By Tom Robinson.
Fresh off the back of a historic league and Libertadores double with Flamengo, Giorgian De Arrascaeta was awarded the Charrua de Oro, given to the best Uruguayan sportsperson of the year.
The 26-year-old playmaker has been one of the best players on the continent for some time and the recognition of a fantastic 2019/20 was richly deserved.
Since breaking through as a star of the Uruguay squad that finished as runners-up in the 2013 U20 World Cup, where they lost out on penalties to a Paul Pogba-inspired France side, expectations for De Arrascaeta in his homeland have been high.
Blessed with excellent technique and vision, De Arrascaeta followed up his international exploits with club side Defensor Sporting as they reached the semi-finals of the 2014 Copa Libertadores. Dazzling displays against Cruzeiro in the group stage were enough to persuade the Brazilian giants to bring him to Belo Horizonte the following year for €4mil.
De Arrascaeta quickly became a fan favourite with his mix of skill, invention and goal threat from midfield.
Alongside the likes of Robinho and Thiago Neves, the Uruguayan helped a Raposa to Copa do Brasil glory in 2017 and 2018, as well as picking up the 2018 Campeonato Mineiro.
By now an established name in South America and with Russia 2018 threatening to propel his profile to the next level, De Arrascaeta looked to have the world at his feet.
Seemingly destined for a move to Europe, the Uruguayan instead ended up at the heavily bankrolled Flamengo for a Brazilian record of R$63m (€15m) in January 2019.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta has arrived at Flamengo with big expectations after the club broke the Brazilian transfer record fee.
Yesterday, De Arrascaeta showed why Flamengo splashed out on him, scoring the 93rd-minute equalizer to take the Taça Rio final to PK’s – which they won. pic.twitter.com/XIzC3YKRmu
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) April 1, 2019
While the move left some scratching their heads at a perceived side-step, Flamengo were building an exciting project with the likes of Gabigol, Bruno Henrique and Rodrigo Caio also joining the Rubro-Negro.
The arrival of manager Jorge Jesus added further fuel to Flamengo’s credentials, as did the signings of Rafinha, Felipe Luis and Gerson.
Flamengo duly romped to an impressive double and De Arrascaeta, with 13 goals and 14 assists in 23 league games, seemed to have justified his decision.
Nevertheless, despite this pretty constant stream of success, there are still some fairly large question marks hanging over De Arrascaeta’s career to date.
How has such a phenomenally gifted player not made the move to Europe yet? And why has he yet to truly establish himself as a cornerstone of the national team?
2018 seemed to be the perfect moment to make the switch but a combination of Cruzeiro holding out for over €20mil and a total of 86 minutes across two games at the World Cup dissuaded anyone from across the Atlantic from taking a punt on him.
Their loss has been Flamengo’s gain and, after a slight wobble under new boss Domenec Torrent, the Mengão are once again challenging for the Brasileirão title. De Arrascaeta has been one of the best players in the league again, as displayed by his WhoScored rating of 7.44 being the third-best in the division.
De Arrascaeta, now 26, seems settled in Brazil at one of the best supported — and best paying — clubs on the continent.
Furthermore, given his age and the reported €25m fee it would take him to prise him away from Flamengo, it could be that no club is willing to splash out on his signature, especially given the current Covid-19 situation affecting finances.
As for the national team, some critics have accused De Arrascaeta of not replicating his club form.
The mercurial midfielder has 26 caps and three goals to his name for the senior national team but, given that only half have been as a starter and just 10 of these appearances have been official competitive fixtures, it shows how little a chance he’s had to show what he can do on a consistent basis.
What’s more, De Arrascaeta has often been played out of position.
Although best as a No. 10 in a central playmaker role, he has tended to be used wider for Uruguay which has limited his effectiveness.
While it’s true that De Arrascaeta has operated on the left for Flamengo, there he has the benefit of attacking overlapping left-back, allowing him to drift in-field where he can be more dangerous. When he has played on the wing for Uruguay he has had to fulfil a completely different function, with less freedom and more defensive responsibility and without as attacking full-backs.
The Copa America 2019 was arguably De Arrascaeta’s best performance for La Celeste and it was no surprise that this came when he was used in his more favoured role.
With Uruguay getting off to a poor start to World Cup qualification in recent games against Chile and Ecuador, finding a way to get the best out of De Arrascaeta will be crucial if Oscar Tabarez is to get Uruguay to a fourth consecutive tournament.
De Arrascaeta now finds himself at a crossroads in his career.
Can he be the missing link for Uruguay’s new generation that provides the link between defence and attack? Will he be another talismanic playmaker — like Luan or Juan Fernando Quintero — who remains an exotic ‘what-could-have-been’ for European fans? Or will he make a belated move across the pond to dazzle and wow a whole new fanbase?
Only time will tell but regardless of which path he takes, De Arrascaeta will continue to be one of the most watchable players and fascinating storylines in South American football.
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