Signed by AS Monaco in the summer of 2013, Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho arrived in Monte Carlo amidst a whirlwind of transfer activity on the French Riviera. Two years on, both The Telegraph in England and French radio station RMC are linking him with a €20 million move to Arsenal – but has he done enough in Ligue 1 to justify the hefty price-tag?
When Claudio Ranieri left the Monegasque side last summer, it ushered in a new dawn at the Stade Louis II. James Rodriguez was sold to Real Madrid for a profit of over €40 million and Radamel Falcao would spend the season on loan at Manchester United. Rumours emerged that Louis van Gaal’s side were interested in Moutinho too, but nothing materialised.
When he was at FC Porto, the playmaker was heralded as one of the best talents in the Portuguese league and it was deemed a massive coup when Monaco landed him in a joint deal for James.
However, his first season was far from a success and for large periods the former Sporting Lisbon man looked out of sorts, fading in and out of games and failing to match his sparkling reputation.
Three assists in his first four games – including one against Paris Saint-Germain - suggested he would be crucial to Monaco’s season, but he failed to provide anything in the following 17 matches, finishing the season with just six assists in total.
At first he was played behind the forwards, but when James was moved in off the wing, Moutinho was pushed back and his influence waned.
There is little doubt that last season he was miles better, yet Moutinho failed to become Monaco’s big-time player. Under Leonardo Jardim, the 28-year-old was the club’s main creative threat through the middle, but it was the wide players – Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Bernardo Silva – that caught the eye and made an impact in the final third.
During the course of the season, Jardim developed a well-organised, but very measured style. It wasn’t as cavalier as it had been under Ranieri and most of their best play, which Arsenal discovered in the Champions League, came on the break.
Without searing pace, or the ability to take on defenders off the dribble, Moutinho does his best work when allowed to control the pace and tempo, pick his moments and link up with smart, short passes – a player moulded in a style that does suit an Arsene Wenger side.
His performance at the Emirates as Monaco beat Arsenal 3-1 was perhaps his best of the season. When Monaco needed someone to hold on to the ball and provide respite for the defence, Moutinho was excellent and picked his passes with poise and intelligence.
In the next round against Juventus, Moutinho impressed with his all-round play, but the second leg finished 0-0 when the Ligue 1 side had to find a goal to stay in the competition. Nothing the midfielder did caused problems for the Juventus back-line and Max Allegri’s team looked comfortable throughout.
A handful of performances in the Champions League doesn’t justify Monaco’s €20 million asking price and any move for the playmaker after his time in Ligue 1 would be a risk - especially when the team in question already has a number of similar players that can play in that position.
Playing 4-2-3-1, Moutinho showed that it is challenging to get the best out of him playing in one of the deeper midfield roles, and there is no way you would back him to outperform Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla, while also settling into life in the Premier League.
At 28, he does not have the luxury of spending 12 months learning and adapting to the cut-throat pace of the English game.
However, Arsenal is the one team that could possibly accommodate Moutinho’s style, and if they were lacking in creative options to provide a spark in the final third it would be worth a gamble.
But Wenger does have alternatives, and spending anything on Moutinho this summer wouldn’t improve his starting XI enough to make it a smart piece of business.
Four years ago, perhaps, but at his current ability, Wenger should be looking elsewhere to address the areas that will actually improve his side ahead of the new campaign.
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