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Joao Cancelo, the superstar that wasn’t

Looking back at Joao Cancelo’s year with Juventus and how it should have been much more than what it was.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

I can tell you something, folks. I will not be bouncing my grandchildren on my knee telling them about the time Joao Cancelo donned bianconero. And what a shame that is because, for a time, for a split second there, it really looked like we might be looking at the beginnings of one of the greatest right backs to ever do it in Turin.

Cancelo came in with a high price tag last summer and even higher expectations. A common complaint for Juventus fans had been the perceived weakness at the right back position for a few years. A weakness that was only accentuated by the aging and eventual departure of Stephan Lichtsteiner — who even at his best, was considered more of a “very good” player rather than a true elite guy at the position.

For a while there, the right back position was not only a relative weak point in an otherwise solid backline, but a bonafide crisis. Remember the Juan Cuadrado experience? Andrea Barzagli as a makeshift right back? We definitely talked ourselves into Mattia De Sciglio somehow, someway getting his form back from his early Milan days. We shall not discuss Dani Alves in this space and the three solid months he had for Juve. Why? Well…

More often than not, however, the Juve faithful were left to fondly remember the Swiss Express at his peak. When he seemed like he could run a marathon within seconds of finishing the game and still have a motor for a light jog afterwards.

So, during the summer of “Hey, why don’t we just spend ALL of the money?” Cancelo and his €40-plus million price tag were brought in to solidify a lacking position in what many people saw as a contending squad for winning it all in Europe.

(We didn’t know it at the time but the summer of “Hey, why don’t we just spend ALL of the money?” had a sequel this summer called “Hey, screw it, money is just a number” the reviews are still waiting to come out.)

That whole thing about Juventus winning the Champions League ended up being wishful thinking at best. There were very few moments when this squad looked like a serious contender for Europe’s most coveted trophy. Still, at the beginning of the season, when most of the aforementioned moments took place, the young Portuguese held up his end of the bargain.

He was just as good as advertised on the offensive end of the pitch, bringing pace, flair and deadly crosses to each game he was a part of. His defensive weaknesses were not as pronounced and we could definitely see the reasoning for his signing. Cancelo was the real deal, and not unfairly, yours truly thought he was the most impactful player during the first half of the season.

And then, much like Juventus itself, as soon as the second half rolled along, Cancelo withered. Between nagging injuries and a sudden lack of form, Cancelo was a shell of the player he was during the fall. If early season Cancelo was the absolute best case scenario for the player, second half Cancelo was just the opposite. Defensive mistake over defensive mistake and a lack of final product on the offensive end could be a fair summarization of his game. The best way to encapsulate it is the fact that De Sciglio was the one starting big time Champions League games.

When the rumor mill started and Cancelo was one of the names brought up as a possible exit this summer, there were surprisingly few complaints. Juventini reacted with a collective shrug and a “Sure, I guess, someone has to go” and went back to be thrilled by all the new signings we got going.

A #RestaConNoi hashtag campain, it was not. Hell, even the Juventus social media team was lukewarm on the whole thing.

The Juventus social media team might be the most easily excitable human beings on Earth and even they couldn’t get it up for Cancelo leaving.

So it is with a whimper, not a bang, that the Joao Cancelo era ends with the Bianconeri. An era that if it was up to talent and potential alone, should have been much, much longer than it was. He will try to put it all together at Manchester City, his fourth team in the last four years. If there is anyone that can get the best of a speedy, offensively oriented full back is Pep Guardiola, if I were a betting man, I would say he is going to be just fine.

And Juventus is, once again, searching the scrap heap for a steady player to hold the right back position. De Sciglio will get his umpteenth chance to finally consolidate himself and coming the other way from the Citizens, Danilo will try to make his mark.

(Slightly off topic, but has anyone in recent memory failed upwards more than Mattia De Sciglio? When was his last full, healthy, productive season? How is he still getting shots at becoming a top level player at a top level club? Why am I full on believing in his potential, again?!)

While we still don’t know how Juventus will line up when the 2019-20 season finally kicks against Parma, there will be very few doubts or weak points in which should be a stacked Juve lineup. However, one of those doubts will continue to be the right back spot.

First world problem, sure, but a problem nevertheless.

(Actually, forget it, I can think about another guy who keeps getting chance after chance. Daniele Rugani, you never-ending tease, you.)