Italy and Germany have already received the rewind treatment. Today, as Alexander Netherton tells us which Ligue 1 talents will steal column inches this summer, we look back at last year’s window in France:
James Rodríguez (above)
Where, in 2013-14: Monaco
Where, in 2014-15: Real Madrid
Why: Because his World Cup was too good for El Real to ignore
How much: $101 million (serious)
James Rodríguez has been amazing this season, and regardless of whether it was Barcelona or El Real, he was always going to leave Monaco eventually, it was always going to be for a huge fee, and he would always have to live up to that value. Even within that context, though, $101 million is insane, and even though Rodríguez has shown a World Cup at which he was the best player (sorry, Leo) was no fluke, he’s not really worth $101 million.
Given his age, 23, the figure might not turn out to be terrible. If he stays at Real Madrid for eight years, maybe a decade, that number becomes less nauseating. And if he improves on a Bernabéu debut that’s already produced 15 goals and 11 assists across all competitions (in only 31 games), James’s name won’t look out of place among the most expensive transfers in world soccer history.
Where, in 2013-14: Monaco
Where, in 2014-15: Manchester United (on loan)
Why: His knee may never be the same again
How much: Loan fee plus wages, Falcao amounts to a $25 million rental
Radamel Falcao blew at his knee mid-way through last season, rushed through his rehab to try and make the 2014 World Cup, and hasn’t looked the same since fully returning to the field.
That’s one theory. The other theory is that he was never a good fit for Manchester United, which tends to be a euphemistic way of saying he’s never been quite as good as his production for Porto and Atlético Madrid suggested. He excelled in certain aspects of the game, but lacked the versatility that would allow him to fit into teams with more talent – ones that usually try to achieve more balance. Regardless, Falcao has had almost no impact for Manchester United, leaving it highly unlikely he’ll be brought back next season.
Somebody will take a chance on him. Scoring a goal every 145 minutes for United, there are still signs he can be a focal point forward for an ambitious club. But at 29, Falcao’s next move will probably be his last big one. And Monaco needs to cash in before his stock fully plummets.
Where, in 2013-14: Marseille
Where, in 2014-15: Dinamo Moscow
Why: Time to face the strange changes
How much: $10 million
When Marcelo Bielsa was announced as Marseille’s new head coach last spring, we knew the club’s squad would likely get an overhaul. Surprisingly, Valbuena was one of the first players to go. The diminutive stature of the 5’4″ French international had been a subtle trademark of l’OM for years, but surprisingly, a move to Dinamo Moscow was announced shortly after the World Cup. Two months before his 30th birthday, Valbuena moved on, ending his eight-year stay at the club.
The move has turned out to be a great value buy for Dinamo. Though an early season emergency appendectomy slowed his hot start, Valbuena has racked up 12 assists (and four goals) between league and Europa. In a team that includes known quantities like Christopher Samba, Igor Denisov, Alexander Kokorin, Yuri Zhirkov and the apparently still alive Kevin Kuranyi, Valbuena has a claim to being the team’s best player. Dinamo should be back in Europe again next season.
Where, in 2013-14: Montpellier
Where, in 2014-15: Newcastle
Why: All roads from France lead to Newcastle (when they don’t lead to Arsenal)
How much: $20.5 million
Newcastle is used to poaching players from Ligue 1, but usually those buys come as Sport Direct-esque bargains. Cabella, having just entered his prime, cost slightly more. The now 25-year-old attacking midfielder cashed in on his 14-goal season with Montpellier (running his two-year total to 21) by taking the well-traveled road north, albeit with a larger sack of gold than most.
He is one of the last prominent names from MHSC’s surprise 2011-12 title-winning side to leave, though at the time, his name was far less prominent. As players like Olivier Giroud, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and Younnes Belhanda cashed in, Cabella stayed behind to leverage the freed playing time, growing into a star.
That star has only slashed on spurts for the Magpies, though the talent is still apparent. Still, when you pay 15 million euros for an established 24-year-old, you expect more than one goal and two assists. Perhaps Cabella’s season has been a function of Newcastle’s broader swoon, but through one season, the club’s investment hasn’t paid off.
Where, in 2013-14: Lille
Where, in 2014-15: Liverpool (but then, back to Lille)
Why: New things are good things, by definition if not production
How much: $16.4 million
Despite only five goals last season with Lille, Origi became one of the most talked-about young forwards in the transfer market, partially because of his place in the World Cup team everybody pretended to discover on their own. After scoring for Belgium at Brazil 2014, nobody was going to be dissuaded about the then-19-year-old’s potential. He’s big, he’s contributed to the summer’s “it” team. What’s not to love?
The production for one. Secondly, he wasn’t brought over to Liverpool for the 2014-15 season, an odd circumstance unless you’re an Italian club piling on half-ownership stakes. For 12 million euros, you might expect more than mere prospecting, especially given Liverpool has struggled at the forward position all season.
He’s only 20, so there’s still time, but his goal rate is actually down this season at Lille (one goal every 277 minutes, as opposed to one every 255 last year). There’s the lazy comparison to Romelu Lukaku to make, but this could also be like a number of any other early blooming forwards – an Andy Carroll-esque arc. Only to date, the bloom has not been that impressive.
Grade: A generous incomplete.
Where, in 2013-14: Lorient
Where, in 2014-15: Porto
Why: Shared ownership leads to interesting outcomes
How much: $4.1 million … for a 30 percent stake
Aboubakar has also suffered from Origi’s lack of production, though his main problem has been getting minutes. The 23-year-old Cameroonian international has only made five starts in this year’s Liga Sagres, scoring three times in 540 minutes. It’s a steep drop from last year, when 16 goals almost doubled his total from three previous Ligue 1 seasons, but that should have been a our warning. Even with the experience of two World Cups under his belt, Aboubakar was bound to regress.
In the shadow of Jackson Martínez, Aboubakar hasn’t had much room to grow, but for the low investment Porto has made, the club can afford to write off one season. It’s one virtue of a model where you’re willing to take minority stakes. Martínez could move on as soon as this summer, at which time Aboubakar could reap the rewards of playing with Yacine Brahimi, Ricardo Quaresma and Héctor Herrera. Once he does, the goals are likely to return.