At one point, João Cancelo was one of the most sought-after talents in football. The clear heir to Dani Alves, the Portuguese was meant to rule both flanks.
A few years after his move to City, that bright future is gone.
Cancelo was one of the most exciting right-back prospects that football has ever seen. His keen sense of attack made him the perfect modern fullback.
Valencia is really where the hype around the right back began, as he showed immense potential in a tumultuous Valencia side. Spells in Italy would continue to raise his profile and led to Pep and City signing him to be their future. Now, Cancelo finds himself an outcast at City, desperate for a move that will get his career back on track.
It’s interesting to see a player who seemed perfectly built for the modern game fall apart. While he was never a great defender, teams thought his attacking prowess would compensate. To be booted from such high-profile clubs surely means his time at Europe’s elite is soon to be over.
There are very few cases in football as interesting as the decline of Cancelo. He went from the next big thing to following a career path similar to Hector Bellerín.
Fans of FIFA and Football Manager will remember Cancelo as the best right-back wunderkind from 2014-16. That hype followed him across his career and still keeps clubs interested, even as his profile is on the decline.
While Cancelo was molded in the Benfica academy, it would be his time in Spain that put him on every European giant’s radar. At Valencia, he and Gaya would form one of the most exciting fullback tandems in Spain. Every passing season saw the Portuguese draw the eyes of more and more scouts.
After a rather uneventful spell at Inter, Juventus signed Cancelo as their right-back of the future. Despite playing in a good Juventus side, Allegri never saw much use of the Portuguese, trusting Cuadrado in key matches to provide more defensive impact. Even with his failure to live up to his hype, Juve fans were shocked to see the club sell so low on the talented youngster.
Cancelo’s first season in the Prem was all that he could have dreamed of Pep played him on either flank and gave him complete freedom. Finally, this was the stop where the dream of Cancelo would be realized.
Gradually, Cancelo would fall out of favor with Pep, and the manager would try to move off a highly valued player. A loan at a rocky Bayern side would give Cancelo some silverware, but he never proved to be the first name on the sheet. Now, at 29, he finds himself moving to yet another club as he chases the ghost of the player he was hyped to be.
Is it possible for a player who has won what Cancelo has to be a bust? No, he won in some of the toughest leagues in Europe, even if he never reached those lofty dreams.
Very few positions have seen a dramatic evolution as the fullback position has. A modern fullback demand so much that Cancelo has both met and failed to meet.
There is no doubt that Cancelo is one of the best-attacking fullbacks in Europe. No player can create as much as he does from that position. From pinpoint crosses to build-up play, his versatility in the offense demands attention.
At every club that he has stopped at, the Portuguese has found a way to give his sides another dimension by stretching out the field. Any time he gets in the opposing third, Cancelo must be marked, opening up lanes for his teammates. Just his very presence demands game planning, thus making him one of the most valuable players in his position.
What exactly led a player of his caliber to fall out of favor at all these clubs?
While there may be other reasons, it mostly comes down to his poor defense.
Across Europe’s elite, there are few defenders at his position who are worse than him defensively. As he is so involved in the attack, he leaves gaping holes in the defense, which is easy for opponents to counter. Even Cancelo’s defensive actions rank poorly across Europe, which highlights his liability at the fullback position.
The modern fullback position is constantly evolving, and now the position demands players to be able to play as de facto midfielders. By playing this way, there is so much more ground to cover defensively and, thus, nullifies their role in the attack somewhat. Even under Pep, Cancelo was never able to master this part of the modern role.
For a multitude of reasons, mostly defensively, Cancelo’s stock has taken a hit. There is a world where he could have ruled the right side of the pitch, but that time has passed.
At one point in time, Cancelo was one of the highest-rated fullbacks the footballing world had seen. A variety of reasons has seen the Portuguese reach the highs and lows of modern football.
Now, he’s on the verge of another move that seems to be based solely on the player he could have been.
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