Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Should FC Porto really offload Hulk?

Hulk is likelier than ever to leave FC Porto by the end of August, provided one of the interested clubs is actually willing to fork over the €60 million his employers are asking for. Therefore, this issue raises some interesting, pressing questions.

1. Is it worth it to keep disgruntled employees on the payroll? The example of Álvaro Pereira has been making it plain for everyone to see that there is such a thing as good timing and bad timing to sell one of your best players. Last year FC Porto's left-back was one of the most sought-after players in the market, believed to command a transfer fee of approximately €22 million. Pinto da Costa, usually a savvy trader, chose not to sell him (least of all to Chelsea, who had just hired his former coach somewhat bullishly). After a less than average season, Pereira's value plummeted to something around the €13 million, if the press rumours are to be believed. If FC Porto's president goes down the same path with Hulk, will the same thing happen to the Brazilian? If that is not enough, let us not forget about the cases of Maniche, Costinha, Derlei, Bruno Alves and Raúl Meireles, to name but a few.

2. Can FC Porto play without a star player on the wings? FC Porto have been playing some sort of 4x3x3 since Mário Jardel was offered to António Oliveira (except for a string of matches under Co Adriaanse). In fact, there aren't that many teams nowadays that are as faithful to this system as FC Porto have been over the last 15 years. António Oliveira, Fernando Santos, Co Adriaanse, Jesualdo Ferreira, André Villas-Boas and Vítor Pereira have been wary of moving what seems to be a pre-established order, from the outside. A winning 4x3x3 needs a complementing midfield - a reliable holding midfielder (which Porto have in Fernando), a high-paced box-to-box midfielder (João Moutinho) and a creative spark (which Lucho hasn't been able to provide since he returned to Porto) - but, most importantly, a good 4x3x3 must have width (Barcelona is a non-issue for this matter). If Hulk leaves, FC Porto will be almost winger-less, since James tends to drift inward, Djalma was loaned out, Varela seems to be going down Vítor Pereira's pecking order and Iturbe's real value is still unknown. Even though Danilo and Alex Sandro may be able to prove their mettle, it's a tall order for them.

3. Who will be the star all the other players will look up to? Say what you will about Hulk, but he's proven time and again that he does not shy away from matches and that he doesn't go MIA when things get tough. On the contrary, his ability to decide matches almost singlehandely often makes him try too hard and sometimes makes his team-mates to forget about creating passing lines. If Hulk actually leaves, FC Porto will miss an attacking reference to look for when matches get cagey, either in the Champions League or the Portuguese league. Despite all his improvement, James is too mercurial (at least for now), Jackson Martínez has just arrived and no midfielder has those particular traits.

All in all, FC Porto will be faced with a tough task, no matter what their option (or lack thereof) may be. Keeping a player against his will hardly ever works, even when he papers over the cracks, but on the other hand, allowing Hulk to leave may open up a hole in the squad and put down a huge burden over whoever replaces his on the team.

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