Alex Grimaldo – Pep Guardiola’s Perfect Left-Back

Money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s cliche but it’s true, even in football.

Pep Guardiola’s arrival in Manchester City was seen by many in the media as a bit of a cheat code. If money wasn’t enough to convince a player to join then dangling Pep in front of them would certainly turn a few heads.

Pep has no problem spending money but it has to be on the perfect player for his system. He is a meticulous planner.  It’s a layered system thought up in his inventive mind and it needs players with certain traits to function effectively. He’s not, no matter how many people imply he does, just going to go out and spend money for the sake of it because it could be detrimental to the balance of what he’s trying to achieve.

Sometimes having money makes recruitment even more difficult. Despite being linked with some of the best left-backs in the world – the likes of Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez, Koln’s Jonas Hector and Juventus’ Alex Sandro – the club are still yet to go all-in on a player and because of this Pep is still fielding Aleksander Kolarov and Gael Clichy in that role.

The City pair aren’t weak links, that would be disrespectful as they’re solid enough players, but at the same time they aren’t a long-term solution for Pep at left-back with both nearing the end of their top-flight careers.

However, it appears Pep has made his mind up. Recent reports in Spain and Portugal suggest the Manchester City manager is going to reunite with Benfica full-back Alex Grimaldo. The 21-year-old joined Benfica in January 2016 when the Portuguese champions paid €1.5 million to Barcelona for his services.

Grimaldo joined Barcelona in 2008 at the age of 13 when the Catalan club signed him from Valencia. He arrived as a fleet-footed midfielder with an exquisite left foot. But the coaching staff at Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy had other ideas and started to use Grimaldo as an attacking left-back to great effect. In 2011 he became the youngest debutant ever in Spain's second tier at the age of 15. He went on to make over 100 appearances for the B team and captained them.

The next obvious step would be for Barca boss Luis Enrique to blood Grimaldo in the first-team with fans under the impression he was Jordi Alba’s long-term successor. However, Enrique had other ideas and with the youngsters contract expiring in the summer Barcelona cashed in on him in the January.

His development at Benfica has been extraordinary and with Barcelona opting to spend £14 million on Paris Saint-Germain’s 23-year-old left-back in the summer it makes Enrique’s decision to let Grimaldo move even more bizarre.

In just under a year Grimaldo has went from unwanted and undervalued to being on the precipice of a £38.5 million move to Manchester City, if rumours are to be believed. It’s been reported that City originally didn’t want to pay the player’s release clause but with other clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United now showing an interest they’re prepared to pay big to land Pep’s target. This proactive approach comes after their top right-back target Hector Bellerin signed a new deal with Arsenal. 

Why Grimaldo?

Full-backs in the modern game misunderstood. The increase in managers using midfielders in these roles had lead to people believing it’s an unimportant position in the modern game and that anybody can do that job there. While traditional full-backs may be nearing extinction what’s important to note these days are the progressive managers whose teams dominate the ball and dominate the pitch often position their ‘full-backs’ in midfield areas. This means they need to be composed on the ball and comfortable coming centrally. Many fullbacks aren’t taught/coached that a young age so it’s foreign to them when they’re asked to do just that. Especially in a Pep system in which the full-back is asked to drift in field and build centrally in midfield. So managers have taken to using midfielders there who are comfortable undertaking what’s expected of them.

Grimaldo was once a midfielder. He showcases that skillset for Benfica with his underlapping runs centrally. He dribbles past players, is calm on the ball and his vision for a left-back is arguably unparalleled. He pops up centrally to aid the attack. That’s the extra layer to his game that he has that many other modern day fullbacks don’t have. Aside from David Alaba and Philipp Lahm it’s difficult to name many other well-rounded full-backs. The fact he’s 21-years-old makes him an even more attractive proposition as Pep will be able to mould him.

He’s got the pace, he’s got the intelligence and defensive awareness, he supports the attack like many other left-backs but it’s his confidence and ability on the ball which separates him. That along with his set-piece ability.

How does he compare to what City already have?

So far this season Alex Grimaldo averages 2.4 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per 90 minutes. He’s dribbled past 0.4 times and manages to complete 1 dribble per match. Of the 57.5 passes he attempts he completes 80.7% of them and he wins 0.8 aerial duels.

Aleksander Kolarov, who has played at centre-back at times, averages 1.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions as well as being dribbled past 0.8 times per match. He completes 0.7 dribbles and 82.2% of the 59.9 passes he attempts. He does win an impressive 2.9 aerial duels.

Gael Clichy averages 2.2 tackles and 2 interceptions. He’s dribbled past 3.6 times per 90 minutes (one of the worst in the league for this) and only completes 0.2 tackles. He attempts 66.6 passes and completes 85.6% of them also winning 1 aerial duel.

Stats show Manchester City full-backs see a lot of the ball but the important thing is Grimaldo sees a lot of the ball with Benfica meaning, unlike others, the transition to City wouldn’t be as difficult. He could well be Pep Guardiola’s perfect left-back.