TugaScout is an English-language site reporting on matters associated with Portuguese football by freelance writer Alex Goncalves, offering the latest news, reviews and opinions surrounding the Portuguese League and the Seleção players based abroad.

"Two of the best left backs in world football still play in Portugal"

"Two of the best left backs in world football still play in Portugal"

Portugal may be a breeding ground for some of the hottest up and coming talent across the continent, but they are still home to two of the current best left backs in world football.

This is perhaps greeted with a great deal of scepticism by the vast majority; after all, they are ‘only’ playing in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, and they don’t come with the reputations of other world-class left-backs as a result.

But it was the same with the likes of Ederson and Jan Oblak, just to give two examples who are now considered, without doubt, two of the greatest goalkeepers in world football. Both, some may recall, really kick-started their careers at Benfica.

Indeed, almost as soon as they made their moves to Atletico Madrid and Manchester City respectively they were seen as world-class goalkeepers - but prior to their move and while they were still at Benfica, the very suggestion that they were two of the best in the global game would have been scoffed at and dismissed entirely by fans who don’t get the privilege of watching Portuguese football week in, week out.

So it begs the question; were they world class when at Benfica? Or did they only become world class when they moved to a different league? Did they, from one day to the next, become better goalkeepers just because they suddenly played for the likes of Atletico Madrid and Manchester City? Is it only when they were given that 30 million euro price tag that they were considered among the best in the world?

The answer to that is, of course, absolutely not. Ederson, in particular, was world class while at Benfica, and proved that with his performances on the pitch week after week, and to suggest otherwise would be entirely illogical.

Alex Sandro is an even better example, being a left back. His performances for Porto were terrific, and earned him a move to Juventus for a substantial fee of €28million. With his performances with the Italian giants over the last couple of seasons, he is undoubtedly considered one of the very best fullbacks in the world - but if that was suggested while he was at Porto, it wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

Hopefully that shows that it is perfectly feasible that two left backs currently plying their trade in the Portuguese league are among the best in the world - even if the world doesn’t quite realise it yet.

We are, of course, talking about Benfica’s Alex Grimaldo and Porto’s Alex Telles, two attacking full backs that have been linked with high-profile moves away from their respective Portuguese clubs and yet still, to this day, remain in the country.

Alex Grimaldo, now 23, joined Benfica nearly three years ago from Barcelona for a fee of just 1.5 million euros, and has since played 88 matches for Benfica, chipping in with 7 goals and 12 assists in the process.

A steal for the price, Benfica have reaped the reward of plunking for a footballer who had lost his way somewhat at Barcelona, failing to make a single competitive appearance for the senior side; instead, he played a huge 110 matches for Barcelona’s B team in La Liga 2, where he often impressed and showed his attacking prowess regularly, grabbing 8 goals and 12 assists from his deep starting position.

But he never took that step up to the main team, and a move to Benfica to reignite his career was the logical next step. How long he would stay there, however, was always much more of a question mark, despite the fact that he signed a long-term deal with the club when he first arrived.

And despite now being in his third season at the club, for all his club-level experience both in the second division in Spain and in Portugal’s top flight, Grimaldo is still a young full back, something which is seen as highly desirable in the modern game and would no doubt go a long way in helping him move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

To prove just how much demand there currently is for one of Benfica’s most valuable players, he has been linked with moves to the likes of Napoli and Juventus in recent months, and a move to a club of that stature will surely come sooner rather than later, regardless of whether Benfica fans will want to accept it.

However, one thing that prevents Alex Grimaldo from being considered, among the majority, as one of the world’s best left backs is that he is yet to play for the Spanish national team at senior level; which is a fair point. In fact, with just a handful of appearances on the youth stage for Spain, his recognition at international level is virtually non-existent.

But, you have to remember that Spain themselves have at least two of the best left backs in world football right now in Jordi Alba and Marcus Alonso. You then also have Nacho Monreal, Arsenal's Mr Consistent, and even he has only played for Spain 22 times despite now being 32.

The issue for Grimaldo is that, in Spain, he'll always be remembered for not quite hacking it at Barcelona; the fact he never made it to their main team despite there being so much expectation surrounding him means that he's always facing an uphill battle to break into the national team. Spain's management are also likely waiting for Grimaldo to prove himself in a more reputable league.

As such, his lack of game time for Spain shouldn't be used against him too much and isn't a fair indication of just how good he is at Benfica. When he eventually does move to a side like Juventus, his minutes for Spain will increase considerably. 

And then you've got the brilliant Alex Telles. This guy needs very little introduction, he's that good. In fact, he may very well be the greatest Brazilian left back Porto have ever had. That may not sound like much, but when you are competing against Alex Sandro, that's quite a compliment, and a good indication of how brilliant he really is.

Quick, hard-working and possessing a terrific delivery - both from open play and from dead ball situations - Telles has a lot to offer even the best of sides. And while he's excellent going forwards, always willing to bound forwards and get involved in the attack, the defensive side to his game, which is so often compromised in modern-day attacking fullbacks, is also exceptional, with great positional awareness and discipline when required. 

Now 25, the Brazilian is now in his prime, and is proving that week upon week with the Portuguese champions.

Telles arrived at Porto two summers ago, in 2016, for a fee of 6.5 million euros from Galatasaray. He had just come off the back of a successful loan spell at Inter Milan and, when they passed up the opportunity to make his move permanent for just over 8 million euros, Porto swooped in and snapped him up.

He has since played 114 game for Porto across all competitions, picking up an impressive 36 assists in the process, and is undoubtedly one of the club's standout players.

He is destined for a move to one of Europe's finest - but only for a substantial price. 

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