<
>

'Big Game Fabio' Coentrao can get the job done when it matters for Madrid

As the summer transfer window nears its end and the rumours start to dry out, the reality sinks in: Real Madrid will not sign any major names this offseason.

Not that Zinedine Zidane's team requires a major revamp, but certain positions could be reinforced in light of a potential FIFA-imposed transfer ban. Among them, the left-back spot is often mentioned and rightfully so, as both current occupant Marcelo and recently recuperated understudy Fabio Coentrao have a concerning tendency to pick up injuries. Marcelo will have to avoid such setbacks -- at least until October -- as Coentrao is currently on the road to recovery from surgery and will need at least another two months to regain playing form.

Coentrao has become a polarising figure among Real Madrid fans. He has many critics, and a couple of off-pitch episodes have done nothing to help his case during his time in Madrid.

The Bernabeu faithful don't take days off and they expect their players to have the same mindset. Intensity in every match is a must. Coentrao's apparent relaxation on the pitch earned him more than a few critics who started to boo his misplaced passes and lapses of concentration.

Indeed, for those who watched him play and excel for Benfica as a 21-year-old or display some impressive stamina for Portugal at the 2010 World Cup, Coentrao seemed destined to have an outstanding career when he moved to the Spanish capital in July 2011. He has won a few titles at club level both with Benfica and Real Madrid, but a couple of injuries prevented him from helping Portugal in their underwhelming 2014 World Cup tournament and their successful Euro 2016 campaign.

Still, 18 matches on loan in Monaco last season and the prospect of continuing to be Marcelo's sub with Real Madrid feel a bit short of what Coentrao could have achieved at what should be the best moment of his career after signing with the club for €30 million. At age 28, his physicality and decent skills with the ball should be enough to make the left-back position his own at a top European club.

Perhaps it's a matter of motivation for Coentrao. Maybe he needs an additional incentive that regular matches lack after winning league titles in Portugal and Spain. He probably relishes the challenge of playing in do-or-die matches such as a Champions League semifinal versus Bayern Munich or a Copa del Rey final versus Lionel Messi's Barcelona.

The surprising thing is that the full-back is one of those rare players who's able to turn it on when it matters most. Along with the aforementioned performances, one remembers his almost perfect man-marking of Messi in the 2014 Copa del Rey final and the way he played both semifinals against Bayern that same season. He was focused, intense, devoted to the task. His flank was completely covered. No attacker was ever going to burn him one-on-one.

Even if the fans of "Big Game Fabio" believe he's able to start in every single match for Real Madrid, Coentrao needs to prove that he's got the required hunger and consistency for it. Even if he doesn't, there should be an important support role in this squad for his skills, especially when stakes are high and Zidane needs determined players who know how to play deciding matches with the right intensity.