Barcelona's Malcom hijacking could still have happy ending

Octavio Passos
The Brazilian has played less than half an hour in La Liga, but Ousmane Dembele's potential January exit could open the door for him

Malcom in the middle? Since the former Bordeaux star arrived at Camp Nou in the most controversial of circumstances, it has been a case of Malcom on the sidelines. 

The Brazilian has singularly failed to impose himself at Barcelona, consigned to the bench and not even considered as a viable option in the final minutes. 

But is it too early to write off his chances in Catalunya? Despite the constant rumours linking him to a move away as soon as January there might yet be another chapter to come in his frustrating Blaugrana story.

The numbers are damning. €41 million (£37m/$48m), how much it cost Barcelona to bring the 21-year-old in from Bordeaux, a figure that does not account for the public relations nightmare caused by the club essentially snatching him from the arms of waiting Roma and bringing him to Spain in an unedifying spectacle. 

Twenty five minutes. The total game time afforded to Malcom by coach Ernesto Valverde in La Liga, shared across two fleeting appearances off the bench. In the Champions League his prospects have been worse yet, failing to make the cut for a single minute of Barca's three group games to date. 

His only start, indeed, came in a tired, listless Copa del Rey win over minnows Cultural Leonesa, with Malcom showing little of the form that made him the subject of interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs. Not that he is likely to be given the chance to audition, but the player will come face to face with one of his suitors on Tuesday in the shape of Champions League rivals Inter, who are hoping to take advantage of Malcom's malaise and pick him up in the new year. 

While it is easy to poke fun at the youngster's predicament, the truth is that he barely had a chance at Camp Nou. Despite that unseemly battle for his signature, he was not even first choice for his new club over the summer. 

Chelsea's Willian was the man those in charge at the Catalan giants really wanted. The Blues, however, refused to play ball, while the winger, so unhappy under the iron fist of Antonio Conte, decided to stick it out under new boss Maurizio Sarri. 

Malcom, then, was the consolation prize, drafted in as the presumed first attacking option off the bench behind the immovible trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho. That plan, however, hung on another variable: the sale of fellow struggle Ousmane Dembele, which also failed to materialise over the summer. 

Dembele Malcom Barca

With the ex-Borussia Dortmund man still at the club and used as an impact substitute, Malcom cannot aspire even to a secondary role at Barcelona. To his credit, the forward has taken that situation with laudable maturity and humility, understanding that his scarce playing time does not owe to any personal issues with Valverde or anyone else in the Barca squad but rather a reflection of the club's enviable firepower up front. 

Throughout this difficult period he has remained optimistic, refusing to speak out against his boss. Privately, though, he has asked Valverde to make sure he gets minutes on the pitch from January onwards, be it at Barca or another club. 

"It's hard to explain. All players need to adapt and Malcom has had enough time to do that and have some minutes," agent Junior Minguella admitted to RAC1 in October.

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"Up to this point he hasn't had them, but when he gets the chance to play he will show his quality. He is feeling good and is anxious to play. He doesn't like the situation, but he is centred and very motivated."

The new year might just bring good news for the Brazilian after all. Right now it is Dembele, not Malcom, who seems likelier to leave: reports in Catalunya suggest that the Frenchman has been put up for sale, with his club resigned to losing a fair portion of the initial €105m (£92m/$120m) paid to Dortmund for his services just over 12 months ago. 

Should Dembele move, that would push Malcom up the pecking order at Barca. And while first-team opportunities, especially from the start, may continue to be sporadic, the Brazilian would undoubtedly get more chances to strut his stuff alongside Messi and Co, in turn ensuring a possible happy ending to a move that so far has turned into a nightmare.