22nd March 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
After marking himself out as one of the best right-backs in Europe, a summer of speculation over Fabinho's future ended with him singing a new contract with Monaco.
The Brazilian, who moved to the Principality from Rio Ave in 2013, initially on loan, has so impressed in his time at the Stade Louis II that Manchester United and Manchester City were reportedly hot on his tail at the end of last season, with £25million bids mooted.
However, since shunning interest from the Premier League in favour of remaining part of Leonardo Jardim's exciting Monaco project, Fabinho's career has taken an unexpected turn, with the player re-inventing himself as a central midfielder and excelling in his new role as much as he had at right-back.
When the Ligue 1 side signed Djibril SidibÃ© in a £12.75 million deal from Lille in the summer, many observers put two and two together, assuming that the French full-back had been brought in to replace Fabinho, who would surely cash in on his burgeoning reputation with a move to one of Europe's elite clubs.
But Jardim had other ideas for the 23-year-old, and instead decided that he would be of more use in midfield.
Fabinho was not a novice in a defensive midfield role, having filled in there on occasion for Monaco, but as part of a central duo alongside TiemouÃ© Bakayoko this term he has enjoyed the greater responsibility that comes with the position, shielding the backline as well as driving his team forward and joining the attack when the opportunity presents itself.
As a right-back, Fabinho was technically proficient, cognisant of his defensive duties and a real threat when pushing forward. But what really set him apart as an elite prospect was his athleticism, and this attribute has been key in ensuring his positional switch has been a resounding success.
The way the 6' 2" powerhouse is able to cover ground, quickly change direction and break forward at speed means he is able to transform defence into attack in the blink of an eye. The same defensive instincts that served him well at full-back kick in when snuffing out an opposition's attack, only now his intelligence and technique allows him to assess the options further forward and construct attacking moves through accurate and incisive passing.
With a pass completion rate of 84.3 per cent in Ligue 1 this season, Fabinho has shown that he is a safe pair of hands in possession, a prerequisite of any player in his position. And his average of 59.2 passes per game demonstrates his confidence, displaying a willingness to get on the ball and dictate play something that would perhaps not be expected of a converted defender.
In fact, no Monaco player sees more of the ball than Fabinho. More than just a midfield destroyer, sitting deep to protect the back four, winning possession and handing it over to a more gifted colleague, he is trusted as the man that Jardim's side plays through -- a funnel for all of their rapid and potent attacks.
The old full-back skill set has also come in useful when breaking away from opposing midfielders. With tremendous upper-body strength, Fabinho can hold off any would-be assailant, but his dribbling skills, close control and speed over short distances sees him complete one take-one per game on average. The ability to break the first line of the opposition's press in this manner is invaluable to any team that prizes ball retention, and also aides the Brazilian in his efforts to create space for himself and others, taking an adversary out of the picture and opening up passing lanes.
All of these facets of his game were in evidence in the recent Champions League triumph over Manchester City. Trailing 5-3 from the first leg, the Monegasque side needed to win by two clear goals at home in the return fixture. Throwing caution to the wind the French team set about terrorising City's already shaky defence with an onslaught of slick attacking play.
Fabinho was at the heart of the pressure and scored Monaco's second goal after 29 minutes, latching on to left-back Benjamin Mendy's arrowed cut-back to drive the ball beyond Willy Caballero. The previously unfancied Ligue 1 side went on to win 3-1 on the night to ensure their progression to the quarter-finals where they will meet Borussia Dortmund next month.
It was the former Real Madrid loanee's ninth goal of the season, seven of which have come from the penalty spot, as Fabinho has continued his unblemished record from 12 yards.
He was also typically tenacious and diligent in his defensive duties against Pep Guardiola's men, making five tackles and one interception, doing his bit to guard against the Premier League side overpowering his team.
Top of Ligue 1 and flying high in the Champions League, the vultures will be circling over Monaco at the end of the season, hoping to pick off the most talented of this impressive group of young players.
Bakayoko, SidibÃ©, Mendy and 18-year-old sensation Kylian MbappÃ© have all been linked with big-money moves to the Premier League.
So too has Fabinho, with the side he helped vanquish in the Champions League, Manchester City, believed to be chief among many admirers.
But with the player tied down until the summer of 2021, Monaco are under no pressure to sell. If his market value was around the £25 million-mark last summer, it will surely have sky-rocketed higher after such an impressive campaign in 2016-17.
The loss of two or three key players is almost inevitable, though. Many of Monaco's stars will want to fulfil their ambitions of playing for the clubs more traditionally accustomed to competing for top honours.
That time will come for Fabinho but, for now, the Brazilian is in no rush to depart the Stade Louis II, as he told L'Equipe in October last year when asked if he intends to leave the club: "I could have already done it, but I'm under contract here. "I feel good here. I'm an important player in one of the best teams in the league."
Central Midfield is Suiting Fabinho Perfectly at Monaco
22nd March 2017. By Ryan Baldi.