Of the many players rumoured to be on Pep Guardiola’s wanted list, few have been linked more persistently than Benfica left-back Álex Grimaldo of late. The 21-year-old graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia has shone for Benfica since his €1.5 million move in January 2016, and he is now on the radar of many top European clubs.
Grimaldo is a player most City fans will know precious little about, and to try and learn more about him, his style, and also his future, we caught up with David Pritchett, editor-in-chief at Planet Benfica.
Quite a few full-backs have been linked with Manchester City recently, but none more so than Álex Grimaldo. And to be honest, very few City fans seem to know much about the player. Can you give us a basic summary of his playing style?
He has superb close control and incredible composure on the ball. When he finds himself in a tight spot, he is invariably able to dribble or pass his way out of trouble without conceding possession. He is also able to spring a quick counter-attack with a longer range pass when the option is available. Grimaldo loves to get forward and combine with his winger, where he can wreak havoc with his dribbling and incisive passing. His crossing is extremely accurate and he is not afraid to whip in an early ball. As if all that wasn’t enough, he is a dead-ball specialist that relishes a free-kick on the edge of the area. The 21-year old is pretty quick, although Nélson Semedo on the opposite flank is faster. It is hard to assess Grimaldo’s defensive capabilities, because he has only played eighteen games for the club, and doesn’t have to do much defending in domestic matches! He was given tougher tests by Ricardo Quaresma and José Callejón in the Champions League, but he wasn’t embarrassed on either occasion.
Some Barcelona fans were gutted when their club let Grimaldo join Benfica on the cheap, but a few alluded to attitude problems. Has there been any sign of that in Lisbon on or off the pitch?
He was deeply frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Barcelona, and openly criticised Luis Enrique over the matter. But there has been no repeat of that behaviour at Benfica. He arrived in Lisbon in January of this year, but only made five first team appearances before the end of the 2015/16 season, and didn’t feature at all for Benfica B. Nevertheless, he worked hard in training, and only had good things to say about the club when interviewed. This season, he has established himself as the undisputed first choice in his position, and I have few doubts about his professionalism. Benfica simply don’t tolerate ‘bad apples’, as Adel Taarabt has discovered!
Every new City signing has to be able to play Pep Guardiola’s very specific style of football. Being a La Masia graduate, do you think Grimaldo would suit the way Pep is trying to get City to play and also suit the Premier League?
He would be an ideal signing for Guardiola. It is hard to imagine a full-back that is more comfortable on the ball, or more at home playing a high tempo, short-passing game. There are also definite echoes of Iniesta and Messi in the way that he can effortlessly change direction to skip past an opponent. In terms of his suitability for the Premier League, he certainly has the required stamina. Standing at 5’7”, he will never be a dominant aerial presence, but he more than compensates for that with his other attributes.
He’s been out of action a while now through injury, but prior to that how well was Grimaldo’s playing this season? Was he performing at a level that justified his growing reputation?
Grimaldo was arguably Benfica’s best player in what was a very strong start to the season. He contributed two goals and four assists in thirteen competitive games, including a stunning free-kick against Feirense. He scored another free-kick against Lyon in pre-season. The use of attacking full-backs is a major part of Benfica’s footballing philosophy, and the Spaniard needed no invitation to get forward at every opportunity. He quickly developed an understanding with Franco Cervi on the left-hand side. Defensively, he was rarely tested, but did everything that he had to calmly and effectively.
Finally, what do you make of reports that Grimaldo could leave as soon as January? Benfica are set to sign Marcelo Hermes from Gremio, but is he an instant replacement or a long-term project?
Grimaldo is such an outstanding player that his days at Benfica must be numbered, but it is hard to say whether he will depart in January or in the summer. Marcelo Hermes is widely expected to arrive from Grêmio next month, but he has only played 16 games in Brazil’s Serie A, so I would be surprised if he walked straight into the first team. Moreover, he was frozen out at Grêmio after a contract dispute, and hasn’t played a competitive match since June. He will therefore need time to rebuild his fitness. That said, Grimaldo could still be sold in January, because Benfica have a number of other options at left-back. Eliseu was a member of Portugal’s triumphant Euro 2016 squad, and André Almeida is a reliable utility man that is very familiar with the role. Yuri Ribeiro is just 19, but has been in excellent form for Benfica B and Portugal’s under-21s.