Despite an inconsistent start to the season and us having to be relatively patient with the speed of progress under Manuel Pellegrini, there has been a number of impressive new faces in claret and blue. The signing of the season has to be Lukasz Fabianski, who has been worth every single penny of the £7million we paid Swansea for his services.
That’s good value for money, but perhaps not quite as good value as the £3.5m we paid Corinthians for Fabian Balbuena’s signature. Of all the first team players we signed in the summer, the Paraguay international has been the most impressive in terms of value for money.
In today’s transfer market, 27-year-old centre-backs of Balbuena’s quality just aren’t available for such a low transfer fee, particularly if they’re from South America. They normally come at a premium. But in the 27-year-old we’ve got ourselves an absolute bargain who already looks like he’s been playing in the Premier League for five or six years, not five or six months.
He isn’t the perfect centre-half by any stretch of the imagination but it’s very hard to remember any real errors or mistakes that he has been responsible. Every time I’ve watched him play I’ve been quietly impressed, even more so when you consider he and Issa Diop are beginning to develop a very good centre-back partnership.
It’s not hard to see why he earned the nickname ‘The General’ at Corinthians, given his physical attributes and no-nonsense approach to tackling. He does offer superb defensive ability in what is a very new defence that is still trying to get used to playing with each other.
After 13 games, Balbuena topped the stats charts for average interceptions per game (2.5) and clearances per game (7) compared to his West Ham teammates. This shows that his positioning has been impeccable so far this term and he has been a reliable asset to have in defence.
To put those stats in to perspective, his centre-back partner Diop averages 1.6 interceptions per game and 4.7 clearances per game. They’re equally as good returns for a 21-year-old but still a world away from Balbuena’s level. Diop makes up for that in the tackles and blocks per game departments, both of which he boasts better results than Balbuena. But Balbuena cost the club around £18m less and is so far proving to be a far better and all-round defender.
He does have six years of experience over Diop but that also works in Diop’s favour, because he will only learn from playing alongside his Paraguayan partner. Balbuena’s stats in comparison to other players in the Premier League also prove that he’s one of the best value summer signings. Only three players have made more interceptions and only two have made more clearances.
Two of the players above him in the interceptions charts — Etienne Capoue and Mario Lemina — are central midfielders, who are expected to make more interceptions, and they cost their clubs a combined £26m in transfer fees. That’s a hell of a lot compared to what we paid for Balbuena.
So while there is still room for improvement in Balbuena’s game, his superb ability to read the game, combined with his consistent performances, goes along way in showing just how much of a bargain he has been. There are so many players who can be bought on the cheap around the world that club’s aren’t looking at, so perhaps we should be looking to use very similar scouting techniques used to find The General in the next couple of windows.
Sometimes transfer fees skew the transfer market — Fabian Balbuena is evidence of that.