Michael Cox discusses the underrated PSG man who's more than just Ibra's best mate...
He’s the 32-year-old Paris Saint-Germain star who has tasted title success in four different countries – Ligue 1 with PSG last year, after successes at Ajax, where he first made his name, Inter, where he grew into a genuine top-class player, and Barcelona, where he wasn’t always a regular.
We could be talking about Zlatan Ibrahmovic – but we’re not. Instead, we’re talking about dependable, experienced and underrated left-back Maxwell. The two are great friends and the Swedish striker considers Maxwell his best friend in football.
It started at Ajax, where the first player Ibrahimovic was introduced to was a young Brazilian who had “a long name I didn’t really get”, in Ibrahimovic’s words, but who was known as Maxwell. He spoke good English and they immediately exchanged phone numbers. Before receiving his first proper pay cheque from Ajax (although after having bought himself a new Mercedes), Ibrahimovic found himself “broke”.
So Ibrahimovic asked for the help of the rather more sensible Maxwell, who took Ibrahimovic under his wing and invited him to stay at his house in a southern suburb of Amsterdam. Ibrahimovic slept on a mattress on the floor for nearly a month, he and Maxwell bonded while cooking food together and gradually they became best friends.
It’s a perfect case of opposites attracting, because Maxwell completely lacks the ego of Ibrahimovic. The Swede describes him as “incredibly sensitive, a family guy that calls home all the time”. Maxwell’s success at the top level somewhat bewilders Ibrahimovic. “Sometimes I'm surprised he's become so good. Nice guys like him usually don't make it in football,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Maxwell, however, has unquestionably ‘made it’ – and it’s interesting to go back to the duo’s final season together at Ajax, in 2003/04. The winner of the Dutch Footballer of the Year award was not Ibrahimovic, but Maxwell. The diminutive, 5ft 9in attacking left-back thrived under Ronald Koeman’s coaching, and for one season he outshone his best mate.
Ten years later, Maxwell is still going strong. The last year has been among the best of his career, perhaps the best since that final season at Ajax. He finally made his international debut for Brazil in August at the age of 31, in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Switzerland where he came on as a substitute. Maxwell isn’t accustomed to being on the losing side, however – amazingly, he hasn’t lost any of the last 41 games he’s started at either club or international level going back to a surprise 3-2 defeat at Sochaux last February. He’s never substituted either, having completed 90 minutes in his last 40 league starts.
But while Maxwell is naturally a solid, dependable full-back, he’s also brilliantly effective with his forward bursts down the flanks, and this could be an extremely important factor in PSG’s Champions League run this season. Interestingly, he seems to make vital contributions in big matches when PSG’s midfield is more cautious and they look to push the Brazilian left-back high up the pitch.
That was particularly obvious during PSG’s 1-1 draw with Monaco last month, a result which effectively confirmed the league title would be staying in the French capital for another season. Although PSG were pinned back inside their own half in the second period, the Brazilian repeatedly scampered forward to stretch the play, creating three chances with dangerous crosses.
He was similarly impressive in the recent Classique - a 2-0 win against Marseille last weekend - winning the ball proactively by repeatedly nipping in ahead of opponents and scoring a fine goal.
Maxwell is also extremely reliable in possession – showed by his performance in the 4-0 first leg win away at Bayer Leverkusen. He only gave the ball away three times from 65 passes and the most frequent recipient was his old friend Ibrahimovic, who often drifts left to combine with the full-back.
In a squad full of egotistical superstars, Maxwell is precisely what PSG require. He’s quiet and unassuming off the pitch, consistent and dependable on it. On the verge of his ninth domestic title success, he might always be known as Ibrahimovic’s best mate, but Maxwell is an outstanding footballer in his own right.