Moved on by Man City and benched by Bayern Munich - what next for Joao Cancelo?

Joao Cancelo Bayern Munich 2022-23
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The Portugal international is set to face his loan club with his temporary one in the Champions League quarter-finals after a tough 2023 to date

It has been quite the fall from grace for Joao Cancelo. Only six months ago, he was one of Manchester City's most important players, his long-term future at the club seemingly assured after signing a contract until 2027. Now, though, his short-term future is uncertain, as is his place in elite football.

Since Pep Guardiola sanctioned Cancelo's loan move to Bayern Munich on transfer deadline day at the end of January, his days at the Etihad Stadium have looked numbered.

And it is unclear whether he has a future at Bayern either after a stop-start spell in the team in which he has been dropped for crucial matches by both former coach Julian Nagelsmann and new manager Thomas Tuchel.

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With a £62 million price tag on his head and questions about his attitude laid bare by Guardiola's insistence on parting ways with him, a player who until recently was one of the top full-backs in the world now has no clear destination.

GOAL assesses where it went wrong for Cancelo and what he could do next...

  1. A new contract and seeing off Zinchenko
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    A new contract and seeing off Zinchenko

    Cancelo ended last season as one of Man City's most influential players, starting 36 of their 38 Premier League games and making eight goal contributions (one goal and seven assists).

    He performed so well that he successfully saw off the challenge from Oleksandr Zinchenko, and the Ukrainian left City for Arsenal in the summer so as to find regular first-team football.

    Cancelo began this season where he had left off in the previous campaign, starting City's first 17 matches, and as usual he was in the thick of the action, scoring twice and getting four assists in his opening 12 games.

    His form dipped just as the World Cup approached, though, and he was sent off in the first half against Fulham, leaving City to scrape a 2-1 win with 10 men.

  2. Marginalised after the World Cup

    Marginalised after the World Cup

    After the World Cup, he barely featured at all.

    He was a second-half substitute in the 3-1 win at Leeds and an unused sub in the 1-1 draw at home to Everton, with Nathan Ake taking his spot at left-back.

    He did start the 1-0 win at Chelsea as a right wing-back, but was hooked at half-time. He was a second-half substitute against Chelsea in the FA Cup four days later.

    Cancelo did complete 90 minutes in two consecutive matches, but those were two of City's worst performances of the season, the dire Carabao Cup defeat at Southampton and the 2-1 derby loss at Manchester United.

    The latter game was Cancelo's last appearance before his loan move to Bayern, and may yet prove to be his final match in a City shirt.

  3. 'A difficult personality'
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    'A difficult personality'

    While Guardiola stopped short of criticising Cancelo openly after the move to Bayern was agreed, he hinted that the full-back did not take kindly to being dropped.

    "After the World Cup, we made a pre-season and started to play in a different way in some patterns. I liked what I watched and I decided to give more time to players who I saw on the pitch who liked it," Guardiola explained.

    "Everyone has their own personality. He loves to play, he trains the best but he needs to play to be happy, so we decided together to let him go to Munich. He wants to play every game so hopefully that can happen in Munich."

    Cancelo appeared to confirm Guardiola's account when he opened up on his reasons for leaving City. “I think a player is always a bit selfish. Any player wants to feel important, wants to play and anyone who says otherwise is lying," Cancelo told Portuguese newspaper O Jogo.

    "A competitive player, like me, who aspires to win titles, just wants to play. It’s not a question of devaluing my team-mates. But I thought I deserved to play and he didn’t.

    “So we talked, it was a conversation, not a discussion, and we decided that the best thing would be for me to leave in this window. An opportunity I couldn’t refuse. It was by mutual agreement. I’m very professional, I’ve always given my all for all the clubs. I have a difficult personality, yes, but I have never, at any time, disrespected team-mates or coaches.”

  4. A false dawn but hints of a resurgence

    A false dawn but hints of a resurgence

    Cancelo made his Bayern debut in a DFB-Pokal tie against Mainz just one day after completing the loan move and had a strong first game in the Bundesliga at right-back, setting up a Kingsley Coman volley in the 4-2 win at Wolfsburg.

    But that proved to be a bit of a false dawn, as he was hauled off at half-time in the Champions League last-16 first leg at Paris Saint-Germain, with his replacement Alphonso Davies going on to set up the only goal.

    A difficult spell followed. He played only eight minutes against title rivals Union Berlin, and was an unused substitute against Stuttgart.

    In the second leg against PSG, he was only called upon for the final four minutes, though he did make the most of his little time on the pitch, flying forward from deep in his own half to set up Serge Gnabry's tie-clinching goal.

    That productive cameo was Cancelo's ticket back into the starting line up, and he played a starring role in a storming 5-3 comeback win over Augsburg, scoring the equaliser and then setting up the final goal for Davies.

  5. New coach, new problem
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    New coach, new problem

    Just as it looked like Cancelo had convinced Nagelsmann of his worth, the 35-year-old was sacked by Bayern and replaced by Tuchel.

    That meant the Portuguese found himself back on the bench for the new coach's first game in charge, the showdown against main title rivals Borussia Dortmund, only coming on as a substitute with Bayern 4-1 up and their victory practically assured.

    Tuchel, however, dismissed suggestions that the player was not to his liking. “I love Joao Cancelo. He has the absolute highest quality, left foot, right foot, passing," the former Chelsea manager said in the aftermath of the 4-2 victory. “I'm more than happy that he's here. We will need him. I'm convinced that he can play at a top level for us”.

    Cancelo started Bayern's next two matches, the DFB-Pokal defeat to Freiburg and Saturday's narrow 1-0 win at Freiburg in the Bundesliga.

  6. Where next: Bayern, Barca or a Premier League rival?

    Where next: Bayern, Barca or a Premier League rival?

    In 13 matches in all competitions since joining Bayern, Cancelo has started eight times and not appeared only once.

    Given the competition Bayern have for places at full-back and the club's financial prudence, it is little surprise that they are reportedly not interested in triggering the €70m buyout clause in the loan deal to sign the player on a permanent deal.

    Barcelona are reportedly interested in Cancelo due to their shortages at full-back, which has led them to playing centre-backs Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo out of position this season. But as the Catalans' finances remain in dire straits, they would only be able to afford a loan move.

    That is unlikely to convince City, who know how to get a good deal for their unwanted players, as they proved last season by selling Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko to Arsenal, and Raheem Sterling to Chelsea, turning a profit despite spending big on Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips.

    Indeed, if City want to get a return on their investment on Cancelo, they may be left with little choice but to sell him to a direct rival, such is the Premier League's financial might.

    Newcastle could do with some competition for Dan Burn, while Tottenham could also do with strengthening in both full-back roles.

    Chelsea have good options on both flanks and have Malo Gusto joining next season, although you can never truly rule out a Todd Boehly raid.

    Manchester United are well stocked at left-back with Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia, but right-back is another issue entirely, with doubts remaining about Aaron Wan-Bissaka's attacking qualities and Diogo Dalot not properly convincing either.

    Could United make a shock offer for Cancelo to their crosstown rivals, and would City accept it? We may never know, but it certainly feels like we have seen the last of Cancelo playing for the blue half of Manchester.