William Saliba is Worth the Wait by AI
William Saliba was not registered for the Europa League and it has caused some ruckus among the fanbase. This was on top of the coaching decision to slowly introduce him into the Premier League. Saliba has played well for two consecutive Ligue 1 seasons, the argument goes, he is surely good enough to play against the likes of Fulham and if not Fulham, then Rapid Wien in the Europa League.
That view is all well and true. Saliba indeed has good experience against top-level opposition. In fact, his availability for a domestic cup final against PSG in his last season for Saint Etienne caused some contention between the two clubs. Saint Etienne wanted him to play against PSG. He was considered good enough to play against PSG.
Well, let’s look at the situation in another perspective. Sheffield United have a young, well-rated 18-year-old centerback named John Smith. John Smith made ten appearances in his debut season for Sheffield in all competitions, including the FA Cup and Carabao. John Smith is a big lad with enough pace to not look like a slow duck and decent with the ball at his feet. Smith plays in a back three at Sheffield with two older professionals. It is a defensive setup with adequate protection for the inexperienced young lad.
John Smith, because of his decent performances and his impressive physical qualities attract the interest of a Big English Club. Big Club wants John Smith. Sheffield United tell big club that John Smith is their future at centerback and a likely England international in the future. It will take a lot of money for them to let Smith go. Big Club say they will pay whatever Sheffield wants. Sheffield says 35 million euros and Big Club brings it down to 27 million euros.
The negotiations begin to generate media interest. Big Club has a lot of central defenders in their primes — though all of them are not worldbeaters. They are looking for more top quality in their defensive ranks. John Smith is someone they think can reach that level someday. They pay the money and let John Smith remain at Sheffield for one more season. Smith, only 18, and with less than ten appearances in the league has more chances of playing with Sheffield than with the Big Club as it is. Fans are pleased to have acquired a talent like Smith. He looks like someone who has everything it takes to go to the top level. His tackling is clean, his passing is alright, his anticipation is a bit mature and he is not flat-footed for a 6’4 footer. In fact, if you were to watch him without knowing his age, most couldn’t determine that he was just 18. Fans are also a bit concerned by the size of the fee. 27 million is a lot to pay for an 18-year-old with a few appearances in the league. But they are hopeful because Big English Club is rich enough and also because they suspect that the fee is representative of how well the club’s recruiters (slightly dodgy) view the lad.
John Smith racks up 15 more appearances for Sheffield United in all competitions the next season. Big Club fans watching the lad are impressed with the quality he shows but are a little bit disappointed that he didn’t play more, despite playing in a back three. Was he not good enough? He was expected by Big Club fans to feature more even if Sheffield were playing with two centerbacks. 15 apps in a back three was not good enough. Some of them rationalize this by concluding that John Smith was only 19 and was injured at some points through the season.
At Big English Club, there is some sort of a defensive crisis. Many of their options are injured and struggling for fitness and form. The available ones were not very good, to say the least. Whether this was a structural problem or a matter of poor individual quality, nobody could say. There were certainly no worldbeaters in the defensive ranks, for sure. Reinforcements would be welcome.
John Smith arrives at Big Club as a 19 year old with less than 30 appearances for Sheffield United across two seasons. Smith, with his burly physique, calmness and deep voice, has solidified his standing as a top prospect. Fans believe that he could be the answer. They want him to take one of the two central spots.
In preseason, Smith was once again decent enough. Fans are excited with how he could perform for them. Then disaster struck. Smith’s mother dies and the teenage boy is thrown into grief. In the midst of that, a global pandemic occurs and Smith is forcibly separated from the rest of his family. It’s a disaster for the lad.
All through this, Smith continues with a professional attitude for Big Club. He continues to appear at training every day. His coach is impressed by his attitude but clearly respects the impact of the tragedy on the boy. He needed to be protected. And that was what his coach was going to do, damn all the hopes of fans who want nothing else but to see their wonderkid play.
Perhaps this has put Saliba’s scenario in a clearer perspective. The boy is only 19 and grieving in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want him to play for one of the biggest sportclub in the world until I am damn sure the boy has had some emotional respite from his experience. Sporting-wise, for all his hype and quality, Saliba only has 28 appearances (not starts!) for Saint Etienne, who are a lower Ligue 1 club. It would be odd for him to suddenly amass anything close to the same playing opportunity at a top club in the Premier League like Arsenal.
Caglar Soyuncu was at Leiceister City since 2018, bought for 20 million euros and received only 6 appearances for Leiceister City. Only six! He was 22 years old as at then. Saliba is only 19.
Easing a new player in is important, especially when they are young, at a big club and if there are options ahead of them. Add Saliba’s personal tragedy to the list and you have so many reasons for him not to play yet.
Personally, I think Saliba is destined for the top. He’s extraordinary for a teenage defender and if he needs the entire season off to be the player we want him to be then so be it. I will remind you again, if Saliba doesn’t make much of an appearance this season, he is no transfer failure. He’s just a young boy finding his feet at a big club. Gabriel Maghalaes also had a slow start for Lille at a similar age — look where he is now!