Fortunes of Güler, Roque detail divergence of Madrid, Barça

By April 26, Arda Güler had played just 31 LaLiga minutes for Real Madrid. He was, understandably, feeling frustrated and occasionally acting a little petulantly.

Less than one month later, in the most dramatic demonstration of why Madrid fought to sign him, the 19-year-old Turkey international has scored six times in 373 league minutes, which, remarkably, equates to about a goal every hour on the pitch for Spain's champions.

There's another timestamp to add to this startling story.

On June 29, 2023, Barcelona's incoming director of football, Deco, flew to Turkey to negotiate directly with Fenerbahce and Güler's representatives to try to sign Güler. Blaugrana president Joan Laporta confirmed as much to Mundo Deportivo.

"Deco was in Istanbul today. LaLiga has allowed us to start signing for next season without it impacting on our 'Fair Play' status," he said. "Arda Güler is a hugely talented footballer, who Deco likes a lot, and we are trying to finalise his transfer."

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Less than a week later, not only had Barcelona totally failed in their initiative, Güler and Fenerbahce had agreed to terms with Real Madrid and the deal for him to move to the Santiago Bernabéu for the next six years was announced. Spanish outlet Marca had been sufficiently confident, 24 hours earlier, to splash the front page of their print edition with a big picture of the youngster with the headline: "Madrid pinch Güler from Barcelona."

What drew less attention, back then, was that Laporta also confirmed that Deco was "working on" the transfer of Vitor Roque from Club Athletico Paranaense.

When he flew to Turkey to try to seal a deal for Güler, it had been little more than a week since Deco made public the closure of his player representation agency (D20), which would have clashed with his incoming responsibility as Camp Nou director of football. One consequence of shutting his agency was that he was no longer directly representing Roque -- but was leading the efforts to sign him for Barcelona.

It was as strange sounding then as it is now, but very few in the Spanish media turned their gaze on it.

In summary: Roque's recent agent was sent as a representative of Barcelona (although Deco wouldn't be publicly confirmed in the director of football post until mid August) to try to confirm the signing of a brilliant young goal-scoring Turkish talent at precisely the same time as Barça were working on bringing Roque into the club. This despite the Catalan club's capacity to spend money on new signings being drastically capped by LaLiga's financial rules and there being at least a possibility that if Barcelona signed Güler they'd have no capacity to add Roque.

How did things turn out?

Güler, as previously explained, looks like the absolute mustard at Madrid, who are champions and who stand to win their 15th Champions League in a couple of weeks' time at Wembley. However Deco conducted his meetings, whatever Barcelona's clarity on the need to sign Güler, they not only failed roundly, they saw him move to their most bitter rivals and are now having lorryloads of salt rubbed in their wounds.

It should strike either panic or fury into the hearts of those who support the Blaugrana club that this is exactly the path that Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior followed. Barça worked hard on both of them, thought they had their deals tied up (Gerard Pique even phoned Vinícius to start chatting about how he'd fit into their dressing room culture), but both are now multi-trophy winners with Los Blancos and deeply ingrained in Real Madrid folklore instead.

For his part, Roque was announced as a Barcelona player on July 12 last summer, but with his arrival date due to be delayed until June 2024. Nevertheless, midway through the season, his move to LaLiga was advanced so that he could join Barcelona in January; a decision that, subsequently, is playing a part in damaging relations between Laporta, Deco and coach Xavi Hernández to the extent that there are incessant reports that the coach could be sacked once the season ends.

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Instead of either Roque or Güler, Barcelona took João Félix on loan from Atletico Madrid -- the player is represented by Deco's ex-agent Jorge Mendes. Félix has started just 22 of 47 LaLiga and Champions League matches and hasn't been in Xavi's XI for more than a month now. Draw your own conclusions.

The meat on the bones of Roque's time under Xavi is that he's rarely used and his coach has spoken about there being a huge learning curve still in front of him. The 19-year-old Brazilian -- who would be extremely unusual if he hasn't complained to his ex-agent, Deco, about why he's on the bench in Spain instead of being a first-choice starter back in Brazil, as was originally scheduled -- has started twice in LaLiga and wasn't given a minute in the Champions League.

Again, draw your own conclusions.

Xavi, should he remain in charge, seems clear that he'd prefer to loan Roque out so that the youngster toughens up, finds his feet on a new continent and comes back to the Camp Nou (due to re-open in November) in better shape to aid the cause.

Ironically, this was a developmental route being suggested for Güler not that long ago. Instead, he's now not only posting genuinely standout goal figures, there are some other things about him. This is a footballer who, despite meniscus and thigh injuries that robbed him of much of his debut season, has literally stunned his senior teammates since arrival.

The buzz feeding out of Madrid's preseason training about Jude Bellingham started immediately; Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal all were startled by his maturity, his readiness, his authority despite being only 20. The buzz feeding out about Güler was that nobody, coach Carlo Ancelotti included, could believe how much absolute class he oozed. That he was, in technical terms, monstrously impressive.

Earlier this week, Ancelotti commented that "the ball loves Arda." Impactful words when coming from a man of such experience and sagacity -- Carlo has seen it all. Joselu, after Güler scored twice in that 4-4 draw with Villarreal, called the Turk "a diamond of a player."

Although he's scored a couple with his right foot in recent months, for Madrid and for Fenerbahce, this is someone who wants to be positioned on the right so that he can cut infield to finish with his left. Nor is he averse to taking up false nine positions -- look at some of his goals in the past couple of seasons, including the opener against Villarreal, and you'll see what I mean.

No team can allow him a split second to think on the right hand edge of their penalty box -- go seek out his goal for Turkey in Wales. He can burst the net from distance, too. That is something you'll see regularly for Madrid next season. Promise.

There have been some sparks between Güler and Brahim Díaz, with the latter unquestionably feeling peeved that, despite his own terrific season, his teenage teammate is now threatening how much game time he'll get going forward. Generally, though, Madrid's players and staff absolutely dote on Güler and have been happy to guide him through some teething problems when he was a young man in a hurry and distinctly unimpressed at how much game time Ancelotti was giving him once fit.

There's been a huge focus on how Vinicius and Kylian Mbappé (given that he fulfils all our expectations and signs for Madrid) will fit and function when they have such similar positional profiles, and countless conversations about how Ancelotti must manage that integration. There's also a looming survival-of-the-fittest battle over whom -- from Joselu, Brahim, Rodrygo, Vinicius, Mbappé, Güler and Endrick (seven players for two starting berths in Madrid's current 4-4-2 formation) -- will get decent minutes, who will suffer on the bench and who be transferred or loaned.

But, in context, there's a still clearer conclusion to be drawn, which is that Madrid are light years ahead of Barcelona in spotting, convincing and signing the very best young talents around the world.

Moreover, if Xavi's job is really in jeopardy, there might be a case for severe scrutiny, within the club, as to whether he, or Deco, genuinely represents the best way forward for a club in danger of seeing its principal rival dominate ferociously for some time to come. I suspect they've already come to the wrong conclusion.