With Diego Godin showing signs of slowing down, Uruguay is looking to a new generation of dastardly defenders to carry on a fine football tradition
Brazil is renowned for skillful and entertaining footballers. Germans have mental strength. The Spanish excel in their technically gifted products. Think of Uruguay? It’s cold-blooded hatchet men like Paolo Montero and Diego Lugano that springs to mind. Tough, authoritative defenders.
This tradition for brutal bruisers dates back to Uruguay’s glorious years (1930s-1950s) and has kept going ever since. Uruguay’s current crop of center backs, consisting of Diego Godín (Atlético Madrid) and Sebastián Coates (Sporting Portugal) amongst others, embodies the aforementioned description. Another characteristic you can add to that list is leadership.
Diego Lugano for example, Uruguay captain between 2006 and 2014, was an inspirational figure. His performances on the field commanded respect, but what really made him a leader was the way he motivated his teammates. Both on and off the field. Lugano always had something up his sleeve to influence his teammates in the right way.
Back in June 2013, one of those moments took place. Uruguay were about to face Venezuela in a World Cup 2014 qualifier, a game that La Celeste needed to win if they wanted to keep alive any chance of qualifying for Brazil. Lugano had prepared something for his compatriots: a motivational video in which the voice of Al Pacino – from the film Any Given Sunday – told them they had to come out fighting inch-by-inch, while they watched images of themselves playing for Uruguay.
It helped. Uruguay took three important points away at Venezuela and it was the beginning of a positive change of form, which eventually resulted in qualification for the World Cup. That day, the former Fenerbahçe player demonstrated what leadership is all about.
The upcoming generation shows that there is no sign of stopping in Uruguay’s constant output of quality defenders. And coincidentally, three of the most promising center-backs born in South America’s second-smallest nation play in Spain with two of them being José María Giménez and Mauricio Lemos.
Both youngsters – originating from the ‘class of 1995’ – have already gained their spot as first-team regular for their clubs. Lemos has done so at recently promoted La Liga outfit Las Palmas. For the side based in the Canary Islands, the former Uruguay U20 international has been able to showcase his outstanding ball playing abilities. Next to his skills on the ball, Lemos is also a very mature defender for his age and seems to possess some natural charisma which is reminiscent of his idol Diego Lugano.
Giménez, on the other hand, is more the natural successor to his fellow Rojiblanco Godín. The 22-year-old is, at times, a still bit rash in the challenge, but is widely regarded as one of the hottest prospects in world football. Just like Godín, a rough defender willing to risk his life to prevent a striker from getting through on goal.
The third Uruguayan CB – Santiago Bueno (18) – who is expected to have a bright future has yet to make a mark on Spanish football as he’s not set a foot in Spain up until now. It’s because the Peñarol youth graduate is still in Ecuador, representing Uruguay in the South American Youth Championships; the tournament wherein his performances led to Barcelona signing him. Bueno will join up with Barcelona’s youth categories after the tournament has finished.
Bueno, Giménez and Lemos represent a larger pool of solid defenders coming through for Uruguay. It is exciting for the Uruguayan people to see another talented generation approaching that will try to continue Uruguay’s prestigious reputation as one of football’s most consistent overachievers.