Dušan Vlahović’s arrival at Juventus is the latest major move among the great talents in the soccer world.
The nearly $90 million transfer sum paid by the Old Lady to Fiorentina carries considerable pressure for the 22-year-old Serbian. Part of Juventus’s reasoning in acquiring the striker is his dominance in Serie A.
Oftentimes, players jump to different leagues and fail to adjust to the stylistic or physical differences. With Vlahović already playing, and thriving, with Fiorentina since 2018, Juventus understood his capabilities.
Even then, Vlahović’s debut demonstrated how important a successful start is for a new signing. This is especially true for major clubs around Europe, such as Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea and many others.
The reasons for a quick start come from different sources. Some of these are measurable. Pure goal-scoring is what a number of clubs bring in forwards to do. Managers can see whether or not a player has the technical ability early on. The same applies for midfielders, defenders and sometimes goalkeepers. There are specific tasks asked of each player, and whether or not they can accomplish them is a judgment made early on.
However, equally important is the mental side of things. There is a legitimate argument to be made that some signings need to warm up to a new league. Considering the difference in a league like Ligue 1 compared to the Premier League, a mental adjustment, and acceptance from teammates, coaches and fans are paramount.
Looking at the last couple of years, success stories abound. However, players often cannot live up to the hype surrounding them early on. These players receive a swift sentencing of ‘flop’ after a mere handful of games.
How a successful start impacts a new signing
Each January and August, the transfer windows conclude with at least one major name moving across Europe. Just in the past year, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Romelu Lukaku, Jadon Sancho, Dayot Upamecano and others all made this transfer window one for the record books.
With the multitude of transfers, different success rates exist.
Some players have thrived at their new clubs after summer transfers. For example, David Alaba, arriving at Real Madrid from Bayern Munich on a free, is a mainstay on the backline of Los Blancos. Similarly, Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White have Arsenal in the driver’s seat for the fourth spot in the Premier League.
That being said, some of the biggest transfers, in terms of coverage and cost, are not panning out like some clubs hoped. Jack Grealish, who cost Manchester City $130 million, has been good. However, with a price tag that high, City perhaps expected more out of the Englishman. The same applies for Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian looks like a shadow of the man who bagged back-to-back 30-goal seasons with Inter Milan.
Also, Lionel Messi, who left Barcelona on an undesired transfer, only has 15 goal contributions in 20 games. Not a bad tally, but certainly not the eye-popping numbers of his recent seasons at Camp Nou.
Developing in a new league or team
No one can dispute Lionel Messi’s greatness at Barcelona. However, Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Ronald Koeman worked their play styles around the Argentine.
Messi entered a new team for the first time in his stories career when joining PSG in the summer. He joined a vaunted attacking duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Therefore, he lost some of the dependency Barcelona’s managers placed on him.
Also, Barcelona plays a very particular style. Albeit, the Tiki-Taka Barcelona of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola dissipated over the last decade. However, Messi still held on to it.
Perhaps this change in play style and supporting cast contributed to Messi’s slow start to the season. New team, new league and new country are things that could be daunting to a player who spent 21 years with one club.
This demonstrates how a fast start can benefit a player, and of course a team. For one, a fast start demonstrates success with different players, staff, philosophies and everything else around a player.
For some players, adjusting to a new team can be easier. Strikers are there to score. Get in position, snag a goal or two, and you are set. Sure, that is a blanket statement.
Romelu Lukaku is a striker. He is not the greatest on the ball, but his shot sets him apart from many of those who share the position. His struggles come from the change in formation compared to his time at Inter Milan. At the San Siro, Lukaku shared the spoils in front of goal with Lautaro Martínez. With Chelsea, Lukaku is alone up top. Tuchel prefers the deeper-lying forward to hold up play, rather than seek out scoring positions and bury the ball in the net.
READ MORE: Chelsea take financial hit selling then buying Romelu Lukaku.
The struggles early on compounded with a lack of chemistry with his teammates, forcing Tuchel into a rapid changes. This is a stark contrast from the solidity he felt with Martínez at the head of the line.
Lukaku’s inability to secure a successful start as a new signing served as a microcosm of frustration. The same can be said about Lukaku’s Chelsea teammate, Saúl Ñíguez.
Clearly, Saúl does not fit Tuchel’s eye. Despite being in the squad for 20 of Chelsea’s Premier League games this season, the midfielder never wowed Tuchel, despite just one appearance in the first two months after his arrival. Now, Saúl is a background player at Stamford Bridge, seldom seeing the field.
An interesting thing that is not measurable or purely identifiable is the mental side of a new signing. When looking at the players before, there is a simple way (at least on paper) to allow players to thrive. Lukaku needs a strike partner, Messi could use more of the ball, Saúl must ‘work harder’ according to Thomas Tuchel.
However, confidence goes a long way, especially for a player entering an unfamiliar area.
In an interview with World Soccer Talk, LA Galaxy’s Jonathan Bond talked about the importance of confidence. Bond is a goalkeeper who spent several seasons in the Premier League, Championship and League One with a handful of sides. Even with a less-intense league like Major League Soccer, early confidence allowed him to shine in his debut season. His successful start for a new signing flew relatively under the radar in MLS.
“Some people seem to naturally have a lot more [confidence] than others. Confidence can be a fragile thing at times. It was important for me to get off to a strong start last season to win the trust of the fans and my teammates.”
The same applies to any other position, although goalkeeper gets scrutinized for the smallest mistakes.
A sign of things to come
Some positions, such as goalkeeper, have the metaphorical ‘monkey on the back.’ Although, that stigma generally gets thrown on goal-scorers.
Circling back to Chelsea, Timo Werner got off to a brutal start at Stamford Bridge after arriving from RB Leipzig. It took the German 15 games to score in the Premier League. For any other player, a half-season-long goal drought would destroy confidence. That is especially true considering the $58 million Chelsea shelled out for his services.
Flash forward a year, Timo Werner failed to live up to his billing. Now, the striker is still young. At only 25, he retains ample time to prove himself in the Premier League.
However, seven goals and 13 assists through 46 Premier League games is not a strong enough tally to thrive.
Look at a player like Philippe Coutinho. A star in the Premier League, Coutinho battled injuries and inconsistency upon his arrival at Barcelona. Despite flashes of his brilliance from Liverpool, Coutinho never won over the fans. To be fair, the Catalan fans were harsh on Coutinho, expecting him to be the replacement for Neymar.
Overcoming sluggish starts
The beauty about confidence is that it can be acquired. Thomas Tuchel did not help Saúl get his confidence on the field back. However, some players stick through tough beginnings to recoup some of the excitement.
Vinicius Junior debuted with Real Madrid as an 18-year-old. Despite the clear inexperience, Real Madrid fans howled at Vini, expecting him to be a world-beater upon arrival. He failed to deliver a successful start for a new signing. A pair of disappointing seasons cam as he grew accustomed to life outside of Brazil.
However, he now serves as Real Madrid’s most creative threat. In his third season at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Brazilian has 25 goal contributions in 30 games in all competitions.
Building off a strong start
When mentioning ‘starts’ for new clubs, that applies to the first handful of games.
Take someone like Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese arrived at Manchester United and made an immediate impact. The midfielder won Premier League Player of the Month for February, his first full month at Old Trafford. From then on, he became perhaps the most integral player for the Red Devils.
Although different positions, Dušan Vlahović will hope that his strong start can yield as successful as a return as Bruno.
If the debut goal means anything, he could be on his way. It certainly aids his confidence in a much brighter spotlight than what Fiorentina provided.
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