Raphael Guerreiro has become Borussia Dortmund's version of Gareth Bale - able to play as well at left-wing as left-back. - © imago/Kirchner-Media
Raphael Guerreiro has become Borussia Dortmund's version of Gareth Bale - able to play as well at left-wing as left-back. - © imago/Kirchner-Media

Borussia Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro: the Bundesliga's Gareth Bale


He could have won the World Cup with Corentin Tolisso and Benjamin Pavard last summer, instead, he had already claimed the EURO with Cristiano Ronaldo, and has switched positions just as successfully as Gareth Bale - it is no wonder Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre loves the chameleon-esque qualities of Raphael Guerreiro.

Born in France in the Paris suburbs, Guerreiro was schooled at the world champions' famed Clairefontaine academy alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane, but insists he always would have been lining up against them, just a short distance from his birthplace, at the Stade de France to help Portugal win EURO 2016.

"To be wearing a Portugal shirt for a final in France is a little mad," acknowledged the self-confessed Benfica fan, the son of a Portuguese father and French mother, ahead of his country's 1-0 win in the Paris suburbs. "But already when I was young, I always supported Portugal. I have Portugal in my heart."

Unlike many other dual nationals, Guerreiro never played for France at any level, but while there was clarity on that question, another remains yet to be fully answered: Where should the qualities of this ultra-talented left-footer be best employed on the pitch?

Watch: Guerreiro's stunning strike against Bayern in 2016/17!

"Raphael Guerreiro is a technical, versatile player who feels at home in several positions," said Michael Zorc, Dortmund's sporting director, after winning the keenly contested chase to sign the Portugal international from French Ligue 1 side Lorient in 2016.

Ah yes, versatile…that tag so happily applied to players who are jacks of all trades, masters of none, right? Wrong, at least, not always. It can certainly be slapped on Guerreiro, except - just like Bale - you can slot him into whichever position on the left flank you like, and his output does not dip.

While many players often try to shrug off the reputation of being the ideal stop-gap solution, Guerreiro embraces it, even rejecting a switch to Barcelona and opting for Dortmund because of it: "I wanted to go to a team where I would have a good chance of playing regularly. And in my discussions with Dortmund, they offered me the opportunity of playing in different positions. That also interested me."

"He's much too good to be limited to just one position," gushed Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund coach when Guerreiro arrived in Germany in the wake of his EURO win, though the current Paris Saint-Germain coach was certainly not the first to spot the potential of playing the baby-faced Portugal international wherever he was needed.

Rapahel Guerreiro (r) won the EURO 2016 title with Cristiano Ronaldo (l) for Portugal. - imago/Imaginechina

While at Caen in Normandy, where he made his senior professional debut, Guerreiro made a name for himself at left-back, but one that was just as comfortable on the front foot as on the back.

"It's the system in which I feel most at ease," said the then-teenage Guerreiro referring to the 3-4-3 formation put in place by coach Patrice Garande that suited his penchant for roaming forward. "We had played like that for two years with the Under-19 team, and I scored 11 goals."

He also switched happily between defence and midfield during his three years at Lorient where Sylvain Ripoll, now France's U21 coach, was the main beneficiary of Guerreiro's ten goals in 68 Ligue 1 matches in his final two seasons in Brittany.

The free rein given to him by Tuchel at the start of his Dortmund career brought three goals and five assists from his first 12 appearances, and Guerreiro would end the season with six league strikes, just one shy of his personal best set at Lorient in 2014/15.

Raphael Guerreiro has also become a set-piece taker for Borussia Dortmund, alongside English star Jadon Sancho and captain Marco Reus. - 2019 DFL

While a broken foot suffered with Portugal at the FIFA Confederations Cup in summer 2017 heralded an injury-peppered and frustrating 2017/18, Guerreiro has bounced back, and braces against Atletico Madrid and Monaco in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season meant he was - at one stage - even ahead of compatriot Ronaldo in the scoring charts of European club football's elite competition.

"It's nice to be the top Portuguese scorer in the competition right now, though I know he'll overtake me," said Guerreiro, whose first professional goal - a glorious half-volley while at Caen - suggested there was always going to be more packed into his diminutive build than met the eye.

Being taken at face value is something Guerreiro, who measures a modest 5'7", is used to, as is unravelling the cliches and accepted truths about him. "I was always smaller than the others. It never bothered me. I just had to find other ways of being able to compete."

While his talent was one major way of doing that, the other was the intelligence he had already used to recognise he could not rely on his physique to make an impact. It is those football smarts that make him the player coaches like Tuchel and his current boss, Lucien Favre, adore.

Raphael Guerreiro has become one of Lucien Favre's most trusted disciples. - imago images / DeFodi

"You don't need to explain things to him for a week," noted his first senior coach Garande. "He is always ready to listen and is very reactive."

Favre has certainly found that to be true, daring to push Guerreiro even further up the pitch than any of his predecessors with Abdou Diallo - a centre-back by trade - chosen instead to fill in at left-back.

The opposite is true for Guerreiro, who himself gives the reason why the ex-Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach boss is such a fan, dissecting his coach's philosophy with the surgical precision he applies to his passes.

"You have to be in a position to find a solution as quickly as possible for play to go forward and create dangerous situations," said Guerreiro, who has two goals and six assists in 20 Bundesliga appearances - only 14 of which have been starts - this season. "You also have to ensure that when your opponent has the ball, they can do as little as possible with it. For that, you need intelligent players. Favre football is played with the feet, but is won with the head."

Watch: Guerreiro scored and assisted in BVB's 5-1 win over Hannover!

His fleetness of thought - wedded to that of his cultured feet - has taken him this far and, given he is only 25, is likely to propel him further still. And then there is his versatility of course. His coaches revel in his tactical dexterity, but where does Guerreiro think he is best?

"Throughout my early career, I played from the left wing. I'm comfortable playing in that position," said Bale when asked the question, the Real Madrid man who had gone from pacy left-back to devastating world-class attacker at English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

It's the answer you'd expect - who wants to be trying to stop goals when you can have the glory of making and taking them, right? Guerreiro though is - as we have seen - not your ordinary footballer.

"The coach has to decide," he said, "But I have always said that I prefer playing left-back." Favre, a keen-witted man himself, will have taken note, but he seems to have taken Tuchel's opinion one step further: Guerreiro is much too good to be stuck in defence.