The passion and love for the beautiful game might be unrivalled in the Américas, footballers’ ultimate dream is still to play in Europe. In the end, the best football, the most money and the greatest fame is to be enjoyed in the old continent. Here are five Uruguayans ready to chase their destiny in 2021.
Nicolás De La Cruz, 23 – River Plate
From ‘flop’ to one of the best players in South America, Nicolás De La Cruz has made one hell of a turnaround at River Plate. His talent was clear for everyone to see. He turned heads at Liverpool Montevideo and was one of the leaders of a fantastic Uruguay U20 side in 2017. Playing as an attacking midfielder, De La Cruz stood out with his pace, great shooting -and set piece technique, not to forget his agility on the ball which made him so hard to stop for opposing defenders.
These qualities were recognized by River. After the U20 World Cup, De La Cruz joined the Argentinian giants. Despite his clear ability, De La Cruz just didn’t seem to click at the Monumental. For two years, the young man struggled. It almost came to a point where fans had lost confidence and wanted De La Cruz gone. Manager Marcelo Gallardo did not lose faith, however, and kept his arms around the Uruguayan. He gave him the trust and helped him work on his game.
It worked. In 2019, people started to see the real De La Cruz. A player that excites the fans, a player that has that extra bit of quality. In both the 2019 and 2020 Copa Libertadores campaigns, De La Cruyff – as River fans started to nickname him – demonstrated himself as a genuine star of the competition. He showed himself as a player that reached the next level. Someone ready for the next step. And with his contract expiring in June, many European clubs will be on alert.
Ideal next club: Villarreal
Matías Arezo, 18 – River Plate Montevideo
When Matías Arezo made his professional debut as a 16-year-old, you could immediately tell that this wasn’t a regular player. “I don’t want to rush it, but besides the qualities he has, he seems like a predestined player”. This is how River Plate Montevideo manager Jorge Fossati described his pupil back in 2019. And it is clear that this isn’t just some throw-away comment. It very much rings true.
Physically but even more so tactically, the striker is incredibly mature for his age. Arezo is already very good at finding little pockets of space in the box to exploit. Besides that, Arezo is a handy player when it comes to protecting the ball, making it difficult to disposses him. His finishing is up to a good standard, but still requires improvement. One of Arezo’s main qualities is his heading ability, certainly considering his length (1.78). Overall, Arezo as a player is a little bit reminscent of Colombian star striker Falcao.
With a record of 17 goals in 48 games as a teenager, there is no doubt that several European scouts are monitoring Arezo. The club president of River has already given the young No9 a $20M price tage, which underlines the promise of Arezo. Sooner, rather than later, Arezo will be in Europe. It’s his destiny.
Ideal next club: Porto
Federico Viñas, 23 – Club América
There were days during the youth career of Federico Viñas that he was overweight and ready to throw the towel on his footballing career. At one point he even did quit and started working in food delivery to support his family. However, in 2017 he decided to start playing again for an amateur side. Soon after his comeback to the fields, he was signed up by Juventud who were playing in Uruguay’s second division at the time. Viñas soon became an important player for Juventud, helping them to promotion in his first season at the club.
Playing as a striker, Viñas is a real menace for defenders. His work rate, ability to hold-up the ball and instincts in the box make him an interesting and dangerous player. In August 2019, Club América decided to take a gamble on the striker. Viñas was doing well at Juventud, but was still very much an unknown player and certainly not someone deemed ready to play for the biggest club in Mexico. Now, 18 months later, he has proved otherwise.
14 goals, including some real big ones, in 32 games have won over the América fanbase. According to various Mexican media outlets, Viñas’ great performances have led to interest from England, Italy and Spain. A move to Europe seems just a matter of time, which would make his transformation from a food deliverer even more impressive.
Ideal next club: Leeds United
Gabriel Neves, 23 – Nacional
While Uruguay has always been known for producing hard men at the back and ruthless goalscorers up front, top class central midfielders have historically been few and far between. This upcoming generation might be the exception to that rule, however. The likes of Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur spearhead a sizeable pool of young midfielders who seem to have the right mix of the South American dark arts and the virtues of the European game.
One of these promising midfielders is Gabriel Neves. The man born on the south coast of Uruguay has been a consistent, outstanding performer for Uruguayan heavyweights Nacional over the past three years. Neves is a combative holding midfielder, who has a good vision of the game. His passing range and ability to recover possession are his two main qualities. His quality displays for Nacional were rewarded with a call-up to the Uruguay squad last November. Neves made his La Celeste made his debut in the World Cup qualifier against Colombia.
Everything points to a step up from Nacional for Neves as he seems more than ready for a new challenge. Compatriot Lucas Torreira believes Neves has the ability to play in Europe, saying “his future lies in Europe”. 2021 could well be the year that Neves will make a move across the Atlantic Ocean, certainly after his impressive 2020 Copa Libertadores campaign.
Ideal next club: Sassuolo
Diego Rossi, 22 – Los Angeles FC
When Uruguay U20 travelled to South Korea to play in the 2017 U20 World Cup, Diego Rossi was left at home. The forward had been ever-present in the national youth set-up, but was out of the squad for the ultimate tournament of youth football. There are always new chances in football, however, and Rossi has taken them with both hands.
After one full season with his boyhood club Penarol, the versatile attacker moved to the United States in December 2017 to join Los Angeles FC. Rossi immediately hit the ground running with a goal on his debut for the club and it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since. 53 goals in 102 appearences for LAFC, mainly from wide positions, make Rossi one of the most prolific players in the North American football. In 2020, he was crowned MLS Golden Boot winner and also received his first Uruguay call-up to cap off a fantastic year.
At this point, Rossi is likelier to leave LAFC than to stay. His performances simply exceed the standards of the MLS and at 22-years-of-age, the time seems right for Rossi to embark on a new adventure in Europe. In previous transfer windows, there were already several offers for Rossi. This time around there will be even more suitors, ready to secure the signature of the quick forward with proper goal instincts.
Ideal next club: AS Roma
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