Alex Sandro 21 Defender Porto
At the end of the summer transfer window there was a huge question mark hanging over the future of left back Álvaro Pereira at FC Porto. Amid reports of a falling out with the team's coach, Vítor Pereira, and on the back of a 2011/12 campaign that fell short of the lofty expectations to which he was held, Porto sought to cash in on the Uruguayan even if it meant undercutting his release clause.
Sure enough, a potential move to Chelsea was mooted and a transfer to Internazionale finally secured at the end of August. In his stead, 21-year-old Brazilian Alex Sandro is starting to make his mark. The first choice left back spot is now his, and he is responding well to the responsibility.
Give or take the odd standard complication in South American ownership and registration rights, Sandro burst onto the scene with Atletico Paranaense after a sparkling youth career and was quickly snapped up by São Paulo giants Santos. 31 league games later he was packing his bags again, this time to make the extremely common young footballer's journey from Brazil to Portugal, where he joined Porto in the summer of 2011 - but not before earning himself a Copa Libertadores winner's medal.
Still a modest age and having been shaped as the archetypal modern Brazilian full back, Sandro has work to do to fulfil his defensive requirements in Europe. With Pereira out of the picture, he is taking the opportunity to continue his defensive education on the job, and it's gradually coming to him. But he is liable to make the occasional mistake, and some Portuguese football experts believe there are some costly mistakes possible as he shapes his future in the pressurised environment of Portuguese top flight football.
At 21, what Sandro can do is more telling than what he cannot, or where he needs improvement. What stands about his game most prominently is something brilliantly, beautifully Brazilian. His footwork and close control are clever, inventive and entertaining, made possible by superb balance and no little strength. Here is a player not easy to dispossess and therefore able to deploy his more dangerous characteristics - perhaps obviously, those take place in the attacking third.
Full backs like Sandro get supporters on the edge of their seats by being full of little tricks and fast enough to do real damage, and Porto's new left back combines that with an impressive crossing ability that could prove in the coming years to be a prominent source of goals for Porto. Sandro likes to beat a man one-on-one and clip the ball into the box from tight angles, the type of crosses that goalmouth poachers thrive upon.
Even as a left back, a player with the attacking incision that Sandro has at his disposal will undoubtedly hope to score more goals as his game develops, and he knows he can do it. Of the few senior goals to his name so far, the outstanding effort was a phenomenal strike now fully two years ago against Cruzeiro for Santos, which saw him run from his own half, leave the opposing full back kicking air as he zipped past him, and chip the goalkeeper from a quite ridiculous angle.
A few more of those and Alex Sandro will be adding to his handful of senior Brazil caps before too long. Domestically, his defensive education will be vital. In Brazil, he was solid at times thanks to his strength and awareness, but in the more defensively demanding role as a full back in Europe he still has work to do.
“A thrusting runner who spends far more time attacking than defending; Marcelo's heir in waiting." - Jack Lang (Guardian, ESPN)
C+ Stepping up to the plate in style