Lots of clubs queued up for Valencia’s Gonçalo Guedes, and it has come as no surprise to see him joining Wolves. At 25, following the conclusion of a great season, it made sense that he was so sought after. Over the years, he has struggled with injuries and form due to a lack of continuity. For the first time in his five-year Valencia career, he completed a full season without awful injury problems. It looks like that nightmare is truly behind him and he can focus fully on his football going forward. But why were so many clubs queuing up for him? What is it about Guedes that they wanted and what can Wolves expect?
There aren’t many forwards in world football that are more versatile than Guedes. He can play as a false nine, LW, RW, AM, SS, and in a free role behind the striker. His strengths mean that he can adapt easily to any of these roles without losing his ability to impact games. Whether operating down the left or the right or through the middle, he is a handful. There is overwhelming evidence, though, that he plays his best football when given the freedom to roam behind the striker. In this free role, he is able to use all his strengths to devastating effect.
Guedes’ biggest strength is his ball-carrying. A direct and explosive runner with the ball, he offers solutions when his team is struggling to advance the ball into the final third. The alternative to a team not having good enough passers between the lines is a ball-carrier like Guedes, who rarely loses the ball in deeper areas once he picks it up or in the middle third when he is advancing at speed.
During 2021-22, Valencia increasingly relied on him to deliver this as they struggled with getting the ball to the attacking areas. When they weren’t relying on hoofing in hopes of counter-pressing, Guedes had to ball-carry. Amongst forwards over the past year, he is in the 94th percentile for Progressive Carries. Even more impressive is that he is also in the 95th percentile for Progressive Passes and the 94th percentile for dribbles completed. It shows the variety of solutions he offers when he comes deep, and the skillset he combines to get the job done. In fact, Guedes’ passing is possibly the most underrated and under-utilised aspect of his game.
His ability to deliver a brilliant final ball is not talked about enough, understandably so. In all his years at Valencia, his coaches have not used it anywhere near enough. The 2020-21 season is the season in which he showed it the most, even though it still wasn’t anywhere near enough. He has the vision and the ability to execute a variety of passes, short or long, in the final third or from deeper areas. It is why he is such a good shot-creator, from open play. When he is not scoring the goals himself, he is the one setting up open play shots for teammates. No one creates more shots from open play in the team, and no one creates more shots from dribbles.
One thing everyone already knows about Guedes is that he can strike a ball. This is why he constantly shows up in highlight reels for jaw-dropping goals. He has that ability to deliver magic out of nowhere, not needing too much time to generate power on his shots even in awkward positions. The most unforgettable example came in the Copa del Rey semi-final against Athletic Club at Mestalla. Receiving the ball just outside the area, after a cross had been cleared, Guedes unleashed a venomous shot before the Athletic players could even get into a position to block it. The power he generated and his ball-striking technique was immaculate. Yet, it was a goal we had seen one too many times. It was classic Guedes.
Guedes looks like a player who will deliver solid numbers in a better, less dysfunctional team, with continuity and when used optimally. The evidence is all there. He is the type of ex-factor player you give the keys to the team to, and you can count on to grab games by the neck. Thirteen goals and six assists in 42 games for Valencia last season may not look so impressive, but with added context, it absolutely is. Guedes played in a team that completed the least amount of passes in La Liga. They completed just 227 passes per game. For an attacking player to produce such numbers in a team using so little of the ball, one has to wonder what he will do in his new environment at Molineux. When you consider all the other responsibilities Guedes had in the team – ball-carrying, progressive passing, dribbling, shot-creating – those numbers start to look very impressive. The best part is that he looks to be entering his prime years.
Gonçalo Guedes represents a unique and heavily sought-after profile in football now. For the reported €40 million fee including add-ons, he could well be a bargain for Wolves.