations of FC Barcelona. From the positives to the negatives, this piece will dive deep into the living fabric that is blaugrana. We welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section.
El Pivote is back with a bang to fully discuss the controversial decision from Víctor Valdés to announce that he will not be renewing his contract at the club past 2014.
If I were an avid baseball fan, I’d definitely be using the phrase ‘this one came out of left field’. It’s certainly something which was not expected by anyone; the fans or the board. Reports have come out that supposedly some of the players knew about his decision, tried to convince him to stay, but ultimately failed. Just when fans of Barcelona could offer a little chuckle at the goalkeeping situation at Madrid, Ginés Carvajal, agent to both Casillas and Valdés, has managed to make sure all culés are firmly focused on the no.1 spot at Barça.
Valdés has come up through the system at Barcelona and has been around the first team when many a keeping episode has occurred, being in squads with the likes of Argentine Roberto Bonano, who hadn’t played in Europe before he arrived at the Camp Nou, Richard Dutruel, a Frenchman who had to help translate between Emmanuel Petit and Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, Pepe Reina, son of a former Barcelona keeper, and German Robert Enke, who is sadly no longer with us and who described the goalkeeping position at Barcelona as the most difficult in world football. When Frank Rijkaard came in for the start of the 03-04 season, new goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber wasn’t happy about being left out of the first league game despite not being able to communicate properly and despite the fact that he was not match fit. Being arrogant and vocal, Rüştü lost his chance under the Dutchman and Victor Valdés took advantage of the opportunity and established himself as the first choice keeper.
For the 2004-05 season, Valdés was officially handed the no.1 shirt. Jorquera, a Catalan who spent a decade at Barcelona, came in as backup. Two years later Pinto arrived from Celta Vigo and after a turbulent decade consisting of numerous keepers, stability between the posts was finally achieved. Valdés played against Malaga in the league on the weekend, Pinto was selected for the cup game midweek and a day later fixity is no longer a given from that pair in the club’s future.
Motives for leaving
It is unlikely that we will get a full explanation of the decision from Valdés before he’s left the club, so currently plenty will be open to debate and hypothetical theses. First of all, and possibly most importantly, is the issue of Víctor Valdés’s standing in the game. Whether he is world class or not is an argument very much up for discussion. There are some that argue he is without doubt world class, but then preface that by saying he’s the best keeper ‘for Barcelona’. There are others who point to the fluctuation between good form and world class form, based on a mélange of trophies won, horrendous mistakes, errors of concentration and vital, match winning saves. Unfortunately there are also those who believe Valdés has never been anywhere near world class and is easily the weak link of the team.
Let me quickly rattle off the last the one as being a poor, distasteful opinion to hold. Of course, one may be entitled to one’s opinion, but to treat Valdés with disrespect would lead to serious doubts about that person’s commitment to Barcelona principles. Just from Vilanova’s press conference several hours ago, the coach made it clear that, “Víctor should have a good, dignfied departure from the club”, and that, “I have no doubts about the professionalism of Valdés” [to perform at his highest level until he’s sold].
When speaking of truly world class goalkeepers who will be remembered as one of the greats in the history of the game, can we really put Víctor Valdés up there as one of them? The general consensus would say no. In a hypothetical poll after Casillas was dropped, thousands of readers of a Catalan sports paper overwhelmingly said that they would rather have Casillas in goal at Barcelona than Valdés. This would not have gone unnoticed by Víctor and perhaps this prompted a decision to look to ply his trade elsewhere.
The current Barcelona side is the best possession based team in the history of the game. With your team, including yourself in goal, keeping the ball so well all game, chances to prove yourself as a top goalkeeper can be hard to come by. I would argue that it’s those games where the keeper has virtually nothing to do all game but then makes one or two crucial saves from counter attacks that show the keeper’s true concentration level and right to claim world class status. These one-on-one saves that are as good as goals going in at the other end are how a goalkeeper is normally judged; and the goalkeepers that consistently make saves when they have absolutely no right to, when the forwards are destined to score, are the ones that deserve a truly world class status. Schmeichel, Buffon, Peruzzi, Kahn are some of the names that appear on that list. If Valdés has ambitions to be on that list, surely it would be advisable for him to leave Barcelona and prove himself elsewhere, where he will be tested a heckuva lot more; including but not restricted to counter attacks. Indeed, a player with so many club credentials, why on a personal level should he not want to seek displacing Casillas in the national team and win a World Cup in Brazil? As things stand, playing in the best team in the world has done nothing to put him above Casillas. With Casillas now having to fight Mourinho for the rest of the season, potentially destabilising his position at the club, what better opportunity for Valdés? Hypothetical theory yes; beyond the realms of possibility no.
Thanks to Ginés Carvajal, Víctor will know exactly how much Casillas is making at Madrid and could be demanding the same about of money from Barcelona, but I’m not sure Valdés is particularly motivated by money here. Whilst this is completely speculative, it’s perfectly possible that he’s already received an offer elsewhere to join another club at the end of the season, and in order for that to happen, higher wages must be included to take him away from Barcelona. Listening to Zubizarreta and Vilanova today, it seems that his departure is guaranteed, which leads me to believe Valdés already has a firm idea on where he is going.
That’s a good place to start for possible replacements for Valdés. Percentage chances for likeliness will be given.
Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich – I just cannot see Valdés wanting to leave Barcelona’s first team to contest a first team place at Bayern with German’s national goalkeeper. I also highly doubt Guardiola will have called up Valdés and told him that he wants to replace Neuer and bring him in. 5%
David De Gea – Manchester United – De Gea, Thiago and Mata were all outstanding for the Spanish U21’s European Championship win in 2011. They have all progressed well, and while De Gea is still adapting to the physical demands of the Premier League in England, it’s unlikely Ferguson will want to give up on such a young player and sell. Interestingly enough, Ferguson is a huge fan of Neuer. 15%
Vicente Guaita – Valencia – Guaita certainly has fantastic qualities as a goalkeeper, but has had plenty of injury worries in the past; enough to help Diego Alves become the first choice keeper at Valencia. He has, however, been a keeper that has come through the Spanish system and would easily adapt to Barcelona, and will not be too costly. 50%
Maarten Stekelenburg – Roma – This Dutchman will be cheap as he has lost his place in the team and he has the advantage of playing under Luis Enrique, so will be able to adapt fairly quickly to the style of play. Unfortunately one of the reasons he has lost his place is that he’s simply not good enough. If he’s not good enough for Roma, he’s certainly not good enough for Barcelona. I’d hate to see him arrive at the Camp Nou, but he’s available. 35%
Petr Cech / Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea – Although Courtois is at Atletico Madrid, he is on loan from Chelsea. When Mourinho wanted to usher in a new era at Stamford Bridge, Cech came in (albeit a Ranieri signing) and change was underfoot. Whether it be Benitez to come in as a permanent manager or somebody else, they’re going to want to stamp their authority on the team, especially if Cole and Lampard leave. Establishing Courtois, who has been improving rapidly under Simeone could be an option. This would make Cech available. Conversely if Courtois is wanted, but Chelsea persist with Cech, he could be available for transfer. Establishing yourself at Barcelona at the start of a World Cup season would be excitingly ambitious for him. 40%
Pepe Reina – Liverpool – Having watched Reina this season, I feel that his levels of motivation have certainly diminished and he would love a change of scenery. He still remains a good goalkeeper, but it is unclear whether he can recapture the form he has shown in the past. Liverpool wouldn’t sell on the cheap though. 20%
Iker Casillas – Real Madrid – If Mourinho is to leave Madrid, he would be open to weakening them but he will certainly not want to strengthen Barcelona by selling Casillas to the archrivals. Furthermore, it would not be his decision and the board at Madrid wouldn’t even listen to offers unless they were ridiculously high. Barcelona don’t have that kind of money, and I doubt Casillas would want to join Barcelona, despite having more Barcelona players at his wedding than Madrid players. 1%
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Borussia Monchengladbach – ter Stegen is a very highly regarded goalkeeper and seems to be able to take things in his stride. He is not fazed by the big occasion and thrives when he is under the spotlight. German goalkeepers always have been brought up well, with fantastic mental characteristics, and with the technique to go along with his mindset, I can see him moving to one of the top clubs in the world very soon. Adapting to Barcelona might take longer than the other options, but it would be money well spent, not based on a few performances, but the consistency throughout his young career thus far, including youth levels for the Deutschland Mannschaft. 60%
Passing the ball out from the back is Barcelona’s base; to build from the back, with every player on the pitch worthy of possession. People who believe Valdés is truly world class because he fits into this system well and can pass the ball very well fail to look at the bigger picture. Playing the beautiful game is part of Barcelona’s statutes, and never will there be a team full of players that forgets that and concentrates on winning at all costs in our colours. However, winning is also the point of football, and if it were just about being competitive whilst playing attractive football, Guardiola would still be in charge and under no stress whatsoever. Vilanova has tweaked the team so that direct play can be introduced more often and this has been the biggest factor for gaining so many points this season. The possession game still exists for sure, but the team has more flexibility.
The goalkeeper position at Barcelona is extremely difficult and requires good passing ability as well as the ability to consistently make world class saves. Within the system, Valdés has not been perfect. His passing is good, but he’s not the only goalkeeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Far too often, Valdés has either punted the ball out over Dani Alves’s head, hit stray long balls which go nowhere or given the ball directly to the opposition, Di Maria in particular. My point is two fold; one, he is a very good player for this role, but not better than all other keepers out there at distribution; all keepers train in that department now; and two, coming up big by making world class saves is far more important for a goalkeeper than distributing the ball decently. I wouldn’t mind at all if he had constantly booted the ball off the pitch as long as he had saved from Drogba at Stamford Bridge last season, saved from Cristiano Ronaldo a few more times over several of the past Clasico’s, saved from the breakaway against Celtic, just to name a few recent ones. Just in case you didn’t understand what I’m saying: it’s surely for the team’s benefit to have a keeper who can distribute the ball at least as well as Valdés, but also have the ability to consistently make more world class saves. It’s not disrespectful to Valdés to ask for this. Styles and systems are more important, but goals are the most important. Alexis Sanchez has great off the ball movement and works hard just like a Barcelona player should, but don’t you wish he had scored plenty more goals this season and last? We hope for, and expect, better from our no.9. Why not, whilst appreciating all he’s done, ask for improvements in our no.1 position as well?
Speaking of fitting into systems, Guardiola’s appointment at Barcelona in 2008 was fantastic because he knew every little detail of the club, especially having been an established player several years previous, and even captain of the club. Vilanova did not enjoy that kind of a reputation as a player, but he has seemingly improved the same Barcelona squad. The doom and gloom of Guardiola’s departure has completely been eradicated by Vilanova, and although he has no major trophies to show for it yet, any fan of football, let alone Barcelona fans, can appreciate the progess made under Tito. That should be proof enough that no one man is bigger than the club. Rest assured; Valdés is not irreplaceable. Looking at the Barcelona squad, there are certainly more important players we need to worry about replacing in the future. Until then, I will continue to enjoy and appreciate all of the players, including Valdés. Moltes gràcies, Víctor.