Man City star can realize his dream of emulating Barcelona great who thrived under Pep Guardiola – Alex Brotherton

You don’t have to be a genius to realize that Joao Cancelo is one of – if not the – greatest full-backs in world football right now.

The Manchester City star is enjoying a superb campaign at left-back. A position not entirely natural to him but one that he has made more than his own.

It says a lot about Cancelo’s attitude and natural ability that after enduring a tough 18 months at the beginning of his City career, he is now one of the most versatile and creative attacking weapons at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. The new five-year contract he signed last week capped off what has been a remarkable transformation for the 27-year-old.

Owing to his suitability to Guardiola’s system and technical ability, plenty of comparisons have been made between Cancelo and Philipp Lahm.

The former German captain was already a world champion and one of the best full-backs in the game when Guardiola took charge of Bayern Munich in 2014, but the Catalan evolved his understanding of the game to such an extent that he became a jack of all trades.

Before long, Pep had Lahm playing the ‘inverted’ full-back role we have seen Cancelo perform so often this season, with the left-back coming into midfield to provide passing options and numerical superiority in the center of the pitch when his side has possession of the ball.

The work rate and application of the two are similar, even if Cancelo is susceptible to the odd lapse in concentration. There is no denying that, like with many players, Guardiola has turned the Portugal man from a very good footballer into an exceptional one.

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Manchester City right-back Joao Cancelo.
Manchester City right-back Joao Cancelo.

However, when speaking to recently, Cancelo revealed a different Guardiola protégé that he idolized as he embarked on his football career.

“In my position, my childhood idol is Daniel Alves,” Cancelo said. “I didn’t watch a lot of Cafu, I was too young, so I don’t remember much. But Daniel Alves, in my opinion, is the best full-back ever.

“I’m a huge fan of his work. I am a fan of what he does on the pitch but also the sense of freedom he plays. The joy with which he plays this sport and loves this sport. He’s a role model for me I love him as a player.”

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Proclaiming Alves as the best full-back ever is certainly not a bad shout from Joao. The 38-year-old Brazilian, now back at Barcelona after five-and-a-half years away, has had an extraordinary career.

Having won 43 trophies at senior level, he is the most decorated player in the history of the game, with many of those honors being won at Barcelona under the tutelage of Guardiola.

Pep’s Barca team of 2009-2011 is widely regarded as the best club side ever put together, and Alves played a huge role in the team’s success. The Brazilian revolutionized the full-back role, as he attacked and bombed forward in a way never really seen before.

In 2010/11, a season in which Guardiola led Barca to a league and Champions League double, Alves provided a remarkable 21 assists in 54 games in all competitions and scored four goals. For a right-back in a side containing the attacking jewels of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, 25 goal contributions was an incredible return.

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While it would be unfair and untrue to say that Cancelo is on the same level as Alves, if he continues as he is, he could soon enter the conversation surrounding the greatest attacking full-backs. In 31 appearances this season, he has scored three goals and provided eight assists, which is not bad for someone playing on his ‘wrong’ side.

What ties everything together nicely is that Alves turned down the chance to meet with Guardiola at City in 2017 – a decision he later said he regretted – instead opting to join Paris Saint-Germain.

“I’ve never met him, but I’d love to. Sooner or later, we’ll meet. We’d have a great conversation!” I cancel said of Alves. Whether or not they ever do meet, the two names are likely to feature in the greatest full-back discussions in years to come.

Do you think that Joao Cancelo could emulate his idol Dani Alves? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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