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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
May 26, 2014

Decoding Luiz's PSG move, examining Real Madrid's fickle nature, more

FC's Gab Marcotti, Steve Nicol, Shaka Hislop, and Alejandro Moreno question whether David Luiz is worth his record transfer fee.

We don't know exactly how much Paris Saint-Germain will pay to sign David Luiz from Chelsea. Reported figures have ranged from $67 million to $80 million; you suspect that some part of it may be performance-related.

What we do know is that the player is treating this as a done deal. Witness his tweet the other day:

We also know that whatever the final number turns out to be it will be a world record for a central defender, eclipsing the $57 million PSG paid for his Selecao teammate, Thiago Silva, two years ago.

The first reaction is that PSG overpaid wildly. David Luiz is five months older than Thiago Silva was when he made the move to Paris two years back. For David Luiz to cost anywhere from $10 to $23 million more than his Selecao colleague, he'd have to be a whole lot better. (There is some inflation in fees, but not to that degree.)

And simply put, he's not. Indeed, he's not even the same zip code. We're talking about a guy who could not beat Gary Cahill and John Terry to a starting spot in Chelsea's lineup. It's not a knock on Chelsea's centre-backs; it's just a reflection on how the most expensive central defender in the world really ought to find playing time at his preferred position. Instead, he made just 15 Premier League starts, nearly half of them in central midfield.

Nor is it a case of Jose Mourinho simply failing to appreciate his talents. His predecessor Rafa Benitez also shunted him into the middle of the park often. In Benitez and Mourinho you have two guys who -- in addition to not being top of each other's Christmas card list -- have fairly different visions of how the game ought to be played. And yet neither saw David Luiz as a guy to build a team around.

Luiz does have an unusual skill set. Much has been made of his occasional lapses in concentration; Gary Neville famously observed that it looked as if he was being "controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation." But even if he read the game like a combination of Franco Baresi and Bobby Moore, he still wouldn't be close to Thiago Silva.

You wonder if somebody at PSG didn't get a little carried away with the fact that here was a chance to recreate Brazil's starting centre-back pairing at the Parc des Princes.

Luiz deal an insult to FFP?

The corollary point to the David Luiz deal is that it seems to fly in the face of the financial fair play settlement PSG reached with UEFA's Club Financial Control Body 10 days ago.

PSG, of course, were in severe breach of the regulations, in part because of that absurd contract with the Qatar Tourism Authority. It looked like a classic bogus sponsorship and UEFA saw it as such, writing in its settlement agreement that it had assigned it a "fair value significantly below that submitted by the club."

As part of the settlement and in addition to other sanctions, PSG agreed to limit its losses to $41 million over the next financial year and to break even in 2016. They also agreed to freeze wages, working out a complicated (but largely undisclosed) system whereby the number of new signings that could be registered for the Champions League was contingent on their net spend this summer.

Note that we don't know what those net-spend limits are -- and here UEFA are at fault, because they could and should have been more transparent. Manchester City, who were hit by similar sanctions, wrote in a statement that their net spend is capped at $81 million. PSG's could be the same or it could be different. We just don't know.

That said, if they are subject to the same rules as City, this one Luiz deal would gobble up the bulk of their net-spend budget, meaning that there could be no other big-ticket purchases (like, say, Paul Pogba) this summer unless they raise some cash through player sales. Marquinhos and Edinson Cavani have both been the subject of transfer rumors, but there are two problems here.

First and foremost, when a buyer knows you're forced to sell, it drives down the transfer price. Marquinhos has been linked to Barcelona -- he says, predictably, that "he's flattered." But you're not exactly going into a negotiation from a position of strength when you're trying to hang on to a guy whose replacement you've just bought.

Cavani is in a similar situation for slightly different reasons. He accepted a season of busting his rear end on the wing in deference to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Ibra turns 33 in October and his contract has been extended through 2016. Cavani holds all the cards here should he want to force a move.

The other consideration here is technical. Marquinhos only turned 20 this month and PSG paid $43 million for him a year ago. Scouts drool over his potential -- he's ridiculously quick, he's comfortable on the ball, his tackles are perfectly timed -- although he's also a somewhat undersized central defender. The idea was to groom him to be a starter after a transition season. If he goes he'll need to be replaced given that, among centre-backs, Alex is out of contract (although there are rumors he'll sign a new one) and Zoumana Camara is 35. That means more spending.

As for Cavani, if he goes, all your eggs are in Ibra's basket. Unless you sign another centerforward, of course, but that means spending big (again) as well as finding a replacement of equal ability who won't mind a season (or more) in Ibra's shadow.

All that though concerns the net spend/new player registration component of the settlement. Theoretically, they could breach the limit and then simply not register David Luiz (or, more likely, another new signing) in the Champions League squad list. It's not ideal, but it wouldn't be catastrophic either.

The real issue is how an expense like this meshes with the other requirement: no more than a $41 million loss next year. Breach that and the $55 million fine, which was suspended, comes back into play. In addition there's the existing FFP break-even requirement, which, for next year, will be $61 million over three seasons. How they can possibly satisfy that -- even with amortization -- when they're dropping such sums on the likes of David Luiz is a mystery.

UCL win exposes Real Madrid's fickle president

The nature of managing Real Madrid is such that perhaps more than any club of comparable size, you're always in the hottest of hot seats. So it's probably not surprising that plenty of media outlets were reporting that Carlo Ancelotti would have been sacked if Real Madrid failed to win the Champions League on Saturday.

I don't think this was purely media-driven speculation, either. A club like Real Madrid is a political place; there are plenty of folks orbiting the president, Florentino Perez, who spend their time guessing what he's thinking and what he might do next.

If these folks were correct and if a defeat really would have cost Ancelotti his job, well... it would have plumbed the depths of idiocy. It would have boiled down to an instant. Had Sergio Ramos' header been a few inches to the left, Ancelotti would be gone.

Who the heck makes decisions based on something like that?

If Perez or anyone else thinks Ancelotti should go, winning the Champions League should not change that. One well-timed header doesn't suddenly make the "wrong" coach into the "right" one. Oh, and in Real Madrid's case it's worth noting that winning the big one doesn't make you unsackable: just ask Jupp Heynckes.

For my money, getting rid of Ancelotti regardless of the outcome on Saturday night would have been crazy. Sure, missing out on La Liga was disappointing, as were the setbacks in the league head-to-heads with Barca and Atletico. But they did win the Copa del Rey, beating both along the way. And they did reach their first Champions League final in 12 years.

Furthermore, after the venom and in-fighting of the latter stages of the Mourinho Era, calm returned to the Bernabeu. And that has been a rare commodity in recent seasons. Throw in the fact that hunting for a new boss in June, during a World Cup -- which is what would have happened had he gone -- is an almost guaranteed recipe for disaster.

It's hard to believe that Madrid would have ever considered making such a decision.

Less than a spectacle?

The Champions League final turned into a dramatic spectacle at the end but you can't escape the fact that so many protagonists were hampered by injuries. Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were all unfit and it showed. So too was Sami Khedira, filling in for the suspended Xabi Alonso, and Pepe, who missed out entirely. Atletico, of course, were hit just as hard. Arda Turan was sidelined while Diego Costa started but came off inside of 10 minutes.

It meant that while there was no shortage of drama, we didn't get to see many of the biggest stars at their best. And that's a shame.

In the National Football League there's a two-week break between the conference title games (effectively the semi-finals) and the Super Bowl. It's designed to help the players recuperate and go into the game at or close to their peak.

A league official I spoke to suggested that maybe UEFA should consider doing the same for the Champions League final. Obviously there would be logistical issues -- particularly in a World Cup year like this -- and there are some who believe players would lose sharpness with a two-week layoff.

But by the same token it might be something worth considering. I'm not fully sold on it myself, yet there's a part of me that says given how hard players work to get to the biggest game in club football, we ought to do everything we can to make sure they can play and do so at their peak.

Emery the man for Milan?

Unai Emery now appears to be the front-runner for the Milan job. I've railed time and again against the absurdity of giving Clarence Seedorf a long-term contract and then undermining him from day one as certain Milan officials appear to have done. It shows -- once again -- the lack of planning and forward-thinking that has hampered the club in the past few seasons.

But heck, if they want to ditch Seedorf after less than six months -- and pay him off for those two unexpired seasons -- that's their business.

Emery would be an intriguing choice. He's young, he did a great job with a small club (Almeria, taking them to fifth in La Liga), consolidated his reputation at a bigger one (Valencia, with three third-place finishes) and then led cash-strapped Sevilla to fifth place and the Europa League title. The only blot on his resume were the six months at Spartak Moscow, whom he left in his seventh place.

There remain two questions though.

First, did they "discover" Emery this season because he won the Europa League or did they actually do their homework? And second: if they bring him in, will he get the Seedorf treatment the minute he attempts to stamp his authority on the squad?

Can QPR hang in the Prem?

Queens Park Rangers are back in the Premier League, having defeated Derby County in the Championship Playoff in the most dramatic fashion. Down to 10 men, Bobby Zamora's late, late goal gave them a one-nil win.

We all remember what happened last time they were up but this time, Harry Redknapp promises things will be different. They won't drown in a sea of red ink and they'll avoid relegation. Given the absurd levels of spending this past season and owner Tony Fernandes' tendency to indulge, the omens aren't good on the former front.

As for staying up, there's plenty there to suggest that it's a distinct possibility.