It is not uncommon that after the first team’s training at Manchester City has finished finding Joao Cancelo left behind to train in what is consistently becoming the signature move of the Portugal winger. Sometimes a teammate, like compatriot Ruben Dias, joins him and together they will hit ball after ball with the outside of the right shoe but, in reality, there is no one in the club who has honed their technique like Cancelo.
Borussia Dortmund were the last to fall prey to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, with Erling Haaland the grateful recipient on this occasion, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Cancelo was fascinated by what the Portuguese like to call the “trivela” when he probably witnessed his greatest exponent and his compatriot, Ricardo Quaresma, bend the ball at will with frightening precision and consistency for goals, assists, passes and cross and has now become a formidable weapon in his own arsenal.
Perhaps only Luke Modric, the Real Madrid and Croatia midfield wizard who memorably sent Scotland out of Euro 2020 with a lavish goal from trivela at Hampden Park last year, is as skilled in skill as Cancelo among those who they still play at the elite level of the game.
“It’s a technical move that I usually do a lot,” Cancelo said in City’s Together: Champions Again !, a recently released series that charts last season’s journey to a fourth Premier League title in five years.
“Since I was a kid I have made this technical move: drill it. We also have a player in Portugal who for me is the best at this, and that is Ricardo Quaresma. I started experimenting from the moment I saw him do it and over the years he was getting better. Each time it was easier and now it’s easy to make that kind of transition ”.
It may sound easy, but it is far from it. There are a few more technically challenging ways to hit a ball, but Cancelo, like Quaresma and Modric, has perfected the art of being able to drill in a variety of positions, whether standing or on the run, and with unfailing precision, tremendous power, devilish twist, and minimal lift.
It’s one of the reasons Cancelo is so dangerous – and so comfortable – in both full-back positions. He can strike a drill from a stationary or fleeing position from the left and fold it from the inside out, without leaving the need to cut the inside on his preferred right foot. Likewise, when deployed to the right, he can control his run, cut in and throw the ball from out to in, leaving defenders constantly guessing which way he might go.
Cancelo’s pass for Haaland against Dortmund, which first evaded Jude Bellingham, then passed three yellow jerseys and finally the head of Nico Schlotterbeck before City number 9, with typical elasticity, directed a volley at home, It was the second time in a fortnight the Etihad audience has witnessed the Portuguese perform the feat.
Nottingham Forest’s entire defense was bypassed by Cancelo’s cross pass as Phil Foden headed John Stones’ door to return to Haaland to claim his hat-trick in City’s 6-0 win. Arguably the best demonstration of his effectiveness came in City’s 3-0 win over Everton at Etihad in November last year, when a graceful rustle of the outside of his right boot saw Cancelo unravel the opposing defense and Raheem. Sterling come in to score. “He is a player who I know can hit the ball with the outside of his foot quite softly,” said Sterling, now at Chelsea. “As soon as he got the touch I did the run and he did it perfectly. It’s about getting to know your teammates and trying to anticipate ”.
Having the confidence to play such a bold passing style is, in some respects, as significant as its technical needs and Cancelo certainly doesn’t fail to believe it. “This isn’t even a question!” he joked when asked if Dias was capable of carrying out the drill. “You can’t compare Ruben and me for my drill. Light years away! There is no comparison. After Quaresma, I’m the best. “
Even the Cancelo-Haaland tie wouldn’t compare to Quaresma and Adriano Vieira Louzada’s amazing combination for Porto in the late 1940s, though. Running in step with the bodies in pursuit, Quaresma lashed an exquisite trivela cross from a left winger to Adriano, who controlled the ball on his chest before artfully landed a bicycle kick. When done correctly, the trivela can achieve almost bizarre turns and dips, which is another factor behind the fact that it is so difficult to defend and such an effective tool for unlocking even the most compact and organized defenses.
And Cancelo is becoming something of a poster boy for one of football’s most aesthetically appealing skills.