Ah yes, we’ve approached the silly season that is the January transfer window, where the rumors are hot and heavy. One of the most talked about names this time around has been Malcom, the audacious winger who has been scoring golazos left and right this season. I talked a little bit about Malcom in late September when Bordeaux started the league strong and looked like a potential surprise package in Ligue 1 this season. Since then, both he and his team have slowed up somewhat.
Despite those issues, Malcom has had a solid season on a flawed team. His non-penalty goals + assists rate is 0.61 per 90, and his shot contribution (shots + key passes) per 90 rate of 5.14 is good too, especially for a 20 year old wide player in his 2nd full season in European football. Compare that to other wide players not from PSG (cause you know, playing on a super team can distort your numbers if you’re good enough), and he stacks up relatively well.
Considering that every other player mentioned here is at least a year older, it makes sense not to talk about Malcom on the level of Kylian Mbappe or Ousmane Dembele, but perhaps the level below alongside the likes of Yannick Carrasco during his 14–15 season or Bernardo Silva. That still equates to a very tantalizing prospect.
So we know that Malcom has been quantitatively good this year, but what about qualitatively? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a player?
If I were a team that was scouting Malcom, I would look at this sequence and get a little excited.
The ability to effortlessly beat his opponent in a 1v1 situation, and having the coordination to hit a fairly difficult pass while at top speed is not commonly seen. And this isn’t just a one-off, there’s evidence to suggest that Malcom does a pretty decent job at finding teammates with these type of passes, whether it be in transition or against a set defense.
Obviously, you’d have to construct a plan where this type of talent would be used for the good for the team, but having such a dynamic playmaker in transition with players making runs off the ball would be a fun sight. He also profiles as a potentially good crosser, with his ability to hit passes both to the back post and the near side. Considering how dominant he is with his left foot when it comes to shooting, supplementing that with crosses from either foot adds value too.
One other thing that’s fun about Malcom is how he gets the ball from one zone on the pitch to another
It’s fair to wonder how much value this would hold on a better team because there would be less opportunities for this type of sequence to occur, but even if so, there’s enough evidence to suggest that Malcom is good at beating his opponent in 1v1 situations in higher positions.
It’s easy to see why so many people are enamored with Malcom. Speed demons who flash the ability to be high level playmakers don’t exactly grow on trees, and when harnessed in the correct manner, you can see how he would be a genuine asset.
With inverted wingers, you’re always running the chance that the added freedom to cut inside will result in shots being taken from ineffective areas. There will be times where taking a 3–4% shot is the best option because there’s not even an option to recycle the ball to a nearby teammate and keep probing for another shot. As much as one can loathe the idea of settling for bad shots, there is a level of sympathy to be had for situations where you got nothing else but to take a bad shot and hope for the best.
But when your xG/shot is in the single digits, that excuse runs thin. To put it frankly, Malcom has bad shot discipline. The only reason why it’s not been talked about more often is because he’s converted 15% of his shots from outside the penalty area (4/27). And while people remember the goals, the misses stack up too:
Again, this is a little bit of a two way street. Bordeaux aren’t great in terms of presenting options for a player in possession, and with the burden that’s placed on him in attack, It’s understandable that he’s going to probably be on the low end of shot quality on average. However, he could stand to cut around ~0.5 shots per 90 and perhaps redistribute it to someone else or even just improve his own shot selection. He faces the same problem that plagued Adam Ounas during his days at Bordeaux, where you felt that he was leaving stuff on the table by settling for bad shots.
With being fairly left footed dominant when it comes to his shooting, there might be situations where he can be shaded into less advantageous areas on the pitch. That’s easier said than done because his speed is overwhelming, and even if that does happen, he’s shown to be able to deliver passes on his right foot. Also, as much fun as it is to see Malcom drop deep and tries to advance the ball by himself, one could question how much he’ll get to do it on a team that has something resembling structure. That level of freelancing isn’t all that prevalent, so it’d be curious to see how a soloist would adjust to those situation. Perhaps leveraging his speed into more off-ball runs into the penalty box.
And then there’s obviously the question of whether Malcom would be able to do his defensive duties at a more demanding level if given a lesser role in attack. Nobody knows if that’s the case, but it’s something to keep an eye out on.
We’ve already gone through what he can and can’t do at his current state. He’s an exciting player but has flaws too, and it could very well be that his solid results are masking the actual problems in the process. Saying that though, it wasn’t totally surprising to see that Bordeaux are asking for as much as £50M considering that he’s their crown jewel and his contract doesn’t end until 2021.
To some extent, there’s a comparison to be made with Sofiane Boufal when he was at Lille. Both were pass first wingers, with an excellent first step + dribbling abilities to go along with their questionable shot selection. They both had to do the bulk of creation on the team because no one else was good enough to help out in that department. And the statistical comparison sort of makes sense.
The comparison isn’t foolproof. Boufal was compared to Eden Hazard when he broke through because of the vague similarities in playing style and the way they moved on the pitch, while Malcom’s pure speed and athleticism is on a higher level to go along with his ability to get the ball from one zone to another. Also, as bad as Malcom’s shot selection has been, Boufal’s was even worse back in the day. Add to it that Boufal was 22–23 when he had his full season at Lille, whereas Malcom isn’t turning 21 until February. Perhaps by this time in 2019, there have been incremental growths in his game and he’s a better rounded player. Malcom’s season so far has been better than Boufal, and Boufal went for a base fee around £16M. That was also in a climate that was far less silly than what we have currently. If 2015–16 Boufal was in today’s market, even with Lille’s awful financial situation at the time, he could’ve fetched more than he did.
Given all the information already provided, along with Bordeaux not being the strongest financially as a club, I would feel somewhat comfortable paying in the region of £25M. I would probably begrudgingly accept paying up to £30M if that included add ons or an agreement to keep him in Ligue 1 until the end of the season. Anything appreciably above that, and I would start looking at other options. Malcom has some special gifts with the effortlessness he has in getting by his marker, the fact that he is a left footed shooter in attack makes him something of a rarity in European football. and he’s still young enough to teach the value of shot discipline before it’s too late (Memphis at Lyon is the poster child for shot selection reclamation). While I’d be hesitant to say that he’s a potential world beater, there’s reason to think that there’s high upside and he’s young enough to learn and improve.
Where would the best place be for him? The likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Tottenham have been linked over the past week or so. Arsenal do have potential openings with Sanchez/Ozil being 6 months away from leaving on frees, but he’s nowhere near the playmaker that Ozil is, nor the high usage inside forward that Sanchez has been. Manchester United need a creative type on the wing and just as you get yourself excited at the idea of Malcom joining the attacking talent already in place, you remind yourself that Jose Mourinho is their manager and all those good vibes drift away.
Tottenham would probably be the best place out of the three clubs. It’s not the cleanest fit, and a fully functional Tottenham means that he would be a rotation member rather than a starter over the next year or so, but he’s someone who would represent one of their better chances at finding a high upside attacking player without having to guarantee him starter minutes or wages that would unbalance their current structure. There’ll be some who look at the likes of Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and Clinton N’Jie and do a reflexive gag at the idea of buying another Ligue 1 attacker, but that train of thought doesn’t hold much water in this case. There wasn’t anything to suggest that Nkoudou was more than a tricky dribbler at Marseille, and N’Jie was an inside forward/second striker having to masquerade as a wide player at the time. N’Jie was in some way’s a poor man’s Son Heung-Min, but that role wasn’t available. Even with the flaws in his game, there’s more evidence to suggest that Malcom would fit in better than either of those two did at the time, with his profile as a dynamic playmaker.
Malcom has been a productive wide player, and there are certain things he can do that get you excited about his potential. He is incredibly quick and at best can leverage his gravity as a threat into finding teammates with dangerous passes. He also probably needs to be coached even harder about the value of shooting in better areas, and being more efficient as a player. While not the absolute top tier prospect that Ligue 1 has seen over the past few years, he’s in the discussion at the next level, and is definitely one of the more intriguing ones.