A €25 million fee has been touted to prise Valencia's energetic full-back away from Los Che. Paul Wilkes tells you everything you need to know about the rising Portuguese star
The 60-second story
- Born: May 27, 1994
- Place of birth: Barreiro, Portugal
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Full-back
- Current club: Valencia (46 apps, 2 goals)
Former Valencia coach Gary Neville privately suggested that Joao Cancelo would be the ideal long-term replacement for Barcelona's Dani Alves. It's an obvious comparison given the youngster's ability to drive forward from deep positions and add another layer of attack to his team.
Cancelo began his career with local side Barreirense until he was spotted by Benfica at the age of 14. He joined the Portuguese giants in 2007, progressing through the ranks and making over 50 appearances for the 'B' side.
First-team football failed to materialise, though, with Cancelo making just one competitive start against arch-rivals Porto in a 2-1 defeat. However, the lack of action was mainly down to the eagerness of the player's representatives to find their man a fresh challenge, as well as Benfica's willingness to cash in early.
The right-back is currently part of super-agent Jorge Mendes's stable at Valencia, a group that also includes Andre Gomes, Rodrigo and Enzo Perez. Owner Peter Lim's association with Cristiano Ronaldo's best friend ensured that a number of Mendes's clients joined the club on season-long loan deals, with a transfer fee pre-arranged for the following summer.
Why you need to know him
2015/16 LA LIGA
- League apperances: 28
- League minutes: 2,121
- Assists: 4
- Goals: 1
Cancelo's arrival at Mestalla came just two weeks after Valencia and Benfica met in a pre-season friendly in the Emirates Cup. He played the opening 45 minutes of the game, but his withdrawal was followed by the Portuguese outfit throwing away a one-goal lead to lose 3-1.
His first season at Valencia was unspectacular, although he did make an impression against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey, which led to more involvement in La Liga at the turn of the year. Coach Nuno's vertical playing style suited the dynamic youngster, who started in wins over Sevilla, Malaga and Cordoba.
"He likes to work the offensive and defensive transitions because nowadays football is this way," Cancelo said about his former mentor. "He told us that if an opponent makes a mistake, we have to score a goal. Hence the importance of rapid transitions."
The defender had shown enough improvement in his first 12 months for Valencia to sign him for €15 million and hand him a six-year contract. Last season he had to adjust to the many changes in managerial personnel, but became an important figure for all three managers, with only Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer, Shkodran Mustafi and Daniel Parejo starting more league games.
"He's a legend in England and we're going to be behind him," Cancelo said of Neville, upon his unveiling as interim boss. The former Manchester United man initially used Cancelo in a slightly more advanced role due to his pace and flair, with Neville able to help Cancelo improve his tackling and interception rate.
Portugal national team manager Fernando Santos is yet to give Cancelo his senior debut, although he has featured numerous times for the various youth teams.
He isn't all about creating chances in the attacking third: his defensive contribution has developed and will likely do so further in the next few years
Cancelo has tremendous energy and, combined with his dribbling skills, is a dangerous threat for opponents. His crossing is good, so much so that he often takes corners for los Che, but it's his through-ball efficiency that surprises defences most.
He isn't all about creating chances in the attacking third, though: his defensive contributions have developed and will likely do so further in the next few years. His adaptability is another redeeming feature, with Cancelo possessing the ability to not only play further forward, but also fill in at left-back.
His athletic and tenacious character does mean he occasionally gives away fouls, although he hasn't got a particularly bad disciplinary record and he also attracts mistimed challenges in equal measure
As with any young, attack-minded defender, Cancelo has to learn when to venture forward and when to simply hold his position. His athletic and tenacious character also means he occasionally gives away fouls, although he hasn't got a particularly bad disciplinary record and also attracts mistimed challenges in equal measure.
"I don't think that the energy vanished in the last 10 minutes because if you look at Cancelo, he has been incredible. Energy, speed, but we have to stop errors and it is difficult to cut out moves and then go forward again," said Neville after his team drew with Getafe.
Cancelo told reporters last summer after making his move to Spain permanent: "I will always carry Benfica in my heart, but now my biggest dream is to continue giving my best for Valencia, growing with the team and repaying the great confidence that the club have shown in me."
Did you know?
Cancelo scored twice in a 2-1 win over Rio Ave in 2013 to capture the Campeonato Nacional de Juniores for Benfica's Junior team. It was a record 23rd title for the club, as the full-back shared the pitch with Monaco's Bernardo Silva. The Eagles' academy has improved in recent years, with Benfica reaching the UEFA Youth League final the following season and receiving the Globe Soccer award for Best Academy last term.
What happens next?
Barcelona have been heavily linked with a move for the defender, although sporting director Robert Fernandez has publicly stated that the club have a number of options to fill the void left by Alves, including Aleix Vidal. Mendes's influence inevitably means that Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are all more probable destinations in the future.
However, with more guarantees of regular starts, the defender is expected to remain at Valencia for at least another campaign. Current boss Pako Ayestaran is an excellent tactician and his time with Cancelo will likely see him improve to the standard of the aforementioned interested clubs.