Few countries, if any, produce so many exciting footballers as Brazil. The likes of Ronaldinho, Zico, Pelé, Neymar, Ronaldo… the list goes on and on. They simply dazzle you with their way of playing the game. They have an unique relationship with the ball, as if it is their love. They control it with ease, dribble it with grace, pass it with reluctance and shoot it with beauty. These are the kind of players that make young boys and girls around the world fall in love with the beautiful game.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta was once such a boy. Only he was born in a country where a scathing tackle or a nasty elbow were celebrated. The land of the hard men, the ruthless defenders, the resilient midfielders and the goal scoring machines up front. Uruguay have had mesmerizing footballers like Juan Albert Schiaffino, Enzo Francescoli or Diego Forlán, but the country has never been renowned for this type of player.
Nonetheless, De Arrascaeta falls into that category. A No10 who plays football the way it is meant to. Playing on intuition, depending on the magic in his feet rather than force of his body. He debuted for Defensor Sporting in 2012 and quickly won his place in the team. In his second professional season, De Arrascaeta was one of the leading players in Defensor’s historic Copa Libertadores run, which ended in the semi-finals.
Bigger things were soon to follow for the man born in Nuevo Berlín. His talent was clear for everyone to see. It led to Óscar Tabárez giving De Arrascaeta his Uruguay debut on the 8th of September in 2014 at just 20-years-of-age. A few months later, Brazilian heavyweights Cruzeiro followed Tabárez in recognizing De Arrascaeta’s talent and signed the young man for $4M.
He continued displaying his quality in Brazil, being one of the standout players for Cruzeiro. De Arrascaeta scored some magical goals and rapidly developed himself into one the best playmakers in the country. He also received criticism, however, for the lack of his defensive contribution. For this reason, the manager often played him in a more restricted role from the wing, to minimize the negative consequences of the risk De Arrascaeta was taking in his actions rather than maximizing the extra quality it could give the team.
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Gaelano once summed up this negative evaluation of the manager in his book El Fútbol a Sol y Sombra: “The game stopped being a game and professional football required a technocracy to keep the players in line. That was when the manager was born. His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom, and maximize the productivity of the players, who were now obliged to become disciplined athletes.”
Modern football requires attacking players to press, to track back and be the first point of reference in regaining possession. De Arrascaeta had to adapt to these demands and he did. Slowly but surely, he grew in this aspect, while still producing his magic. De Arrascaeta managed to score decisive goals in the final of the 2017 Copa do Brasil, 2018 Campeonato Mineiro, and 2018 Copa do Brasil, leading Cruzeiro to glory. Especially his match-winning goal in the 2018 Copa do Brasil was impressive as it came after he represented Uruguay in Japan just over a day before.
De Arrascaeta’s fantastic performances did not go unnoticed as many clubs started monitoring him. It seemed that a move to Europe was imminent. But like an unpredictable winger, De Arrascaeta went left while the defender thought he would go right. He moved to Rio de Janeiro to join Flamengo in January 2019 for a record transfer fee (€15M) in Brazilian football.
Flamengo, which is considered the most popular football club in Brazil, had not won the league for a decade. Not to even mention the Copa Libertadores, which they last won in 1981 under the guidance of club legend Zico. For the 2019 season, the club decided to sign some high-profile players to bring back the glory days. At the start of the season Flamengo struggled, but once Jorge Jesus took over as manager the results began to meet the ambitions of the Maracanã faithful.
Flamengo started to display fantastic football and blew away their opponents. Central to the success was the attacking quartet, consisting of Gabriel Barbosa, Bruno Henrique, Everton Ribeiro and Giorgian De Arrascaeta. The latter proved week-in-week-out that he was worth every penny the club paid for him. Flamengo marched to the Brasileirão title, with De Arrascaeta contributing an impressive 13 goals and 14 assists in 21 league games.
Next up for the scintillating Flamengo side was the Copa Libertadores final. As they did in the Brazilian league, Flamengo had beaten everyone along the way and all that rested was emerging victorious over the perennial champions River Plate. Far from convincing, Flamengo struggled in the game and River led until late. In the closing minutes, the Argentinian side were keeping possession of the ball deep into Flamengo’s half. The Brazilians were in a race against time and quickly needed the ball to search for the equalizer.
That’s where De Arrascaeta comes in. Having tracked back all the way towards his own box, he dispossesses a River Plate player with a good sliding tackle and advances the play into the opposing half. With the clock running down, Bruno Henrique picks up the ball from the wing. While his teammate is looking for a solution to unlock River’s defense, De Arrascaeta spots an open space in River’s organization. Bruno Henrique sees this and finds De Arrascaeta, who then reaches Gabriel Barbosa at the far post for a tap-in.
Flamengo made their comeback complete when Gabriel Barbosa – better known as GabiGol – scored the winner deep into injury time. They were champions and GabiGol was the man receiving all the praise, and rightly so. De Arrascaeta’s work for the equalizer cannot be overlooked, though. It shows the incredible improvement he has made off-the-ball and the intelligence and vision that make him such an unique player. Of course, his dribbles, goals and assists are the eye catchers but the aforementioned qualities are what make De Arrascaeta the best and most complete No10 in Brazilian football right now.
Then there is obviously the question, why is he not in Europe yet? At 25, you would argue that if a player is any good, he would’ve already been snapped up by an European club. What people seem to forget is that playing in a stadium like Maracanã, for a club like Flamengo with their incredible fan base isn’t nothing. And neither is De Arrascaeta or other top players in Brazil on peanuts. They earn good money.
Earlier on in his career, De Arrascaeta often referred to playing in Europe as one of his dreams, but recently he has assured that he is comfortable at Flamengo. And who can blame him? He is an idol to the Flamengo fans and one of the best players in South American football. The Uruguayan is the best No10 in the land of the No10’s. That’s no mean feat.
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