Less than a week before the transfer window opens, reports throughout the past week suggested a big potential transfer bomb in Munich. The prospect was the potential move of 24-year-old Douglas Costa, currently playing for the Brazilian national team in the Copa America, to move from Shakhtar Donetsk to Bayern Munich.
The reported fee was for €35 million, making him the third most expensive transfer fee Bayern would ever have to pay – behind only Javi Martínez (€40 million) and Mario Götze (€37 million). His addition would also shake Bayern's squad, a profound change of direction for the club.
Such a big prospect of a move provides a closer look. Questions need to be answered like "Who is Douglas Costa?", "Why should Bayern want him?", and "Will his transfer be worth it?".
Douglas Costa da Souza came up with Brazilian Serie A club Grêmio, a club he joined at age 11. He made his debut at age 18, and played with Grêmio for two years – during which he played for runners-up Brazil in the 2009 FIFA U20 World Cup in Egypt – before moving to Shakhtar Donetsk not long before his 20th birthday for €8 million. He has played 202 matches in five seasons for Shakhtar, scoring 38 goals and recording 40 assists while winning five consecutive Ukrainian championships.
The important piece of recent history involves the conflict in Ukraine. Douglas Costa was one of six players who initially refused to return to Ukraine after Shakhtar's preseason trip to France was complete. The club eventually convinced him otherwise, but one has to wonder how much his urgency to leave the club has increased.
The 24-year-old is a left-footed winger who has primarily plied his trade on the right flank. He is what one would expect a Brazilian player to be: quick, shifty, and a pristine dribbler. Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu played him more as an attacking midfielder than as a pure winger, allowing Douglas Costa to cut inside so right back Darijo Srna had room to overlap.
- Take-ons and ingenuity – while many players of his ilk are good on the ball, not all of them can use their skill to their advantage. Douglas Costa can, and he is very good at it. He is relentless going at opposing defenders, trying to use every inch of space his opponent will afford him. Thus, he creates a lot of scoring chances by himself, and opens up space for others as well.
- Work rate – Douglas Costa is not great at winning the ball, but he will still try his butt off doing so. His willingness to track back and help on the right flank is what made him and Srna such a good pair at Shakhtar. His fitness is always at a level where he can strut his stuff for a full 90 minutes, and he is a player that does not stop until the whistle blows.
- Finishing – while he creates a lot of opportunities for himself, he is not the best at finishing them off. His shots can curve and dip, but more times than not they are over the crossbar. The shooting strength and curve are there, but the accuracy is not.
- Service – saying his service is a weakness may be a bit arbitrary, for the way Shakhtar played, Lucescu did not ask him to provide much service from the flank. He has the ability to pick out a pass in the penalty area, but most of his work is on the ground. He does know how to put in diagonal balls, but those seem to be few and far between.
- Decision-making and keeping the ball – watching Douglas Costa for five minutes, one can tell how quickly his brain moves all the time. Many times that allows him to wiggle past defender, but he is also prone to losing the ball and making bone-headed passes. However, this attribute may also be a product of the system, for even though his brain moves at a mile a minute, he is one of the more composed players Shakhtar has.
How he fits into Bayern
Much transfer speculation has centered around Bayern acquiring a wing player, and with the fitness and age of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, the speculation is somewhat justified. Douglas Costa would fill the hole on the flanks to a very high degree, a better option for Guardiola than Xherdan Shaqiri and Mitchell Weiser was due to his work rate and his relentlessness. Ribéry and Robben are the only two players who can win one-on-one battles on a consistent basis, so having another player on the wing who can do so is a big plus.
Some have hypothesized he is the "direct replacement" for Franck Ribéry, whose ankle issues is threatening his career. While the two players have several similar traits, the fact Douglas Costa has rarely played on the left would make that assumption misguided. That certainly could change under Guardiola, but there is not enough data to support that hypothesis in the short-term.
Shakhtar Donetsk's Recent Transfer History
With several resources to develop top players, Shakhtar now has the reputation of being a bridge club; that is to say, developing players to play at the top level. Due to their success of manufacturing purchased talent, they have struck many big deals over recent seasons, and that history can be a decent indicator in evaluating Douglas Costa's possible transfer to Bayern.
- Fernandinho (€40 million to Manchester City) – Shakhtar joined the group of clubs able to exploit Manchester City's willingness to pay exorbitant amounts of money for players. Fernandinho was one of the ones who, while maybe not worth the price tag, has become a reasonable success. He is not a good holding midfielder, but Manuel Pellegrini (and by extension Yaya Touré) did not put him into a great position to succeed either. As part of a squad in continuous transition, he may be one of the more valuable assets Manchester City have.
- Henrikh Mkhitarian (€27.5 million to Borussia Dortmund) – This is a transfer Dortmund may be regretting, but he is still a rather talented player. He has the right attacking instincts, but may not have the raw skills to be as good as he could be. However, if anyone were to be a cautionary tale for a Douglas Costa transfer, he would most certainly be the one.
- Willian (€35 million to Anzhi Makhachkala) – He plays for Chelsea now after Anzhi's investment experiment failed, but given the player he is today, the fee is not far off of what he is probably worth. Another player with loads of pace, he provides energy for Chelsea when the seem to be short, an attribute Douglas Costa has as well. The biggest endorsement for Willian is the fact he is in Jose Mourinho's tight circle of trust, a group rather hard to get into.
Will Douglas Costa be worth it?
The first thing to recognize about the reported €35 million fee is Douglas Costa's contractual situation. His contract with Shakhtar Donetsk does not expire until June 2018, giving him a minimum of three more years at the club. That gives Shakhtar all the leverage in the transfer negotiation, and thus drives up the price. This wrinkle is the same reason Toni Kroos – who had one year left on his deal – was conversely able to leave Bayern at just a €30 million fee, even though his value was arguably much more than that.
Nonetheless, anytime a player comes with a big fee, one always has to wonder if the player will be worth the cost. The €35 million fee Sport1 is reporting is higher than several key transfers in Bayern's past, including Ribéry's move from Olympique de Marseille, Robben's move from Real Madrid, and Thiago Alcântara's move from Barcelona. Those transfers had extenuating circumstances around it, whether those were contract expirations, injury troubles, or buyout clauses. This sort of transfer is more comparable to that of Mario Gómez's move from Stuttgart, a young German talent Bayern wanted to poach early in his career.
By the same token, Gómez came as a primary option at striker, whereas the Douglas Costa transfer has more of an insurance-policy feel to it. The aura to the 24-year-old's potential move will not last very long though, for eventually Ribéry and Robben will have to depart the club. While no figures have surfaced, the contract discussed in the Sport1 report is for four years, not a very burdensome contract for Bayern to take on. The upside is Douglas Costa's ability to rejuvenate the flanks, something the Rekordmeister have been attempting to do for the past three years.
Douglas Costa is the solution Bayern have been waiting for, which is why they could be willing to pay so much to get him.