Germany won it, Brazil hosted it, falling apart at the penultimate hurdle, and England bottled it once again. Yes, that’s the gist of what happened at the 2014 World Cup.
The headlines in the British media generally circulated around those three protagonists and foolishly failed to recognise the most electrifying team that graced the Brazilian turf last summer – Colombia.
Finishing with the joint best goal difference in the group stages before narrowly losing to the hosts in the quarter-finals, Columbia displayed the most entertaining brand of football I’ve seen in years.
Jose Pekerman’s side glided across the pitch in such a tenacious and flamboyant style that it put the so-called maestros of ‘samba football’ to shame. Not only did they show bucket-loads of enthusiasm and grit, they knew how to kill off opposition.
Amongst that group of players was Juan Cuadrado.
Playing on the right hand side of a 4-2-3-1 system, Cuadrado was an integral component of the World Cup’s most glamorising team, ending the tournament with four assists and one goal to his name. With the lack of confidence and flourish amongst the likes of Rafael, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young under the 3-5-2 regime, interest in the 26-year-old Fiorentina winger would come as no surprise and he was heavily linked with a move after the World Cup.
The 3-5-2 formation relies heavily on full-backs being able to defend competently, bomb up and down the flanks and offer something in attack. Whilst Valencia has shown the very rare glimpse of ability at right wing-back, he’s been nowhere near influential enough in order for the often-maligned system to function in its full pomp.
The inclusion of Cuadrado would give Louis van Gaal’s system much more potency as a result of his blistering pace and excellent crossing ability. Despite playing two fewer games than Valencia this season, the Columbian has made 14 more key passes than the Ecuadorian. Whilst the current United right wing-backinvariably gives a workmanlike, gritty performance, this potential signing for United poses serious attacking threat on the right flank.
Although Cuadrado is an attacking winger by trade, his ability to play in the right wing-back slot means he would be an extremely useful asset for Van Gaal who is a known admirer of multi-functional players. The Colombian has featured as a right wing-back on 28 occasions in the past two seasons, showing his capacity to function in a back five.
Should Van Gaal choose to revert to the dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation, a system used against Chelsea and City, Cuadrado would be a potentially more favourable option to Adnan Januzaj, who only made 28 key passes from the flanks last season as opposed to Cuadrado’s 55.
In Cuadrado you have a bold winger with a lightning quick, penetrative running style. His superb sprint speed is accommodated with an almost never-ending amount of energy and stamina, and his style is simple but effective. Leaving a defender in a heap before providing a pinpoint cross to the striker appears to come naturally to a player who only really came to the fore three seasons ago.
The 26-year-old can occasionally be a bit slow on the ball but his boundless supply of energy and speed means his ability to recover is second to none. His inclusion would come at the expense of Rafael, Valencia, and potentially Januzaj but his notorious chutzpah on the right flank would further enhance the menace of Van Gaal’s side.