It's too early to pass judgement on the Venky's era at Blackburn Rovers, but any last minute transfer business will give an indication of what's to come for the Lancashire club. Sam Kelly looks at an intriguing transfer saga.
The summer break in Argentina is not an exciting time if you're a football writer who tries to retain control of all your marbles. Seemingly most of Buenos Aires – and with it, around 95% of the country's media operations – decamp to the beach for the whole of January and a fair bit of February, meaning that news programmes are taken over with endless shots of bodies parked like beached whales along stretches of coastline. None of the locals ever seem to get bored of this kind of media coverage.
What's worse, of course, is that a similar attitude infects the country's football teams, who retreat to coastal hideaways for pre-season training and play pre-season friendlies so meaningless that not a few of them see both sides in their training kit (and many aren't even full, ninety-minute matches). For a large part of the summer, barring the Sudamericano Sub 20 championship (of which I'll write more another time), there's simply nothing to watch but the transfer market.
The most will-he-won't-he/tedious (delete as appropriate) transfer story of the summer involved Newell's Old Boys playmaker Mauro Formica. Formica had some stiff competition from Walter Erviti, whose move to Boca Juniors from Banfield was finally completed this week, but whilst it took an age to go through, that move at least seemed written in the stars from the moment Boca replaced Claudio Borghi with Erviti and Banfield's boss, Julio César Falcioni.
Formica's destination, meanwhile, has at no point been anywhere near as clear. After a very impressive Torneo Apertura, it was only evident that he would be leaving. Initially he was meant to leave for Genoa, but they quickly fell by the wayside and a move to Galatasaray looked a possibility. After the Turkish side had also failed to agree terms, Formica returned with his tail between his legs to start pre-season training with the club he'd made publicly clear he wanted to leave for Europe.
In January, there was new hope for him when Newell's accepted a €3.5 million offer from Monaco, and after telephone discussions Formica happily announced, 'I'm flying over there now, and all that needs to be done is to sign the contract.' He counted without his own disorganisation, though. When Monaco realised, after Formica's arrival in the principality, that his EU passport had expired, they inserted a new clause into the deal, regarding the minimum number of matches he'd be expected to play in his first season in order to receive his full pay packet, which he didn't agree to.
That's where Blackburn Rovers stepped in. The club's new owners Venky’s sent a private jet to pick him up, having had a €4.2 million offer accepted by Newell's, and agreed to beat the contract Monaco had been offering him (said to be worth around €800,000 per annum). Whether they're fully aware of who they're buying – if indeed this transfer doesn't fall by the wayside like so many others involving Formica – is another matter.
Blackburn boss Steve Kean told the BBC, 'He is a fantastic talent, attacking player,' - nothing wrong so far – 'a little bit like a young Batistuta... this guy can score goals and play last passes and create a goal out of nothing.' Here, I must take issue. If there's one thing Formica's stats since 2007, when he broke into Newell's first team, have shown, it's that whilst not exactly a stranger to the scoresheet, Blackburn shouldn't be buying him if they want to find an out-and-out goalscorer. Twenty goals from eighty-three first-team matches – a little under one goal every four games – is hardly the ratio of a 'young Batistuta'.
(Batistuta, for the record, if we include his appearances for Argentina, for whom he's the all-time top goalscorer, scored comfortably over one goal in every two matches he played. He also, like Formica, started out at Newell's, so perhaps that's where Kean's bizarre comparison is in fact intended to begin and end.)
But Blackburn fans reading this shouldn't despair. I'm not saying for one second that Formica isn't a very talented player – merely that like so much else in football, the club might be trying to over-sell this deal to the fans slightly. Because Formica isn't a Batistuta-like out-and-out striker. He's an attacking midfielder with – as Kean says – a very, very good range of passing in the final third. Any attacking players coming from Rosario are expected to have certain qualities regarding technique and finesse on the ball. This, after all, is the city that gave the world Mario Kempes, César Luis Menotti, and more recently Ángel Di María among others.
When Galatasaray's bid came in for Formica, I wasn't at all surprised. That's because, when watching Newell's visit Huracán late on in the Apertura, I'd entirely felicitously sat two rows behind Christoph Daum, the former Bayer Leverkusen manager who these days scouts for clubs in Turkey. He and his associates clearly approved of Formica, even though the game itself was a pretty dire one.
In Blackburn's brave new era, Formica might not quite be the big-name signing Venky’s initially promised the fans (I seem to remember hearing Ronaldinho linked with them when I visited England over Christmas), but he could turn out to be a whole lot better for the team, given his youth and desire to prove himself. It'll be interesting to see, as we tick towards the English transfer deadline, whether the deal goes through.
As well as writing for IBWM, Sam is a regular contributor to Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and also runs his outstanding Argentine football blog, Hasta El Gol Siempre. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.