One of the biggest transfers of the January window was that of Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado, who cost Chelsea in the region of 24 million pounds from Fiorentina. I had the privilege of seeing him live twice at the World Cup (see here, here and here) and I can confirm that he’s a tricky winger with pace to burn and extremely direct. Even Brazil took to kicking lumps out of him and James Rodriguez in the World Cup quarter finals, such was the threat they felt they posed.
Reminiscent of Ronaldinho
Do you remember the wiggling and shuffling that we saw from the great Brazilian every time he got possession? Ball, feet and body moving simultaneously, the defenders never knew where to look. Now I’m not saying Cuadrado is in this bracket, just that his gait and stance with the ball at his feet are quite similar. Having spent a long time in Colombia, I can tell you that most locals reckon Ronaldinho Gaúcho is the best player of modern times, and alcohol-fuelled football debates certainly leave me completely outnumbered with my arguments for Zidane. Thus I’d like to argue that Cuadrado has in some way based his game on the Brazilian magician’s. He shifts the ball this way and that way, lots of shoulder dropping and step-overs and he just loves taking players on. The spaghetti hair and slight goofiness are merely coincidental, or are they?
But he’s more than a show-boater
Anyone who’s watched him will have noticed that he’s extremely hardworking and very versatile. He can operate on either wing, in the hole or even at full back, and is full of running. He also has that knack that the aforementioned Ronaldinho had on PES 2008 (and not in real life) of snatching possession from opposing players by wriggling in front of them and using his body, though slender, to great effect.
Might have suited Man Utd more
Rumours were rife that the Red Devils were in for him in the summer but baulked at the price tag. Strange considering how much they spent on Shaw and Herrera in the last window. With his high fitness levels, and ability to get up and down the line, he could have slotted in well there and provided a lot of attacking threat. Chelsea play more of a 4-2-3-1 and their width comes from their full backs. It would seem that Ivanovic is undroppable, so Mourinho would have to find a way of accommodating him in the floating three behind Diego Costa. This could benefit him, as it would allow him to pick up the ball in pockets of space and carry it at speed. Though I’d say he’d need a little time to adapt to the system, much as Hazard and William did, so as not trip over the toes of the other players in the team, always a danger when you go from being a big fish at your previous club to just another meaty herring amongst your new teammates.
A bit of a generalisation about South American street fighters
It’s in fashion at the moment to label any hardworking South American such as Suárez, Agüero or Sánchez a ruffian whose difficult background has led them to appreciate every match like it’s their last. So here’s another theory about Cuadrado’s playing ethos:
He used to play for Atletico Urabá, based near Turbo, Antioquia, which is about as red-hot as you can get on a danger map for Colombia. The region has a heavy FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) presence, as well as other groups of paramilitaries keen on getting a stronger foothold in the drugs trade. Police barely exist in this region. Any cocaine coming out of the back door of the Andes via Medellín (where the famous Pablo Escobar went about his business) are almost certain to pass through Urabá on its way to the USA. Indeed, Turbo, Antioquia is one of the few Colombian cities listed as absolute no-go by the British government.
Anyway, if living in a city run by armed rebel groups, and playing for a team probably owned by them didn’t turn him into one of those media-loved hardened rogues from war-torn urban South America who will give his last breath to win, even on a wet and windy midweek trip to Stoke, then I don’t know what will.
To summarise, he’s tenacious, skilful, and physically prepared enough for the Premier League.
That’s if my Colombia and South America I’ve-seen-him-live bias isn’t totally getting in the way of things…