The 2016/17 campaign was filled with surprising stories, none the more astonishing than the success of Monaco under manager Leonardo Jardim. The Monégasque side stunningly dethroned PSG of their Ligue 1 title, while also stunning the rest of Europe with a trip to the Champions League semifinal, coming one step short of a trip to Cardiff for the final. Although a variety of factors can be attributed to the success of the Red and Whites, the Brazilian regista Fabinho was paramount in dictating the prosperity of his side. At the tender age of 23, the promising youngster has all the traits necessary to become a complete midfielder within the next seasons.
Fabinho began his footballing career as a right back for the Brazilian side Fluminense. Leaving the club before making a senior appearance, he departed for the Portuguese side of Rio Ave in 2012. Similarly to his case at Fluminense, he left Rio Ave before making an appearance, being sent to Real Madrid Castilla on a season-long loan. Fabinho impressed throughout his 28 appearances, and even managed to earn a substitute appearance for Real Madrid before returning to Rio Ave when the season concluded. Fabinho’s next action involved a loan move to Monaco in 2013, where he spent 2 extremely successful seasons with the club before being signed on a permanent in 2015 for only €6M — a steal considering today’s market. He was initially deployed as a right back in the Monaco team— combining diligent defensive skills with pace and power in the attacking third. Soon enough, Jardim realized that Fabinho’s talent was being wasted on the peripheral. Deciding to grant the Brazilian a more influential role, the manager transformed the 23-year-old right back into a defensive midfielder. The former Fluminense man’s shift to the midfield has caused his prestige to increase exponentially, quietly progressing his career in Europe while also flying relatively under the radar. During the 2016/17 season, Europe witnessed the emergence of Fabinho, and his spectacular season has not gone unnoticed. With his future up in the air, the Brazilian has been linked with Manchester United and Atlético Madrid. Although we can’t predict where he’ll be playing his trade next season, it can be sure that Fabinho is on his way to becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
Despite heavy links to English giants Manchester United and Chelsea during the summer of 2016, Fabinho chose to remain with Monaco for another season. The previous season had featured Monaco finish a whopping 31 points behind league winners PSG and finishing a measly 3rd in their Europa League group. Nevertheless, 2016 saw a new side emerge from the ashes, and a large part of their prosperity can be attributed to Fabinho’s major breakthrough. His impact can be seen on a superficial level: he featured in 55 of Monaco’s 63 games whilst also playing a total of 4,540 minutes. He bagged a surprising 12 goals and 6 assists from defensive midfield, becoming a constant in Jardim’s side. Nonetheless, he was never at the forefront of stardom — often being outshined by the resurgent Radamel Falcao, the prodigal Kylian Mbappé, or the up-and-coming Thomas Lemar. With the stars up front stealing all the shine, Fabinho was tasked with commanding Monaco’s midfield alongside Tiemoué Bakayoko. Some of the Brazilian’s old traits as a right back aided his transition to a full-time midfielder, as he completed 80 tackles in Ligue 1 — a statistic undoubtedly facilitated by his previous experience as a full back. One of the best ball winners in Europe, Fabinho consistently shut down attack after attack with vital tackles and interceptions. A level of composure that transcends his years, the 23-year-old is exceptionally skilled in coping with high-press opponents, deftly leaving opponents behind with a clever drop of the shoulder or a swift turn. With agility that rivals some of the best defensive midfielders in the world, not to mention his excellent distribution and vision, Fabinho can decisively dictate Monaco’s tempo as he roams the pitch. Moreover, his quick feet and awareness allow him to kickstart a counterattack in the blink of an eye. This skill proved pivotal to Monaco’s attacking success, as they scored the 2nd most goals in Europe, behind only the star-studded attack of Barcelona. His superb long passing could set his team up for an immediate advantage, guiding them into attack almost instantly with a perfectly weighted ball to his target. Fabinho was a focal point of Jardim’s side, and without their mobile regista, Monaco would’ve struggled to win Ligue 1 and succeed in the Champions League.
Fabinho at right back was a force to be reckoned with. His willingness to defend, his anticipation and awareness, his physical stature, and his strength were multiple factors that created his success as a defender. Had he continued in his natural position, Fabinho could’ve easily developed into one of the greatest full backs in the world. However, after proving his worth in the midfield over two legs against Arsenal in the Champions League, Jardim began converting him to defensive midfield. Integrating him to sit in front of the back four, Jardim’s tactical decision was a masterful one, as Fabinho blossomed into the well-rounded midfielder he is today. Not only did this modification allow full back Djibril Sidibé to play at right back, it also solidified Monaco’s midfield significantly — the Ligue 1 champions kept 17 clean sheets in the league. If Jardim hadn’t trusted Fabinho, no one would’ve given it a second thought. But since he did, we can all admire the fruitfulness of his decision and how Fabinho guided Monaco to their 8th Ligue 1 title and a deep run in the Champions League.
Written by: Brandon Duran/@Alcxntara6