When players leave Barcelona it is not expected that they should succeed. However, many players are proof this simply isn’t true. Yaya Touré, for one. But Fabregas and Bellerín are other examples. The now 21 year-old Álex Grimaldo left Barcelona in January 2016 for Portuguese giants Benfica. It set them back around €1.5 million and the obvious clause ensuring Barcelona get a percentage of any future fee Benfica receive for the left-back. In a recent interview with City Watch, editor-in-chief of Planet Benfica, David Pritchett, said he believes that Grimaldo would be ‘an ideal signing for Guardiola’. But then, wouldn’t any left back be an improvement on our current mess of a situation? (Though having said that, Gael Clichy I will always love you for your goal against Burnley). A graduate of La Masia, Grimaldo has plied his trade for a year in Benfica’s first team, a step up from his former post as Barcelona B stalwart, and his high level performances have led to him being linked with a few clubs such Juventus, his old club Barcelona and City, as per various sources from various nations. So, who is Álex Grimaldo, and would he be a good signing for Pep?
Born in Valencia, Álex signed for Barcelona in 2008. He is a graduate of the famed La Masia, the academy which has produced an almost innumerable amount of top class footballers (and, the best player ever if you’ll allow my opinion). However, Grimaldo would never make a first team appearance for the Blaugrana. He made his first appearance for Barca B in 2011 at the age of 15 against Cartagena, becoming the youngest player to ever play in the Segunda Division, a record he holds to this day, but this would be his only appearance in the 2011/12 season. The next would prove more fruitful for him however, as Álex would make 24 appearances, before a tragedy: he was seriously injured in February 2013, and would only return to action 11 months later. Despite this setback, Álex would recover well and then make 14 appearances in the 2013/14 season, with Barca B finishing 3rd. Following the loss of key player and former blue Denis Suárez to Sevilla (another player who left Barcelona for better times, only to have now returned thanks to a buyback clause), Barcelona B were relegated to the Spanish 3rd tier, as Álex Grimaldo played 36 games, his most to date. He also chipped in with 4 goals, including his first in a 3:2 victory over Alavés. Despite the relegation, Grimaldo would not move, and there were no signs of promotion to the senior team. With his contract running down and Barcelona B not showing any signs of returning to the Spanish second-flight, when Benfica approached the young left-back in December 2015, he abandoned the Catalans in favour of Portugal, in a move costing Benfica around €1.5m, complete with the obvious future revenue from any sale of Grimaldo in the future – but no fabled buyback clause. This would be a good move for the Spaniard: upon signing he proclaimed Benfica to be ‘one of the biggest clubs in the world in terms of members’ and that ‘he liked how the fans were demanding’ (perhaps a good asset if he ever comes, for dealing with our moaning Mancunian ways). Grimaldo made his debut as a substitute and only made 5 first team appearances during the final months of the 15/16 season, yet he did not feature for Benfica B once.
This season however, according to Planet Benfica’s David Pritchett, has been the season of Grimaldo. Pritchett states since August and prior to an injury, Álex has made the left back position his own. Showing his adeptness at fitting into Benfica’s attacking philosophy, he has begun to chip in with goals and assists. At the time of writing, Álex has scored 2 goals and given 3 assists in 713 minutes, a good return for a left back. In addition, in the Champions League he has earnt a 7.35 rating from 4 games against tough opposition. Though, for Football Manager nerds, it may seem he has been around forever (let’s face it, good left backs are hard to come by), Álex is still only 21 and is therefore far from the finished product.
In this seasons stark improvement in form, he’s ascertained the insane average of 7.77 in the Liga Sagres – though some may argue he has simply been given his first real chance and has jumped upon it, is why he has been linked with City and a plethora of other clubs. This interest could be both good and bad for City: the interest means that it is probably more likely than not Grimaldo will leave Benfica, if not in January due his current injury problems, then in the summer. On the other hand, the offer of going back to Barcelona is always going to be an attractive one. But, as we have seen with Gabriel Jesus, Barcelona’s interest does not just necessarily mean City are out of the race, and perhaps the fact Grimaldo would be City’s undisputed left-back rather than fighting it out with Jordi Alba would be a reason for Álex to choose pure Manchester blue, over blue tainted with red in Catalonia.
Here, I wanted to compare Álex with Aleksandar and Gael. Despite the formers’ enchanting rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ which City roll out every Christmas, and Gael’s wonderful goal against Burnley: Manchester City *breathes in*, need, need, need, n e e d, NEED, neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed a new left back. However: Kolarov, bizarrely, has played a fair amount of football at centre half and therefore any comparisons would be deeply unfair. So, it’ll be a straight Gael v Álex fight, and all stats will come from the respective leagues they play in.
Grimaldo has created on average 1.52 chances per game compared to Clichy’s 0.79. This is proof of Grimaldo’s attacking intents.
Grimaldo makes 1.1 crosses per game compared to Clichy’s 0.2. This is evidence of Grimaldo not needing any invitations to get into advanced positions.
Grimaldo wins 1.9 tackles per game compared to Clichy’s 1.28. Conversely, proof Grimaldo isn’t simply a potent attacking force.
Unfortunately, stats are almost fairly redundant here. Due to injury, Grimaldo has played only 711 minutes this season, and therefore his stats may be inflated by simple good form: it is unclear whether he could keep up his high level performances through an entire season.
Grimaldo is a brilliant attacking full back. Though he may be diminutive, his best attitudes are great ball control and ability to have possession without panicking, a real ball playing defender. In the aforementioned interview with David Pritchett, he paid Álex the *massive* compliment that his style of play ‘echoed Messi and Iniesta’. His attacking instincts lead him to often be in the opponents half, providing another potent attacking outlet for Benfica. His ball control means he often strolls past members of the opposing teams, allowing him to be impervious to pressure, which would obviously be a major asset in the Premier League. Grimaldo is fast, so unlike perhaps an older full back, of which we have four currently, Grimaldo could help leading, and defending against, counter attacks. This speed and ball control, coupled with his ability to play the simple game and his current form in terms of goals and assists, make Álex a very good template for a very well rounded left back: we must remember he is just 21, and could and should improve a great deal as he matures. David Pritchett also remarks that Álex has made a good connection down the left hand side with Franco Cervi, Pep will hope Grimaldo could develop a similar strong relationship with fellow youngsters Sterling and Sané. Interestingly, he has recently taken to scoring from free-kicks. Remind you of anyone?
I don’t want to play the same record over and over, but City need a new set of full backs. Kolarov, Zabaleta and Clichy have been here for some time now and have all seen better days (despite Kolarov’s early season form, Zabaleta’s performance against Neymar and Clichy’s goal against Burnley). Therefore any links to new players in the full back position may well, rightly, be regarded as sent from some divine force, salvation from having the same full backs we have now in 2020 (imagine). Personally I get bored of ‘Serie A/La Liga (especially this one)/Bundesliga/Ligue 1 is just a one/two team league’, but the standard of the Liga Sagres has to be questioned: City have bought Fernando Reges, Javi Garcia and Eliaquim Mangala from Portugal, all of whom were great in Portugal, but all of whom have failed to make a significant impression at City. This have left many blues, myself to a lesser extent, sceptical of any Portuguese league imports. However, under Pep Fernando has improved massively and Pep’s tutelage could have a big impact on Álex. But who could honestly turn down a new full back? City need to finally sort the mess that is our full back situation: it was bad when they plugged the hole with Bacary Sagna, he himself is now a month off 34, but now it is bordering on ridiculous: Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, even United have better full backs than we do.
My rating is 8.5 out of 10. Since leaving Barcelona, Grimaldo has developed massively. He’s 21, fast, playing in a short passing, high pressure team. However, it may be argued quite successfully that he never gets particularly tested defensively in the weaker league, though he has played well in the Champions League this season. He reportedly has a £51 million release clause which is off-putting – a fee around £30 million would not be shocking, and I believe that we could get 10 years out of Grimaldo. His current injury problems are a worry, especially as he is out until at least March, and City would need to check that he will not turn up as yet another perennially crocked player. Because of his current injury problems, if City do act on their interest, it will most likely now be in the summer rather than this month.