What if Lionel Messi were available?
Imagine for a moment that Lionel Messi was leaving Barcelona, and he really wanted to join your team. Imagine budget wasn’t an issue (stay with me), but that he was a totally wrong fit for your team’s style of play. Would you still sign him?
For pretty much any club, the answer to this would be an unequivocal yes. Messi is still arguably the best footballer on the planet, and regardless of how you played you could be pretty certain that he would improve your team. He’s just that good.
The question is where do you draw the line? At what stage does pure talent get outweighed by the fact that a player just wouldn’t fit in? We’ve plotted this dilemma from Cardiff City’s point of view below – would someone like Eibar’s Sergi Enrich, who plays for a very different team, still be so good that he would improve Cardiff regardless? Or would Real Valladolid’s Rubén Alcaraz be a better option, who although is not quite at the standard of Cardiff’s best players, might fit better stylistically into the team?
Our experience is that clubs tend to focus a lot on playing style fit, but spend less time trying to assess a player’s fundamental ability. That’s partly because the former is easier to both picture and measure – yet we all know that we consider some players simply better than others, with no further explanation necessary.
A good example is Kyle Walker, who has played different roles for both Manchester City and England since his move from Tottenham Hotspur. That Walker is an unbelievably talented player matters more that he hadn’t necessarily previously played in the style City and his national team eventually demanded from him.
This issue becomes even more pertinent when we consider the fact that the average head coach lasts less than 18 months in a job. No matter how much we try to limit the change in playing style under a new manager, there will always be some differences – and in that instance it’s probably better to have players who are talented enough to play a range of styles, rather than being tailored to the previous coach’s approach.
To borrow a phrase, great talent isn’t always the right talent. But there are occasions when – at the right price – great talent should be impossible to ignore, even if it doesn’t quite meet all our criteria.