Lucas Torreira's talents assessed by his old coach
Tuesday 10 July 2018 15:28, UK
Lucas Torreira's move from Sampdoria to Arsenal is a huge one for Unai Emery. With the help of the player's former coach in Italy, Adam Bate finds out why the Uruguay midfielder is precisely the type of player that the Gunners have been missing.
Arsene Wenger was discussing South American strikers when he identified the problem. In Europe, street football is no more. "You have to be shrewd, you have to show that you are good, you have to fight. When it is all a bit more formulated then it is developing your individual skill [but] your fighting attitude less. We have lost a little bit of that in football."
In Uruguay, the word that is often used to describe this savvy is 'garra' - a term meaning something between grit and guts but perhaps with a hint of cynicism thrown in. It is a characteristic that has been missing from Arsenal's midfield for too long. The 22-year-old Lucas Torreira may be young but he has the traits that can make the difference.
Arsenal are closing in on two new central midfielders, with Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi set for medicals with the Gunners this week, according to Sky sources.
Marcello Donatelli was Pescara's assistant manager during the club's promotion season in 2015/16 and got to see Torreira's qualities up close. One of the first words that he reaches for is 'garra' but he insists there is much more to Torreira than that. "His technique, his determination and his tactical intelligence always impressed me," Donatelli tells Sky Sports.
"He has always been strong in understanding those defensive tactical aspects and he is very mature tactically in terms of how he reads the game. He can cope with the gaps that emerge in midfield with great intelligence and he covers very well. He is the one who corrects the spaces and cuts out the passes between the lines in the defensive phase.
"After Sergio Busquets, he is tactically the strongest midfielder in Europe."
Torreira's tale is one of hard work and commitment. He left his home in Fray Bentos at the age of 16 to pursue his ambitions in Montevideo, moving in with his sister Estefani and getting the bus to training each day. When his club Wanderers sent a group of youngsters on trial to Pescara in Italy in 2013, Torreira's name was initially not even on the list.
He had to fight for his chance. In the words of his father Ricardo, he got "the knife between his teeth" and was the only player to have his trial extended beyond Christmas. Those first few months were not easy for the teenager. He had not even played senior football in Uruguay and the money was not good. He even had to barter to get free haircuts.
But he pressed on. When Roberto Druda, the scout who had helped take Torreira to Italy, discovered that he had a foot injury, the doctor asked to treat him was shocked to discover that he'd had the problem for months. Barely able to walk, Torreira had not informed anyone because was so afraid that he would not be allowed to play football.
The turning point in Italy came with a positional change. Torreira had been a forward in his early days with Wanderers, later being converted to an attacking midfield role. But Pescara's then youth coach Massimo Oddo, the former World Cup-winning defender, saw it differently. He told Torreira that if he stayed there he would not fulfil his potential.
"Oddo had the idea to move him from a playmaking role in midfield to a new position playing just in front of the defence," explains Donatelli. "So when Oddo then became the head coach of the first team in Serie B, he believed in him and he immediately trusted him in that role. It is this one decision that has changed his career."
By his own admission, Torreira took time to adjust to his new role. At first, he felt lost. But he had the physical attributes and the natural intelligence to mark well. He also retained the ability to play forward passes, making him much more than a spoiler. Before long, he was likened to former Pescara playmaker Marco Verratti, now starring for Paris Saint-Germain.
After playing an integral role in Pescara's promotion, Torreira moved to his parent club Sampdoria and went straight into their first-team for the following season. He has only missed five Serie A matches in the two years since then. Despite his small frame - Torreira stands at only 5ft 6in - he has had a big influence in their midfield.
Torreira made more than 100 tackles last season, the third most of any player in Serie A. He also ranked sixth for interceptions and was in the top 10 for passes too. Druda insists there is much more to come, having once recommended him to Juventus as the long-term heir to Andrea Pirlo.
"He is a computer in the middle of the field. There is nothing to add."
This is the player that Arsenal are getting. A person still thrilled by his rise and the trappings that come with it - he recently bought a butcher's shop for his family in Fray Bentos. A youngster who only made his debut for Uruguay in March. But significantly, someone who now has World Cup experience and plays with a maturity that belies his years.
As Unai Emery looks to reshape Arsenal in the wake of Wenger's exit, he is dealing with two seemingly conflicting challenges. The new manager needs to bring in some young players to freshen up the squad but he must also bring greater tactical experience to the team's work. Unusually, Torreira and his 'garra' can help to address both of those issues.
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