Since the departure of Roberto Carlos from Real Madrid in the summer of 2007, los Merengues have had a terribly difficult time looking for someone to fill his shoes at left back. Numerous players have tried to take on this role, and countless rumors have come and gone over the years linking the best left backs in the world to the Santiago Bernabeu. The likes of Ashley Cole and even Patrice Evra have been mentioned as transfer targets for Real Madrid for two or three years now.
Last season, Marcelo finally appeared to lock down the position and make it his own, starting nearly every game at left back. However, Marcelo has never truly managed to convince all of the Madridistas that he can really defend at a world-class level. His attacking talents are unquestionable, but he can be shaky at times when defending one-on-one, as evidenced in last year's four late-season matches against Barcelona.
Against the backdrop of this left-back problem, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has finally pulled the trigger on signing a player that has been linked to the Bernabeu for much time in Portuguese international Fabio Coentrao. But the question remains, is Coentrao finally the answer at left back?
Coentrao broke onto the international scene during his time at Rio Ave FC of the Portuguese first division. His play there earned him a transfer to Benfica, where he blossomed into the player that he is today. Originally playing primarily as a left winger, he gradually shifted his game to the left back position as he improved his defending. His strong play at Benfica as well as during loan spells at Nacional, Real Zaragoza, and original club Rio Ave earned him the starting left back spot with the Portuguese national team, which he represented at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
His strong play in South Africa, where Portugal exited in the Round of 16 to eventual champions Spain, opened eyes around the world and he was mentioned as a potential signing for Real Madrid, who already boasted several Portuguese players in their squad such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Ricardo Carvalho.
But now that Coentrao has finally arrived at the Bernabeu, where will he fit into the squad? One thing is for sure: Coentrao will be on the field quite a bit this season. After being purchased for a transfer fee around 30 million euros, there's no way Coentrao sits on the bench for this team. Mourinho will have to find a way to get him on the field.
Is he good enough to take the starting left back spot from Marcelo? Both are left backs that are very comfortable going forward, but the questions are at the back. Coentrao's time with his national team and with Benfica has suggested that he is slightly better than Marcelo at one-on-one defending, but Marcelo certainly hasn't been bad enough to lose the starting spot. It's more likely that both play at the same time.
Coentrao will probably start at left back, and Marcelo will fill in wherever there is space. He will be one of the "utility" players that Mourinho loves to have. If a player like Angel Di Maria or Cristiano Ronaldo is injured or suspended, Marcelo will fill in for them. And, of course, if Coentrao has to miss a game, the team will no longer have to start right-footed Alvaro Arbeloa at left back.
What do you think of the signing? Where do you think Coentrao can fit into the squad? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.