Fullback is one of the most important positions on the field in the modern game. To paraphrase Zonal Marking, the middle of the pitch is so congested these days that a box-to-box midfielder simply doesn’t have the space to break forward. That job is now frequently outsourced to the fullbacks. And since Fiorentina haven’t had a rightback worth mentioning since Lorenzo de Silvestri, that side of the pitch has often been something of a black hole for the Viola.
Enter Bruno Gaspar. The Portuguese defender arrived for a modest fee of €4 million from Vitória Guimarães at the start of the window and was immediately tabbed for a starting role ahead of Nenad Tomović. He’s been a bit slow to settle in, though, leading the Serbian to perhaps surpass him on Stefano Pioli’s depth chart.
The book on Gaspar is pretty simple. He’s very, very fast, good going forward, and a bit dodgy going back. He likes to stay very up the pitch to stretch play and allow the right winger to drift inside, then dart in behind the opposing defense and either cross the ball or thread it through—he’s a better passer than you’d expect from a fullback. However, his attacking nature means he’s frequently out of position, and he’s not much on marking or tackling even on his best days.
We haven’t probably seen those best days yet, either. He hasn’t looked to be on the same page as his mates thus far, as he spent much of the preseason misplacing passes and mistiming runs, as well as wandering around on defense. He looked a bit more engaged against Wolfsburg, but he’s always likely to give fellow newcomer Vitor Hugo some tense moments next to him.
What we need from him is competence. It may take him awhile to get used to a new team and a new country—this is his first job outside of Portugal—and it’s worth remembering that he’s just 24 and has only spent 2 years as a first-team starter. If he can acclimate himself quickly and figure out Serie A, he’ll add an exciting dimension to this team that’s otherwise entirely lacking. But he’ll need to show some improvement before he earns a place in the first XI.