For those not familiar with the French International, Valbuena is a right-footed player who usually patrols the left side of the pitch. He joined Fenerbahce in 2017, after a 1.5 million Euro transfer fee was paid to Lyon. The report states that Toronto has offered the exact same amount to acquire his services, essentially giving the Istanbul club their money back after what has turned out to be a failed experiment for all parties.
Valbuena has not been able to break the starting XI on a consistent basis and, reportedly, is not happy with his playing time. In 31 appearances, across all competitions, he has notched six goals and 13 assists. His first nine games in Turkey saw him play all 810 minutes. Since mid-September, though, he has only played from kick-off to final whistle four times. During that same time span, he has started on the bench 14 times.
The apparent combination of player and club discontent has fueled rumours as far back as December. Earlier reports linked Valbuena to offers from China and France’s Ligue 1. The latest is Toronto FC.
The 5’6” native of Bruges is a gifted attacker, with relatively poor defensive abilities. He has been capped 52 times for France since 2010, scoring eight goals and recording 16 assists. Other than Fenerbahçe, his club resume boasts Marseille, Lyon and Dynamo Moscow. He has won three French League Cups, two French Super Cups and a Ligue 1 championship.
While it may be intriguing, his potential addition to Toronto’s line-up does not make a lot of sense at the present time.
If one of the complaints is a lack of playing time in Turkey, it’s hard to imagine where he would start with the Reds. Currently, the midfield is quite heavy. With Victor Vazquez, Ager Aketxe, and debatably even Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto is quite deep when it comes to midfield attack. Jonathan Osorio’s recent performances, as well as the potential to deploy Auro and Nicolas Hasler in midfield, also detract from the credibility of this rumour.
Then there is the cost. The transfer fee mentioned above translates to $1.85 million U.S. This says nothing of the pay-down that would be required to fit him under the salary cap. Given the TAM-related signings of van der Wiel, Auro and Aketxe, I don’t think that Toronto is in a position to afford this. As no one really knows how much TAM/GAM/jam is left, I may be wrong. But, even if Toronto could afford Valbuena, the question is why.
For starters, this amount of money could be better spent elsewhere. As has been previously written in this space, Toronto has two, remaining, distinct needs that should be addressed before another expensive attacking midfielder is brought in.
The first is a defensive midfielder who specializes in the transition game. The fact that we are all holding our collective breath every time Michael Bradley tackles a player, for fear of him receiving a second Champions League yellow card, indicates the requirement for a suitable back-up.
The second need is another player who can play the left wing-back position. Should Justin Morrow go down, there isn’t another player that can naturally assume this role with any expected level of proficiency. Ashtone Morgan is probably not at the level that the team now requires and Auro is a natural right-side player.
Secondly, why would TFC spend so much money for a 33-year-old, one-dimensional player? His up side can be no more than two or three years. Tops. Perhaps if this rumour had surfaced prior to Aketxe’s signing, it may have made a little more sense.
All this said, there are a few factors that may add credence to this report.
The first is Greg Vanney’s philosophy. Vanney prides himself on having a stable stocked with versatile players with a proven record of success. Valbuena fits this bill, as he can play the left side, he can attack through the centre, and he can also play at forward. Vanney has also been quoted as saying that a team can never have too many attacking players.
The next factor is the left side of the field. The right side is absolutely stacked. But, with Vanney’s current strategy to not play Aketxe on the left, there is a dearth of talent after Osorio (in the diamond) and Vazquez (in the 3-5-2).
Finally, the Cheyrou factor: TFC Academy coach Benoit Cheyrou was a teammate of Mathieu’s for seven years at Marseille (see picture above). Cheyrou’s role as an ambassador for the organization should not be underestimated. Perhaps the appeal of a different lifestyle, in a league that may extend his career by a couple of years, on a team aspiring to win everything in sight, are factors best sold by a friend.
Whether true or false, this rumour speaks to how far Toronto FC has come. Worldwide rumours involving quality players are usually reserved for the elite. The fact that we are even debating whether a player of Valbuena’s stature will enhance our roster speaks to the level of this eliteness.