Real Madrid is no stranger to spending big on defenders. After all, two of its back four, Fabio Coentrao and Pepe, cost over €60 million combined. However, it was the recent acquisition of FC Porto’s Danilo which made some shake their heads. Was this Madrid buying an excellent player about to hit his prime, or was it them spending obscene money on a player in a position where they already have a quality player?
Who is Danilo?
Danilo is the starting right back for FC Porto, a position he’s held since January 2012 following his move to the Portuguese giants from Santos for €18 million. Prior to his move, he was a regular in the Santos lineup with his most noteworthy contribution being a critical goal versus Peñarol in a 2-1 victory in the Copa Libertadores final. Since his move to Porto, he’s become one of the best two-way defenders in the world, though perhaps doing so while flying under the radar given the status of the league he plays in. Blessed with astounding physical measurements for his position, 1.84m tall and 73kg, he’s more than capable of holding his own versus physical opposition. In three seasons with Porto, he has accumulated double digit goals and assists while also holding over 30 caps for Brazil in the U-20, U-23 and senior sides.
Naturally, his physical makeup and exploits on the pitch garnered the attention of two of the biggest clubs in the world in Real Madrid and Barcelona with both jockeying in the winter of 2015 to win his signature, both for different reasons. Barcelona had the expiring contract of Dani Alves to contend with and a need to find his successor while Real Madrid needed to provide a viable alternative to Daniel Carvajal given Alvaro Arbeloa’s age and decline in ability (not to mention stealing a Barcelona target while their rivals were under a transfer ban until January 2016). Then, on March 31, news broke that it was Madrid who got to him first to the tune of €31.5 million, an eye-popping number for someone expected to be part of a defensive rotation. The reception to his signing has been somewhat mixed, there’s no doubt that he’s a fantastic young talent bound to be a global star but the price and competition in the role has made some Madrid fans uncomfortable.
How will he fit in at Madrid?
On paper, there is perhaps no better match for Danilo than Real Madrid. The Spanish giants have always held a gung-ho strategy of attack since the birth of the club, it’s one of its principles to entertain the crowds by playing with an explosive verve. This should, in theory, suit Danilo as he’ll have free reign to venture forward like his Brazilian counterpart Marcelo currently does. He’ll be on the same flank as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, two world class attackers in their own right, so one can expect a heavy increase in attacking statistics such as assists and key passes. What’s interesting to see is how he’ll interplay with Bale.
Currently, Carvajal’s presence makes a noticeable difference in Bale’s play as the young right-back will usually draw defenders to the touchline allowing Bale to cut inside towards the center of the pitch. Danilo, on the other hand, is more assertive in his attacks and prefers to play the Bale role by drifting inwards to attack on goal. This could prove to be an issue as both players look to occupy the same space, but it could also provide more diversity in the attack with both him and Bale swapping as the wide man/inside attacker.
Danilo also has the ability to play in more roles than Carvajal. Though his primary role is at right-back, he has filled in at a central midfield role as well as left-back on a few occasions. His large frame, speed and passing ability will give Ancelotti more options when moving his players across the pitch to react to certain situations or opponents. In this regard, Ancelotti and the club have done a good job recently of buying players who can either fill in at multiple spots, or have developed players into more well-rounded contributors such as seen with Isco Alarcon who went from an attacking midfielder to a deeper central midfielder when needed. He’s strong in the air for a full-back and has more than adequate speed to recover when not in possession, but his tendency to drift forward in attack could at times leave his flank exposed so his discipline will need to improve as he learns to pick and choose his battles.
Personality and competition-wise, there seem to be zero problems on the horizon so far. In fact, incumbent Carvajal relishes the opportunity for competition.
“The signing of Danilo is good,” Carvajal said, “It’s normal that we compete with the best in the world. I will be with him next year and I will compete with him and we will try to play as much as possible. A few days ago I read an article that [said that] I want to go. Far from it. This is my home and I am going to give it all for this [club] badge.”
Alvaro Arbeloa is the current backup at right-back and someone likely to be leaving this summer, but even if he were to remain at the club he’s echoing the words of Carvajal.
“The signing of Danilo is great news for Real Madrid,” Arbeloa said. “He is a very good player — half of Europe was interested in him.”
A recipe for failure?
Of course, there’s still the possibility that this won’t end up being a flawless transfer. It is easy for Carvajal to welcome competition now when the main threat to his role is a clearly a past-his-prime Arbeloa, but it remains to be seen how he’ll handle it once an excellent player like Danilo comes in. Again, Carvajal has an admirable sporting attitude but we’ve seen those attitudes change quickly in this sport. Factor in that both of these players are young and in need of major minutes to further develop into the world class players that they are and can be, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that at least one of them might see his growth stall and progress slower than had he been a full-time starter.
Then there’s the cost. €31.5 million is an incredible amount to pay for a rotation full-back option and though Madrid has done it before (€30 million for Coentrao) and the club can easily afford it, it can put a certain amount of pressure on Danilo to deliver immediately while giving the unrelenting Madrid press plenty of ammunition in case he doesn’t.
Additionally, while his defensive skills are quite good and will likely get better with age, he is an attack-minded fullback and pairing him with someone like attack-minded Marcelo on the opposite flank could lead to opponents countering Madrid from wide as gaps will surely open up for them to exploit. He’s not poor in that aspect by any means but if an early conceded goal or two comes from his direction the media and fans will surely be on his back. Patience will certainly need to be granted to him and the coaching staff but if there’s one club where fan base patience runs thin it’s this one.
On the face of it it’s very easy to say that this was a bit of rash business from Real Madrid. Daniel Carvajal has proven his value and loyalty to the club and the price just seems like Madrid flaunting its obscene wealth again. But, this is a club highly reliant on its full-backs in attack, perhaps more so than any other in the world given the number of assists they accumulate, and the opportunity to steal arguably Barcelona’s number one target was too much to pass up. Coupled with a need for a viable backup to Carvajal and right-back being one of the few positions in which Ancelotti rotates somewhat regularly, this could be a masterstroke as Madrid may have secured a second world class player in a position which is arguably the thinnest in the world.
Written by Miran Saric
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