Welcome to Window Shopping, an iterative feature where Defector highlights and analyzes some of the biggest players rumored to be transferring big bucks every window. Every summer and January, we’ll be looking at these potential stars to answer two simple questions: Who is this guy, and why is he worth so much money?
How much should a soccer team value versatility? Obviously it takes skill to be able to play in multiple positions, in multiple roles, or in different formations, but is a jack of many trades as valuable as a master of one? And how much is Marc Cucurella from Brighton worth?
The answer came on Friday, and it came as a surprise: Despite several top teams eyeing his signature, Chelsea have signed the defender for a fee of €65 million, with a potential addition of €8 million more. That price tag is above and beyond previous reports which put Brighton’s price tag for its star defender at around €55m.
A big part of the reason why Chelsea spent so much money on Cucurella is because he can occupy multiple roles in defense and attack. The 24-year-old came through Barcelona’s academy as a highly rated left-back, then moved to Getafe where he played as a left-wing midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation, which earned him a transfer to Brighton, where he developed primarily as a left-back. but also sometimes as a center back in a back three setup. He’s not as great in all of those roles; his strongest position is at full-back, which frees him to be creative from the wings further up the pitch while minimizing the amount of time he spends defending near his own goal. Regardless, the Premier League season is long and full of injury terror, so have someone who can play on the left side of the pitch. is valuable.
With that in mind, is the full-back who scored just one goal and one assist last season really worth more than €65m? Hard to say, considering the Premier League has quality players like Andrew Robertson and João Cancelo at full back. Why is Cucurella so valuable? Let’s find out.
For much of the summer, it looked like Cucurella was going to Manchester City. The Spaniard fits into Pep Guardiola’s system, as a quick first wing-back or left centre-back, similar to the way Kyle Walker operates on the right. Besides, it’s a City! The club has more money and prestige than anyone. If City want a player, usually Fait Accompli. The problem, however, comes from the price tag: City simply don’t want to pay the rumored €55m price tag, despite having huge reserves. Strange!
Enter Chelsea. New owner Todd Boehly is not averse to spending big bucks in his first transfer window as head of the London Blues, so something as expensive as a €65m price tag doesn’t stand in his way. The Athletic reported on Thursday that Brighton ruled the defender out of first-team training ahead of the opening weekend of the season, which is the final step before this transfer becomes a reality.
Well, one of the nice things—or, at least, the “fun” things—about the summer transfer window is that saga can last for weeks. . . or they can finish as quickly as they started. When I was finishing this blog, assuming Cucurella was going to Chelsea, it turned out that Cucurella did go to Chelsea. So, it’s safe to say that these rumors are no nonsense, even though the price tag is higher than expected.
Cucurella is a perfect example of a modern full back. Given that he trained at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, that’s not too surprising. His play with the ball at his feet was incredible. Last season, as one of the best left-backs in the league, Cucurella made around nine progressive passes per game, and added a few progressive dribbles to start. He is calm under pressure, and is able to find long balls into the attacking space as well as short passes to recycle possession. His movement in the attacking third has also been outstanding, as seen in his latest goal for Brighton. He started to move in almost a central defensive midfield position, before storming into the middle of the box for passes. The finish is fantastic, though that’s not a strong part of the game. It’s just nice to see:
On the other side of the ball, Cucurella wasn’t anyone’s idea of a defensive stopper, but he provided a different set of skills. Namely, it’s a press machine. In his final season at Getafe, Cucurella led La Liga under pressure for the season by a wide margin. He is fearless against opposing wingers, and while his tackling success rate – around 65 per cent last season – is not the best, it is more than enough to be worth the risk he takes with the pressure.
Finally, we have the “best ability is availability” chestnut. Cucurella played in 35 of Brighton’s 38 games last season, and he has never suffered a major injury in his career. Often major injuries are a matter of luck, but something about his style of play and conditioning will help keep him always available for Chelsea.
If he plays as an attacking full-back, there is very little that Cucurella doesn’t do. Sure, he didn’t score many goals or even provide assists, but his progressive play was worth the gold. However, as a left centre-back, his weaknesses are seen a bit more clearly. He is only about 5-foot-7, which makes him an easy target when the ball is in the air. He is also not the strongest player, preferring speed over attacking attackers without the ball. This weakness is hardly noticeable when he plays further up the pitch, but if Chelsea had bought him with the intention of playing him at left centre-back, it would have to adapt the defensive scheme to not isolate him from the Premier League’s big strikers.
Less important but still part of his weakness: Cucurella commits a lot of fouls. If he is placed off, the foul is likely to occur further up the pitch and outside the dangerous area in the center of the pitch. As a centre-back, playing against bigger players who can push him into space, fouls may become more of a problem. His recovery speed is excellent, but he has to hone it into tackles from behind, instead of just breaking players who pass him.
If it’s not clear from above, allow me to reiterate: Cucurella is the top option available in the transfer market, but only if the buying team commits to playing him at left-back or left-wing. His skills there will only stand out when a team has the most possession, as the top teams often do and as Chelsea did last season (62.3 per cent average possession, third highest in the Premier League). His creativity from the flanks will give Chelsea another weapon to crush a solid defence, and his pressing will help his new team bounce back if they lose the ball.
On the other hand, if Chelsea play him as a left center back in a three back formation, then Cucurella’s fitness becomes a bit of a question. Instead, he would match the price of a star starter. Against a lower quality team, this might be fine, and he could push from that position to overload the midfield with attacking players. However, against other top-flight sides, his defensive and physical weaknesses may show up at the most inopportune times, so Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel would do well to move him out for that last six and Champions League clash.
Expensive transfers tend to shake things up, be it dressing rooms, roster hierarchies, manager positions, fan views and the domestic and international landscape. With that in mind, this section tries to determine who will lose to a potential transfer.
I think Manchester City will hate this move the most, considering Cucurella is ready to pose in a sky blue jersey. It’s a self-inflicted player loss for City, perhaps because the club is more concerned about the perception of “overpaying,” whatever it is, for a luxury purchase. Even so, it’s rare for City to lose someone they want to sign, so there’s likely to be an 8-0 loss on the road to Brighton having not budged any closer to City’s €47m bid for Cucurella.
As for the Chelsea player most likely to be frustrated by the move, it’s probably Ben Chilwell. The former Leicester defender was signed in the summer of 2020, but he has yet to carve out a position on the left side of the Chelsea defence. The big reason—perhaps the only reason—why he tore his knee in November 2021, missing the second half of the year. He will return for the upcoming season, but now that Cucurella has signed, there will be even more competition. Tuchel could play Cucurella at left centre-back and Chilwell at left-back, but as stated above, that’s not Cucurella’s best position, and do Chelsea really just drop €65m-plus on a player just to put him out of position?
Significant signings are bound to be controversial, so here we include representative examples at each end of the sentiment spectrum.
This transfer is the most difficult to rate on the scale, at least by far. On paper, Cucurella is the type of squad player that top clubs tend to find between the margins. His versatility should be a boon for Tuchel, and his incredible injury record should make him available whenever needed. With all that said, €65m is a lot of money. Part of the calculation that goes into the “bust” label comes from the price tag, and it’s highly unlikely that Cucurella is performing as well as expected for a €65m purchase. It’s not his fault, so I won’t hit him too much, but I will still hit him a little. For this reason, Marc Cucurella scores 11.3 on the Defector Boom/Bust Scale.