The Spanish transfer window closed on Friday, August 31, but the most dramatic move of the summer happened more than a month ago.
In late July, Malcom‘s transfer saga seemed to have come to an end when Bordeaux and Roma both announced a deal worth £30 million had been agreed. The 21-year-old winger packed his bags, called one of his close friends and team-mate, Jonathan Cafu, and headed straight to the airport to take a flight on a private jet with his representative Fernando Garcia.
However, Garcia never showed up. Instead, after more than an hour, he got in touch saying Malcom should return home because “something unexpected” had come up.
That unexpected thing was a last-gasp bid from Barcelona. Malcom was back at the airport the following day, but there was no setback this time—he flew to Catalonia and signed for Barca on a five-year contract for £36.5 million.
No one—including Malcom himself—saw it coming.
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Cafu, had a front-row seat to the drama. The winger, who has since been loaned out to Serbian club Red Star Belgrade, spent much of those wild 24 hours with Malcom.
He told Bleacher Report the inside story of what happened:
9 a.m., July 23, Bordeaux’s training ground
“I had been training apart [from the group] in pre-season. We [Malcom and I] met inside the club that day, and he decided to come with me to the gym. He told me, ‘I’m not going to work this morning, Cafu’, and I was like, ‘Why not, man?’ He was close to being sold [to Roma] and did not want to head to the pitch with the rest of the team. ‘I’ll get to the coach [Gustavo Poyet] and tell him I’m staying here [in the gym]’, he insisted. I could not convince him otherwise, and we ended up doing exercise bike and chatting.”
1 p.m., Malcom’s house
“After that, he invited me for a farewell lunch at his house. I called my wife and we went there. We spent some time in the swimming pool, did a Brazilian barbecue and had a laugh. It was around 4 o’clock when I left his place—he had not reached a deal at that stage.”
5 p.m., ‘Malcom has been sold to Roma’
“When I got home, I was chilling out on the sofa and watching this Netflix series, Narcos. Out of nowhere, my wife yelled from upstairs, ‘Malcom has been sold to Roma. Le [Leticia Pereira, Malcom’s wife] said they’re flying at 9 p.m. (local time).’ We decided to go there and say goodbye to them.”
6 p.m., ‘I’m going to Rome’
“When I arrived there, I asked him, ‘O que aconteceu, neguinho?’ [what happened, man?] And then he went on explaining to me, ‘my agent [Garcia] had a meeting with Bordeaux president [Stephane Martin] and decided that I’ll go to Roma.’ I was really happy for him, ‘You’re going to play in the Champions League and everybody will now hear about you.’ He was packing his stuff and mentioned that a private jet would take them to Rome.”
8 p.m., ‘Where’s my agent?’
“But then we were there at the airport waiting for his representative to show up and nothing. Half an hour, an hour … Not a single word from him. Suddenly, out of thin air, he called Malcom and said he should return home. I did not understand it. He told me, ‘Mano, o Barcelona entrou na jogada, entrou forte…’ [Dude, Barcelona have shown interest, a really strong one…].
“I was like, ‘Are you serious, man?’ and he confirmed, ‘I’m not kidding, Cafu. Let’s go back to my house.’ He was really excited about it. Barcelona are another level—who could say no to them? He would be playing alongside the man [Lionel Messi]. At first, I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.”
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4 p.m., July 24, Arrivederci, Roma
“On Tuesday [July 24], I drove to the airport again and waited until the last minute to make sure that he had boarded the plane to Barcelona. Barca is a dream for every Brazilian—he is no exception. He trusted his agents and I can assure you that he never looked worried about it.”
Malcom’s arrival to Barcelona came as a surprise to many, including manager Ernesto Valverde it seems. When he was asked about him in the first pre-season conference on the tour in the United States, Valverde did not exactly sound impressed with how things went. “The club thought he could help,” the coach said, without giving any personal approval of the signing. Barcelona had spent most of the summer being linked with more established stars such as Antoine Griezmann and Willian.
But despite the lack of enthusiasm, a strong pre-season helped quell some doubts. Goals against Roma and Boca Juniors saw him starring on the front cover of Sport that read, “Impacto Malcom.”
There remain concerns over whether he will get much playing time at the Camp Nou this season, but the highly rated youngster is unlikely to lose much sleep over it.
“A lot of people say that he should not have gone straight to Barcelona but signed for a smaller side instead. They don’t realise that he considered this when he came to Ligue 1. He chose to make his first steps in European football here and then move to a bigger team. He’s a very intelligent guy,” argues Otavio, a defensive midfielder for Bordeaux.
“If someone still doesn’t know him, it’s not his fault. Every single club in Europe scouted him. He has an extraordinary left foot, can play on both sides and has already proved his worth.”
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Malcom also faced criticism, albeit for different reasons, when he asked to leave Corinthians in 2016. For many, moving to Bordeaux was not the right choice either. He had won the Brazilian title a month before and seemed destined for the top of the game.
No one expected to see him heading to the south west of France. He had doubts himself about going to a mid-table club.
However, former Brazil midfielder Denilson, who starred at Bordeaux for a season, was consulted and encouraged him to go ahead with the move.
It is a decision that seems to have paid off: He made almost 100 senior appearances for the Girondins and took Ligue 1 by storm, netting 19 times and providing 11 assists over the last two seasons.
“It’s impressive because Malcom stood out on his own. Barcelona is the best thing that could have happened to him. He will have big names around him and raise his game. He could not do that featuring for Bordeaux—it was not his level,” says Sonny Anderson, former Barca and Lyon striker, and now a pundit for beIN Sports.
“Ronaldinho [Gaucho] was also really young when he moved to Barcelona and came through. Malcom can do the same. The talent is there. He’s fast, technically amazing and will have [Philippe] Coutinho to help him.”
Among those against Malcom’s move to Bordeaux was Brazil’s current coach Tite, who started him in 31 games during Corinthians’ run to the Brazilian league crown in 2015. Although still very young, the 18-year-old forward was the one who set the wheels in motion when the team needed to score. He was a joy to watch.
His five goals and four assists gave a glimpse as to why Tite tried to persuade him to refuse the €5 million offer and stay a bit longer.
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¡JOYA CORINTHIANA! Así es Malcom, nuevo jugador del Barcelona.
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He was so desperate to stop the transfer going through that he called a meeting with the alluring prospect.
Tite warned him that he should spend at least one more season in Brazil before going abroad. Otherwise, at such an early age, he would likely get to Bordeaux, quickly become frustrated and return to his homeland.
The speech didn’t work. Tite, the man once reportedly called “a snake charmer” for his communication skills, realised he would not be able to convince Malcom to remain at Corinthians. He changed his tact, wishing Malcom well and telling his protege he would root for him in Europe.
Malcom quickly debunked Tite’s scepticism, too, becoming one of the most-talked about prospects in the world.
“Tite has always been very protective of him,” says Dassler Marques, a journalist from Brazilian outlet UOL covering Corinthians.
“Malcom left the club because his representatives pushed really hard for it, it was a very bad deal—€5 million for 50 per cent of his economic rights. Tite criticized his entourage in a press conference and put them in a very tight spot. He said they did not care about Malcom’s future, only about money.”
Malcom remains uncapped but a reunion with Tite in the national team seems only a matter of time.
He’s a leading member of the so-called “geracao 97” (generation 97)—an exciting crop of Brazilian youngsters born in 1997 that also includes Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Richarlison (Everton), David Neres (Ajax), Guilherme Arana (Sevilla), Pedro (Fluminense), Lucas Paqueta (Flamengo) and Thiago Maia (Lille), among others.
Settling into life in Spain is not likely to be an issue for Malcom. He has already proved he can adapt to different conditions, having done interviews in French within a few months of arriving in Bordeaux. His ultra-professional attitude and willingness to improve his game sets him apart from the average Brazilian player.
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He even acted as a translator for his compatriot team-mates at Bordeaux. Cafu sighs with relief as he recalls all the help his friend offered him at Bordeaux.
“I can’t thank him enough—he was my right-hand man. He can speak French fluently, learned it really fast and was always there for me. If I called him, he would leave wherever he was and come to help me. He’s amazingly mature for his age”, he recalls.
“When I arrived at the club, I remember that Bordeaux’s president and directors said he was special, sort of a one-in-a-million player. It turns out they were indeed right.”
However, Malcom is still only 21, and there have been a few signs of the immaturity you might expect of someone that age.
Posting a video on Instagram laughing and joking with colleagues Cafu and Otavio and their wives following Bordeaux’s 2-0 loss to Caen infuriated the fans. Taking a selfie with Neymar right after 6-2 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain was also condemned. And he has his critics.
“For me, there’s no difference between the other Brazilian footballers and him. He is a lot like those who play in the attack: picking games, irregular, dropping during wintertime. His behavior when Bordeaux were in crisis says it all,” argues Cyril Olives-Berthet, a journalist for France’s biggest sports newspaper L’Equipe.
“But he is flashy like Ronaldinho. He can become a Barca favourite.”
Malcom is undoubtedly a work in progress. But it’s now Barcelona’s job—not Roma’s—to make sure that he fulfils his limitless potential.