Javier Manquillo – Different to the rest

Posted: July 11, 2014 in La Liga
Manquillo training

Manquillo training

With a high influx of wingers being converted to full-backs in Spain, it’s refreshing to finally see a naturally defensive-minded full-back rise to popularity. Javier Manquillo isn’t your everyday marauding, positionally undisciplined, young full-back. Manquillo has had his head rooted to his shoulders from a young age, and that’s made him into the highly rated prospect he is today.

In 2007, the youngster moved from the Real Madrid Cantera (academy) to Atletico Madrid’s. Whilst that jump is often seen nowadays, it was still quite a big thing in Manquillo’s time. Manquillo’s experience in the youth echelons of Atleti were quiet, with nothing quite flashy having happened; and that sums Manquillo’s character up. His rise from academy to first-team was completed in 2011 when he was taken on Atleti’s pre-season friendly trips and made his debut against Zamalek SC. Manquillo would find himself regularly training with the first team throughout the season, but only made his first competitive appearance in a Copa del Rey tie against Albacete late in 2011. He would not make another appearance all year, instead sitting on the bench and playing for the B team. Despite the lack of minutes, Manquillo was rewarded with a 5-year contract extending his time with Los Colchoneros until 2016.

In late 2012, at the age of just 18, Manquillo made his La Liga debut in a 6-0 thrashing of Deportivo. Not much could be deduced from his short cameo, but it was yet another milestone in his career. 2012 was also Manquillo’s first year with Spain’s U-18 squad, racking up just two appearances. Manquillo’s performances were so good, especially against Russia, that he was pushed right up to the U-19s in the exact same year.

Although 2012 had seen the youngster move one step closer to first-team football, it was the year 2013 that really catapulted him. Manquillo made his first start for the club against Levante in January and, by the time the first-half had ended, the fans were chanting his name. He had made some spectacular interceptions, and even assisted Adrian Lopez’s goal in said half. Yet another contract extension would be prepared for the young right-back, this one tying him down until 2018. Many would be mistaken, after that performance, in thinking that Manquillo is an attacker first and a defender second. It’s quite the opposite.

Manquillo, unlike the new breed of Spanish full-back, is a defender first. Despite being a dazzling runner with the ball, his end-product is still ridiculously raw. This is an area of his game which needs a lot of fine-tuning and, whilst technique can’t quite be taught, it appears that Manquillo has the technical ability but just can’t quite unlock it yet. His short passing is a good trait as it means his side can remain in possession, but it just seems as though Manquillo doesn’t want to try anything special in the fear of failing. Failure is something that youngsters tend to learn from, but Manquillo wants to avoid it altogether. Whether this is a detriment to his game or a sign of a dependable team player, the ambiguity of  such, paired with sporadic appearances, means that the conclusion is yet to be determined. But who can unlock this attacking ability from Manquillo’s locker? Diego Simeone likes his full-backs joining in attack and making telling contributions, but yet he also values defensive structure and stability over everything else. Simeone could also ensure that Juanfran works closely with Manquillo in an attempt to bolster his attacking nous and shape it around Atleti’s philosophy. But with the rumours that Atleti are open to loaning him out, with an option to buy, it could be inferred that Simeone isn’t willing to invest time in shaping Manquillo into an all-round full-back.

Manquillo vs Ronaldo

Manquillo vs Ronaldo

Despite his glaring attacking deficiencies, Manquillo is an outstanding defender for his age pool. One of the best defensive-minded young full-backs I have seen in years. His athleticism has left many an Atleti fan in awe, but it his reading of the game that makes him an absolute treat to watch. Manquillo commands his flank excellently, especially in his own third, and this is reinforced by his high tackling ratio last season. Manquillo successfully completed 14 tackles in just three La Liga appearances, an average of 4.7 per-game. Aerially, Manquillo is also superb. His leap means he can tower above most and, as his reading of the game is great, so is his judgement of aerial passes. Due to his overall defensive flexibility, Manquillo can operate at left-back too. His defensive work isn’t hindered in that position, although his attacking contributions decrease drastically. Due to his physical attributes, athleticism and demeanour many of his coaches have considered him as a potential centre-back. He even made a short appearance there for Spain’s U-19s. With the rise of versatility in modern football, players less talented usually get a shot at bigger clubs because they cover various positions. In Manquillo’s case, he’s talented and versatile.

Manquillo's 100%  aerial duels won against Valladolid, a side who play quite narrow and long-ball football.

Manquillo’s 100% aerial duels won against Valladolid, a side who play quite narrow and long-ball football.

Manquillo did well in commanding his flank against a Rayo Vallecano side who play expansive and direct football. 5/7 tackles won.

Manquillo did well in commanding his flank against a Rayo Vallecano side who play expansive and direct football. 5/7 tackles won. (IMAGE CREATED VIA SQUAWKA)

 

At some point, we do have to stop and really appreciate Manquillo. He nearly lost his life in last season’s match against Real Madrid. Many may have been watching as the youngster jumped for the ball, coming down and landing awkwardly on his neck. The footballing world gathered together and hoped that he would pull through, and he did. He fractured his C7 vertebra, which could have ended tragically if it had displaced. Thankfully, there was no displacement and Manquillo would just have to carry a neck brace for a few weeks.

Manquillo brace

Manquillo’s story is far from completed, in fact it’s only just started. What we have witnessed so far is a naturally gifted defensive-minded footballer who makes the art of defending fun to watch. His maturity levels are high and, regardless of where he ends up, I expect him to have an exciting and illustrious career. He has the potential to be the best in his position for Spain, and that mustn’t change. Wherever he does end up, he will need to be under the tutelage of a manager willing to work closely with his players. A club with stability.

 

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