Even by modern standards, Fábio Coentrão is frighteningly skillful for a full-back.
The blond left-sided player began his career as a fleet-footed winger at hometown club Rio Ave, with whom he spent three years prior to joining Benfica in July 2007. He had to bide his time before making his first-team breakthrough though, enduring largely unfulfilling loan spells at Nacional and Real Zaragoza before returning to Rio Ave on another loan deal in January 2009, and it wasn’t until this season that he managed to pin down a starting place at the Estádio da Luz.
Like Patrice Evra and Michel Bastos before him, earning a place in the first XI meant turning his back on a position he felt was his own. He was moved to left-back by Benfica coach Jorge Jesus at the dawn of last season and his enterprising performances in the Lisbon giants’ sensational title-winning campaign confirmed national coach Carlos Queiroz’s suspicions that he could be the solution to Portugal’s longstanding problem in that area.
“Firstly it’s important to note that the club where he is playing seems to be satisfied with an opinion and a vision that we had one and a half years ago,” said Queiroz in April.
“And the player himself and the fans likewise. Forty-five minutes after the first training session I saw him in, I spoke with my coaching team and said to put Fábio at left-back because I saw he had the characteristics to play in that position.”
At 22, Coentrão will be the youngest member of Queiroz’s squad and, if selected ahead of Malaga midfielder Duda, he will have an important over-lapping role to play on the left-hand side, particularly as Portugal are highly likely to field a right-footed attacker ahead of him. Having been thrown into international waters at the deep end as a second-half substitute in the first leg of Portugal’s play-off victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in November, world football’s showpiece occasion should hold few fears for the former youth international.
Physically slight but occasionally rash in his tackling, Coentrão is a commendably cavalier dribbler and possesses wonderfully soft feet as well as a fierce shot. His performances last season were rumoured to have caught the attention of clubs including Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Roma, but his immediate thoughts will be on South Africa, where he will hope to emulate another converted winger called Fabio by leaving an indelible impression on World Cup history.
A list of players to look out for at the World Cup scouted by Football Further can be found here. Next Friday we’ll publish details of players from all 32 teams whose progress we’ll be following throughout the tournament.