Wednesday, June 18, 2003

OK, here's the Vanguardia's take on the David Beckham signing. Joan Laporta, then a candidate for FC Barcelona's presidency, negotiated a deal with Man U's directors in which Barcelona would buy Beckham from Manchester United, subject to Beckham's approval, which was announced on Tuesday, June 10. Beckham announced then that he did not want to come to Barcelona. Somehow the Barça's "entorno" managed to miss these statements, Laporta was elected president Sunday, and until approximately yesterday it was assumed that, no matter what, the Barça had Beckham tied up.

Wrong. The deal that brought Beckham to Real Madrid was made in Sardinia last Friday and Beckham gave his approval yesterday. Madrid will pay Man U 25 million euros. The Vangua's story does not say how much Madrid will pay Beckham.

This is actually a good move for Madrid for three reasons. First, Madrid already has the structure of a team, and the Beckham piece fits into the puzzle. He'll play right midfield next to Figo, at right wing, and Zidane in the center, who plays behind forwards Raul and Ronaldo. Madrid's starting eleven will look like this: Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Figo, Beckham, Zidane, Makelele; Ronaldo, Raul. They'd do well to replace Hierro, who is at the end of his career, but except for him, this team is hard to beat on paper. Salgado could be upgraded, but he's OK, not a problem, he's on the national squad. If you were looking for somebody to buy and you were Madrid, though, he'd be the first guy you'd replace after Hierro.

Second, Madrid has the money to spend. They've got the big bucks, and they've got a plan set up in which they buy one superstar at his peak every year. You can get away with this if you have big, big money, and a successful squad to build on.

Third, Beckham will help Madrid's marketing and merchandising business a great deal, and Madrid is allowed the luxury of hiring players who will bring money in to the club from off the field. Barcelona does not have that luxury; it needs to put together a winning team before it worries about T-shirt sales.

Oh, and fourth, 25 million euros is a hell of a good deal for Beckham if you figure he's 29 and you'll get about two or three more good years out of him. Compare this with some of the prices from the last few years for big stars and with some of the prices being thrown around for guys that the Barça is interested in:

12.5 million for Chivu, Ajax Amsterdam's central defender. That's pricey for a defenseman, and he'd also use up one of your four "extracommunitarian" spots because he's Romanian. He's only 22, though. And Barcelona needs someone who can play defense.

16 million for Kezman, PSV Eindhoven's center-forward. I thought we already had Kluivert and Saviola. Of course, I wouldn't mind getting rid of Kluivert and Saviola. Another extracommunitarian--he's Yugoslav. And he's 24, so you could get five or six years from him. But two-thirds of Beckham's price?

15 million for Makaay, Deportivo's center-forward. OK, if we're getting rid of Kluivert and Saviola. He's proven he can play well in the Spanish league. But he's 29 and right at his peak. I don't like spending big money for guys over about 26.

15 million for Deco, Oporto's center midfielder. We already have eighteen of those guys. Only if you're going to get rid of Xavi and Gerard or Cocu. He's 24, a good age to buy a player.

Other players in the rumor mill are Ronaldinho from Paris-St. Germain (I bet he costs more than 20 million) and M?rquez and Luisao from Monaco.

Barcelona has already signed Rustu, one of those many anonymous goalies with some experience out there, just like Dutruel and Enke and Hesp and Bonano and all the other goalies they've gone through over the last few years.

Now, supposedly, Laporta has 50 million with which to sign "two cracks (i.e. superstars) and three good players." Right. Let's look at who you have. De Boer and Cocu's contracts run out and I would not re-sign either of them. The club wants to negotiate with Kluivert to reduce his salary. I just bet he don't go along with that. So sell him. He's a good player, but he's earning superstar money and he's not playing like one. Sor?n and Mendieta have been "rented" from the clubs who own them; I would buy Sorin and send Mendieta home. Alfonso and Geovanni are now being "rented out"; I'd get rid of both for whatever I could get for them. They want to get rid of Riquelme and wouldn't mind unloading Rochemback. This leaves next year's team looking something like this: Rustu or Valdes, Gabri, Puyol, Navarro, Sorin; Motta, Xavi, Gerard, Overmars; Kluivert and Saviola. Ouch. That team sucks. You need two central defenders, two wingmen, one on each side, and two forwards.

They ought to think about buying a few Spanish players: maybe Atletico's Garcia Calvo, maybe Munitis from Racing, Joaquin from Betis for sure, Morientes if he comes cheap, Luque or Tristan from Deportivo, De Pedro from Real Sociedad--Joaquin on the right and De Pedro on the left would be a damn good pair of wingmen--maybe Baraja or Vicente from Valencia.

So how about this squad: Valdes; Puyol, Chivu, Garcia Calvo, Sorin; Joaquin, Xavi, Gerard, De Pedro; Ronaldinho and Kezman. With Laporta's 50 million and the, say, 25 million you'd get in a fire sale of Kluivert, Saviola, Riquelme, Rochemback, Alfonso, Geovanni, and Overmars, that ought to be doable.

They have decided on a coach: Guus Hiddink, who just won the Dutch league with PSV Eindhoven and was South Korea's coach in the 2002 World Cup. He has also coached Valencia, Real Madrid, and Betis. Not a bad choice, though I didn't know we were willing to accept Real Madrid's sloppy seconds.

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