“Jack of all trades, master of none.”
Yesterday, buried a little in a reply to a fan, Aston Villa owner Dr. Tony Xia tweeted confirmation that the club had rejected a £1.5 million offer from Reading for Leandro Bacuna, a player who the above cliché kind of sort of really applies to.
This is true.— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) July 29, 2017
Bacuna signed for Villa back in 2013, Paul Lambert’s second summer in charge, and the one where he spent the entire summer buying young, cheap players with potential upside, since — as was customary in the years before the sale — Randy Lerner wasn’t willing to part with much money to improve the squad. Libor Kozák and Jores Okore were Villa’s biggest signings that summer, but even then, hopes were probably higher than Aleksandar Tonev and Nicklas Helenius than they ever were for Bacuna, who signed for just £800,000. For everything that Leandro Bacuna is, he was certainly worth £800,000 to the club four years ago.
Over time, I think there was an understanding that Bacuna had the potential to blossom into a box-to-box midfielder, but within his first year at Villa, that was effectively out the door, with Lambert going to his “break glass in case of emergency” when Matthew Lowton was in and out of the squad. (As you may remember, Alan Hutton was away on his season-long “Bomb Squad” holiday.) Bacuna made 35 Premier League appearances that season, more than Tonev, Kozák and Helenius combined.
And though he was signed as a midfielder, Bacuna’s versatility effectively made him Villa’s second-choice right back for years, and since Villa never truly filled the role with a proper right back, a significant chunk of Bacuna’s development as a midfielder was forgone in favour of development at right back. Hence, instead of a player that developed into a good attacking or box-to-box midfielder, we’re left with a player who can do a job at right back, a job in central midfield, a job on the right wing and, hell, if it came to it, probably a job at centre back, too.
That’s why Villa rejecting Reading’s offer makes all the sense in the world. If things go according to plan for the Claret and Blues this year, Steve Bruce will likely rarely turn to Bacuna. Perhaps 15 appearances would be in line with expectations, and most of those would probably be either (a) off the bench to fulfill a tactical need or (b) to start to fulfill a specific tactical need, like grabbing a fullback in a 5-3-2 formation.
But one should never count on things going according to plan.
If I were Reading, or any other Championship club, and I had £1.5 million to spend on an attacking midfielder, I’d never bid for Bacuna. If I had £1.5 million to spend on a right back, I’d never bid for Bacuna. If I had £1.5 million to grab a winger, I’d never bid for Bacuna.
He is, however, all of these things. And that alone brings him value.
Bacuna’s value to this club, or any other for that matter, is 100 percent derived from his versatility. Without Bacuna, Villa would need a better plan for cover at right wing, attacking midfield and central midfield. He’s already part of the plan for cover at right back and, in a pinch, could certainly help provide short-term cover as a defensive midfielder or centre back. You never know when that injury crisis hits and all of the sudden, Bacuna’s the man you needed somewhere.
If Reading want to pony up enough money so that Villa can buy a right back, central midfielder and winger of Bacuna’s calibre, then sure, sign me up for a deal. They’re miles apart with that offer, though, so Villa’s best course of action is to simply keep the Curaçao international around for another season at B6.