The attack-minded right-back should prove a perfect fit at the Etihad, given he bases his game on Guardiola’s former Barcelona charge
Manchester City famously signed three full-backs in July of 2017 but Pep Guardiola didn’t land the one he really wanted.
The Catalan believed that Dani Alves’ move to the Etihad was a done deal.
Juventus had agreed to release the Brazilian from his contract after he had pleaded for the opportunity to play for his former Barcelona boss one last time.
Alves and Guardiola had even shared lunch together on July 7, discussing City’s ambitious plans to become the dominant force in English football.
Just four days later, though, Alves had agreed to instead join Paris Saint-Germain.
Guardiola was privately furious. Publicly, he shrugged off the collapse of the transfer and, ultimately, proclaimed himself happy with City’s summer transfer window, after the arrivals of Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy.
However, despite that £120 million ($146m) outlay, Guardiola has remained unsatisfied with his options at full-back.
Danilo has been versatile but has never convinced in any position, Mendy has been a force of nature going forward but has been beset by injuries and ill-discipline.
Walker has proven a loyal servant but for all of his attributes – his athleticism and anticipation were demonstrated again with a spectacular and crucial off-the-line clearance in Sunday’s Community Shield win over Liverpool – he remains prone to unforced errors and lapses in concentration.
In addition, he does not offer the same kind of threat going forward as a fully fit and focused Mendy on the opposite flank.
In short, he has been no Dani Alves. Joao Cancelo could be, though. Which makes Juventus’ decision to let him leave all the more puzzling, even accounting for personality clashes with some of his team-mates.
By allowing Cancelo to join City and take Danilo and cash in return, the Italian champions are essentially solving two of Pep’s problems in one move, significantly strengthening one of their main rivals for this season’s Champions League.
Danilo featured just 11 times in the Premier League last season; he will not be missed in Manchester.
Cancelo, though, has everything in his repertoire to become a big crowd favourite at the Etihad, the kind of dynamic outlet down the right wing that Dani Alves would have been.
After all, the Portugal international has based his game on the Brazil captain.
“Without a doubt my reference point has been Dani Alves,” Cancelo told Goal and DAZN in May.
“I’ve been an admirer of his ever since I started playing football. I’ve been following him since he played for Sevilla.”
Just like Dani Alves throughout his career, concerns have been raised about Cancelo’s defensive work and it’s certainly true that at Valencia he was often caught out of position due to his desire to get forward.
However, he improved immeasurably in this regard after moving to Serie A, first under the guidance of Luciano Spalletti during his season-long loan at Inter, and then while working with Maximiliano Allegri at Juventus last term.
“When I first came to Italy, it was a radical change for me, as I was coming from Spain, where people favour skill more, while here in Italy the most important thing has been the tactical element,” Cancelo explained.
“At that time, Luciano Spalletti helped me out a lot, especially when it came to the defensive side of my game.
“I thank him a lot for what he did for me, as those months at Inter were very important for me.”
Allegri, for his part, was enthused by how quickly Cancelo settled in Turin but felt that there was even more to come from the 25-year-old.
“I know that he’s already improved but he still needs to improve even more because he has extraordinary qualities,” the former Bianconeri boss told JTV.
“He’s still missing a little something to be the best right-back in the world.”
He could find what he’s lacking at City, though, as he will be playing under a coach with an attacking philosophy far more suited to his offensive strengths than that of Allegri.
Indeed, Cancelo wasn’t always trusted by the conservative Italian, who erred badly in leaving the right-back out of his starting line-up for the Champions League last-16 loss to Atletico Madrid.
The Portuguese’s pace and penetration were badly missed that night at the Wanda Metropolitano and it was no coincidence that his return coincided with a rousing 3-0 win in the return leg.
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Juve always looked a more dangerous side with Cancelo, who completed more dribbles (61) than any other defender in Serie A last season, as well as racking up a goal and three assists.
Cancelo’s output should now skyrocket in Manchester.
Pep never managed to get Dani Alves to City but, in Cancelo, he now has the next best thing.