The irrelevance of 2009 Cristiano Ronaldo to Gareth Bale’s potential Real Madrid move

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If Gareth Bale moves to Real Madrid, and that’s still a huge if, he’ll crush the world transfer record. But that doesn’t mean he’s the best player in the world, as some’s confounding of the story has depicted. It doesn’t even necessarily mean he’s among the best players in the world. All it means is there’s a rich club that really wants him, and they want him because they think he’d one of the world’s best.

You would think this discussion is unnecessary, yet amid the slacken jaws that have met rumors of Gareth Bale’s fee extending above $123 million (far above, in some reports), a few people have confused that steep price as being a reflection on his best player in the world credentials. I suppose it’s a reasonable assumption considering the last three record-breaking purchases have been for Zinedine Zidane, Kaká, and Cristiano Ronaldo, all Balon d’ Or winners when their transfers set new standards. Zidane moved to Real Madrid from Juventus for just £53 million in 2001. Kaka moved to the Bernabeu from Milan for £56 million in 2009, and later that summer Cristiano Ronaldo joined Los Blancos from Manchester United for £80 million (roughly $122 million).

But beyond the basic economics (supply, demand, inflation, what have you), two things about those purchases should caution against drawing any “world’s best” conclusions from a transfer fee. First, if Kaká was the world’s best in 2009, why did his record fail to last an entire summer, before another game was played? Did Real Madrid re-evaluate Kaká and Ronaldo mid-summer? Secondly, all of these records are set by Real Madrid. Go back to Luis Figo in 2000, and the Merengues have set the world transfer record the last four times it’s been broken. Maybe this record’s as much about Real Madrid’s purchasing as it is a player’s relative value.

But beyond Real Madrid’s behaviors, this is about the market. There’s been a huge influx of money into European soccer since Ronaldo and Kaká moved four years ago, yet there’ve been few transfer targets that have the combination of elite skill, young age, locked in contract and current team’s wherewithal to drive up the price. Add in the negotiating practices of the notorious Mr. Levy (see Carrick, Keane, Berbatov, Modric) and you have a formula to not only break the transfer record but destroy it.

This entire argument has constructed a bit of a strawman, though, as it does seem like a mere incredulous minority feel the world’s best player is the only one who can garner a record fee. Most people are smart enough to grasp basic economic forces. They’re smart enough to have a picture of the market. Still, there’s still a huge undercurrent in this conversation that logically thinks a players fee should directly reflect his value on the field. To them, Bale is just not a world record-breaking player.

In truth, the record-breaker label is meaningless when you’re trying to assess Bale’s value. Instead of using a four-year old reference to a player who wasn’t game’s best when he set the current standard, instead ask what that standard would be if a player like Lionel Messi were put up for sale. Or better yet, if Cristiano Ronaldo were allowed to move. Would the old record be relevant to their prices, given the state of the European market? If you most look a Bale in terms of relative value (instead of the various economic and competitive benefits he’d bring to Real Madrid), you have to develop a hypothesis about Messi and Ronaldo’s corresponding value.

The world transfer record is no more relevant to Bale’s current price than it would be Ronaldo’s. All of these records are set because one team, independent of where some antiquated standard sits, is willing to pay a price for a player. Real Madrid would pay more for Messi, if they had a chance, and they’d probably pay more to acquire Ronaldo, were he playing elsewhere. But just because Bale’s value comes in under those two’s doesn’t mean it couldn’t also come in above standards set in 2009.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.