Monday, September 3, 2012

The Pillar of Benfica

Javi Garcia, Benfica's Spanish bulwark, was the big mover during Portugal's final hours of transfer activity this summer and he is likely to be sorely missed. Whether he makes such a big impression on the denizens of Manchester is another story and will be largely up to him, although where and how frequently Roberto Mancini unleashes him will also play a crucial part. At anything between 16 and 24 million euros, depending whether you read English or Portuguese newspapers, he would be a very expensive reserve, although not the first in City's recent history. Portuguese daily A Bola tallied the price at €20 million with a floating €3 million, depending on him playing in over 50% of City's games.

So what have City bought and, despite the still lingering City Commission, does Garcia represent value? 25 years old, he has been around the (Iberian) houses already and has built a growing reputation as a strong defensive lynch pin with an ability to up his game for the big opponents. With Nigel de Jong, regrettably, exiting the Carrington swing doors at the same time as the square- headed Garcia entered, comparisons will be inevitable and not without reason. Have City, people will no doubt be asking themselves as they lie in bed at night, replaced the delightful Dutch hatchet-man with something similar?

Well, yes and also, to a degree, no.

As Tom Kundert of says, "He'll give 100% every game and is a solid option. He is very definitely a defensive midfielder, although he played with limited success once or twice at centre-back as cover. He did very well at Benfica and proved to be excellent at the job he was assigned.Javi is a good tough tackler, not afraid to foul when it is necessary." Sounds like there may be some de Jongesque moments to savour in that.

The cousin of former Liverpool floppy hair merchant Luis Garcia, Javi sports a more rugged shaven look and plays to match the sharp lines on his head. None of his cousin's foppish flicks, Javi is carved from solid teak. Known throughout his time at Benfica as "o Pilar Táctico" (the tactical pillar), Garcia grew into a pivotal role at the Estadio da Luz, providing the defence with a central boulder and an accurate, trustworthy outlet ball all in one package. Where de Jong excelled in crunching tackles and safe - often square - balls, Garcia is more likely  to top off a trademark tackle by surging out of defence, happy to carry the ball forward but always aware that his job is to find a more creative colleague. Although this sounds somewhat too close to stating the obvious, Javi also scores more frequently than de Jong  - who doesn't you might add - as a willing and obvious target for cleverly flighted dead balls into the box. here is a definite plus that de Jong could not offer. Where the old king was squat and ground-based, the new pretender is a significant aerial presence at corners and freekicks and will add to the already considerable threat posed by the loping hulks of Lescott, Yaya and Kompany at these critical moments. The vast majority of the 14 goals he notched for the Lisbon Eagles came from that sculpted forehead, although he has a lethal and occasionally accurate right foot, given the opportunity. He developed a happy knack, too, of scoring against Benfica's big rivals, netting in the Lisbon derby twice and at Porto.

His league record reads like this:

2004–2007 Real Madrid B 86
2004 Real Madrid 3 (0)
2007–2008 Osasuna 25 (2)
2008–2009 Real Madrid 15 (0)
2009–2012 Benfica 73 (6)
2012– Manchester City 0 (0)

Benfica's immediate reaction to losing their defensive talisman was to assure the press, via a ashen-faced Jorge Jesus, that there would be no immediate replacement bought to cover Garcia's departure. "He arrived here unknown and leaves an established star," said Jesus, through gritted hyperbolic teeth. Neither is completely true, in fact. He had already featured widely in the Primera Liga before arriving in Lisbon and is hardly an A-lister on departure.. His immediate replacement is the tough tackling young Serbian Nemanja Matic, although Jesus also mentioned André Almeida and André Gomes (two B team players) as future candidates to do the mopping job. Many think Garcia's exit will free up the excellent Witsel to take on a bigger role too.

What City fans can expect is a big game player with plenty of guts for the fight, an impressive physical presence, built to tackle, block and hassle whoever is in possession. We can expect to see a player, who is positionally sound, difficult to beat and has a flicker of fantasy for the other end of the field when the chance allows. 

We wish the big man luck forcing his feet into the steel slippers left behind by the one and only Nigel de Jong.


  1. I like the fact that he will probably have something to prove against Real Madrid. Do you know what his disciplinary record is like?

  2. Don't have the figures, but my mind's image of him staring at various yellow cards being held up in front of his face, suggests not good!

    1. Hope Mancini can keep a lid on it then.

    Yesterday's sensational transfers to Zenit, involving Hulk and Witsel, have changed the scenery somewhat for the two Portuguese title challengers, particularly Benfica, who are left with the inexperienced and limited Matic as midfield cover. A long season awaits them.

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