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From Ronaldo's Real Madrid sidekick to unemployed – the demise of Fabio Coentrao

02:00 GMT+4 24/09/2019
Fabio Coentrao Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
The 31-year-old commanded a huge transfer fee back in 2011, but the left-back has still not secured a club for this season

Once upon a time, Fabio Coentrao was the third-most expensive defender in football history and the sidekick of Cristiano Ronaldo, winning trophies with Real Madrid and starring for Portugal on the international stage.

Now at the age of 31, the left-back has found his career decline sharply in recent times. He has not played for his country for over two years and is currently without a club after being discarded by Portuguese side Rio Ave.

At his peak, Coentrao was a relentless attacking full-back. He forged a formidable duo with Ronaldo for both club and country, with the current Juventus superstar often occupying the left-hand side of the pitch, also.

"One-on-one in training. Happy to play against one of the world's toughest defenders. My brother Coentrao," Ronaldo wrote on Instagram about his team-mate back in 2017, emphasising the bond shared between the two.

Alongside Ronaldo, Coentrao played an important role in several Blancos triumphs, despite often having to fight Brazilian full-back Marcelo for a position in the starting XI.

He joined Real Madrid under his countryman Jose Mourinho as a 23-year-old in the summer of 2011, signing a six-year contract from Benfica for a fee of €30 million (£26m/$33m).

At that time, the fee paid by Madrid put Coentrao third in the list of the most expensive defenders in history, behind Rio Ferdinand's transfer from Leeds to Manchester United and Dani Alves’ move from Sevilla to Barcelona.

In his first season in the Spanish capital, Coentrao made 20 appearances as Real Madrid wrestled the 2011-12 La Liga title away from Pep Guardiola's legendary Barcelona side.

Although he struggled with injuries and form during the 2012-13 season, Coentrao's best football caught the eye of incoming Manchester United manager David Moyes, who wanted to sign him on loan as an alternative option to the ageing Patrice Evra.

But his move to Old Trafford collapsed in the dying stages of the transfer window as Real Madrid backed out of the deal after failing to sign Guilherme Siqueira, who, rather ironically, joined Benfica instead.

Putting aside his disappointment, Coentrao stepped up the following campaign to play a crucial role as Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

The famous Gareth Bale solo goal that secured the Copa del Rey title against Barcelona was started with a pass from Coentrao. Five years on, this is still the last time Madrid have won the Spanish Cup.

Despite not making an appearance at all throughout the 2013-14 Champions League group stage, Coentrao was preferred to Marcelo as the starting left-back for the last six knockout matches as Real Madrid finally claimed La Decima. Defeating city rivals Atletico Madrid in the final, it was their first European title since 2002.

But this is where the decline ultimately started for Coentrao at Real Madrid. The following season – partly due to injury troubles – he lost the battle against Marcelo as the club's first choice left-back.

He was sent out on loan to Ligue 1 side Monaco before a slew of hamstring and knee injuries restricted him to only 19 appearances during the 2015-16 season.

There was no sympathy from Madrid's supporters as the end drew closer. His relationship with fans had been strained at times, ever since photos were released of him smoking during his first season in the Spanish capital.

From that moment onwards, Coentrao was seen by some fans to be receiving preferential treatment because he shared the same agent, Jorge Mendes, with Mourinho and Ronaldo.

Zinedine Zidane's appointment in January 2016 sounded the death knell for Coentrao's Real Madrid career, as the Frenchman made it crystal clear that Marcelo was an indispensable member of the first team.

Even Coentrao himself admitted that while he wanted to stay at the Bernabeu, he wasn't in good enough shape to play for the club and that a return to his home country could kick-start his career.

"I'm in no condition to play for Real Madrid," Coentrao told Marca as the 2016-17 season winded down. "I want to return to my best next season.

"I have a contract with Real Madrid until 2019, so if they continue to count on me, perfect – if not I'll choose my own path.

"Maybe returning to Portugal would help me recover the level of play I once had. We should all admit our limitations at some point in our lives and I feel that, right now, this club demands a level of play I'm not at."

But Coentrao failed to impress during a loan spell at Sporting during the 2017-18 season and then extraordinarily asked Portugal coach Fernando Santos not to pick him for the 2018 World Cup because he'd had a "very tiring" season .

"Last week, after a lot of consideration, I told the national team that - after a very tiring season - I feel I am not in the condition required to represent the Seleccao at the World Cup," Coentrao said.

"I will never turn my back on my country, and hope to be able to represent our national team more often in the future."

But Coentrao has not received a call for his country since – and a return looks unlikely after a difficult last 12 months. His contract at Madrid was mutually terminated in the summer of 2018 and he joined his boyhood club Rio Ave for the 2018-19 campaign.

However, he once again struggled and had a number of disciplinary problems. He was booked 11 times in 21 appearances and was sent off twice. As a result, he did not do enough to extend his stay at the club and was released at the end of the season.

Still only 31, Coentrao is currently unemployed – despite rumoured interest from Serie A side Parma and Championship club Bristol City.

As his great friend and former sidekick Ronaldo continues to light up the sport, Coentrao will be content with simply finding another club. It has been some decline for a player who was once the world’s most expensive left-back.