“I’m sad because Blanco (Víctor Blanco, Racing president) broke a pact.”
Friday’s failed transfer to Beijing Gouan provided the latest chapter in Racing icon Gustavo Bou’s fractious relationship with the club’s leadership. The Chinese Super League has made plenty of headlines in this transfer window and in the process made a lot of South American footballers very wealthy but after Gustavo Bou was identified as the latest target, Racing slammed shut the possibility, rejecting an $8 million offer for their prized striker. La Pantera has gone from failed River youth product to Argentina’s most dangerous forward in two years but are Racing pricing the 26-year-old out of a life changing move overseas?
After a series of failed loan moves, when Gustavo Bou was allowed to leave River Plate and join Racing as a free agent at the age of twenty-four, it is fair to say that supporters of La Academia were none too enamoured with their new striker. Despite showing great potential in the youth divisions at the Monumental, Bou appeared to be another who failed to meet expectations after underwhelming loan spells at Olimpo, Liga de Quito and Gimnasia, who had had the option to take him permanently but opted against it. Racing took a punt on Bou as Diego Cocca arrived at the Cilindro in August 2014 and quickly it became apparant that La Acade had a very different player to the misfiring striker of seasons prior.
A powerful strike on the turn in only his second start rescued a point against Newell’s and a second half brace in La Bombonera to overturn a 1-0 deficit from an earlier rain suspended clash signalled the birth of Bou 2.0. As his confidence grew, feeding of the applause and adulation of the Cilindro crowd, Bou became increasingly dangerous and his partnership with Diego Milito and his ten goals helped Racing to the Torneo Transición title, ending a wait since 2001.
The Transición form proved to be no flash in the pan and in 2015, Bou hit back-to-back hat-tricks in Racing’s return to the Copa Libertadores. La Academia’s hopes of lifting the trophy ended at the quarter finals but Bou ended the tournament as the leading scorer with his reputation never greater. His combination of pace, power and deadly finishing had established Bou as the Primera’s most complete forward and it was therefore no surprise that interest in the 26-year-old had surfaced.
Tension had already surfaced over Bou’s contract at Racing which didn’t see him among the club’s top earners despite emerging as the side’s key figure and although this was addressed with a new deal, once Racing began rejecting advances, Bou was again left frustrated. Selling players to Europe is a common and vital feature of Argentine football and while Racing were thinking about their valuation, Estudiantes sold 24-year-old Guido Carrillo to Monaco for $10 million. This provided a decent ball-park figure and president Víctor Blanco said at the time when Corinthians and various European clubs were showing interest that if Carrillo was worth this amount that the more accomplished Bou should not be leaving for less.
Carrillo being two years younger than Bou appears to highlight the issue and why few, if any overseas clubs, are willing to meet Racing’s valuation. Borussia Mönchengladbach had reportedly offered around $5 million in the summer which Blanco rejected but as preseason began and no one matched the club’s price, Bou momentarily refused to travel with the squad to Mar del Plata, sensing that his hopes of a lucrative switch to Europe were being dashed. An agreement was reached that if Racing received an offer of $8 million they would not stand in his way and Bou returned to work.
Even at this relatively small price, no offers arrived and at 26 years of age, having led Racing to a league title and finishing the Copa Libertadores as leading scorer, it is doubtful that Bou could drive his price any higher. The only assumption is that European clubs view La Pantera as a player too advanced in his development and without sufficient room for growth. The figure of $8 million is one that would readily be paid for a 21-year-old, or even in the case of Carrillo, the sense that there could be improvement. There are of course examples of late-bloomers in football but unwilling to take a gamble on Bou the majority of clubs appear to think that this is already the player’s peak.
The new found riches of the Chinese Super League, whose clubs have already made it clear that player development is very low on their list of priorities, did however think Bou was worth the money. Beijing Gouan submitted an $8 million bid but once more Víctor Blanco’s answer was a firm no and with the Chinese transfer window closing there was no time for any follow up offer. While a transfer to Beijing may not be the dream move for a professional footballer it is a hugely lucrative one and Bou’s disappointment stems from the missed opportunity of earning a staggering amount.
Speaking to Radio La Red in light of the latest failed move, Gustavo Bou said: “I am hurt because the club didn’t keep it’s word. It would have left them good money if I had gone.
“I asked the Chinese for crazy money for them to say no, and they said yes,” the striker explained after reportedly being offered in excess of a $1 million-a-year. “I now stay at Racing with the same contract, because they did not improve my current deal.“
Víctor Blanco insists that any agreement was that Racing would receive $8 million after tax meaning that any offer would need to be more like $10 million but Bou obviously sees things differently and has since said: “The relation with Blanco is finished.”
Racing wanting to keep their main striker during a Copa Libertadores campaign is understandable and it seems certain that Bou will leave the club in June but it remains to be seen whether Blanco will have his valuation met. After the standoff in the summer in which La Pantera felt he was portrayed as the villian, the 26-year-old has assured Racing fans he remains committed to performing on the pitch. “I will continue giving my best for Racing. I want people to know the truth but I will recover and leave everything on the pitch.”