Why new Arsenal signing Lucas Torreira will give the club something they have lacked since Patrick Vieira
“It’s time" declared the video posted across Arsenal’s social media platforms, with Lucas Torreira eventually revealed as the club’s newest signing.
Pictured in the 2018/19 kit and handed the No.11 shirt, it was a deal that was given full fanfare as the former Sampdoria midfielder spent a lengthy interview discussing supporters tracking his flight to London and “la garra Charrua”. It's a term explaining the tenacity and courage of the Charrua Indians, the reputedly ferocious warriors of old whose spirit lives on in the Uruguayan national team the player represented this summer.
It was a welcome that provided quite the contrast to his arrival in Italy, first landing at Pescara as an unheralded teenager in 2013, joining their youth sector and slowly progressing through the ranks. He would make five appearances for the first team at the end of the 2014/15 campaign, impressing enough to catch the attention of Sampdoria, who signed him outright that summer but quickly loaned him back to the Serie B outfit.
A rapid rise
After another year with the Pescara, Torreira was recalled by Samp and immediately found himself a regular part of their starting XI, but few outside Genoa had taken much notice. Quiet, efficient and with an intrinsic understanding of the game, it seemed the fact he stood just 5ft 6in tall led to many continuing to overlook him even if those who worked closely with him already saw something special.
"His technique, his determination and his tactical intelligence always impressed me," Marcello Donatelli, previously the assistant coach of Pescara, told 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.”
“After Sergio Busquets, he is tactically the strongest midfielder in Europe,” Donatelli concluded, but still nobody was paying attention. That all changed when Chievo visited the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on a wet and grey afternoon in October 2017, a day that inescapably altered Torreira’s career in the blink of an eye.
Actually, it took two blinks. Thanks to Italian TV’s 'multi-Calcio' approach, fans can watch every goal moments after it has been scored, and it was here that many would see the Uruguayan for the first time. Just minutes after Chievo had taken the lead, Sampdoria were awarded a free-kick in a central position – fully 30 yards from goal – which resulted in a long conversation between two or three players over who would take it.
Eventually it was left to Torreira and he unleashed a vicious, swerving effort with his right boot that bent into the top corner, goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino helpless as it crashed into the back of the net. In bars across the peninsula, the viewing public gasped at the quality of the audacious effort, but many simply returned their attention to the next espresso without truly noticing the name of the scorer.
With five minutes to go Samp were awarded a corner and, clearly emboldened by his first ever top flight goal, Torreira decided to deliver an encore. The set piece was headed high towards the edge of the box, but the midfielder was waiting for it, watching carefully as it fell from the sky, and then dispatching it towards the bottom corner.
(First goal at 2:00)
Sorrentino – an excellent if underappreciated veteran shot-stopper – was again rendered a mere spectator, and as the commentator announced that it was “Torreira with a second,” he finally grabbed widespread attention. The two goals were each spectacular in their own right, but as they were replayed together over and over, suddenly the Fray Bentos native was under the spotlight, his performances analysed like never before.
Another excellent display in a derby win over Genoa followed, with Juve’s visit to Marassi the very next week seeing the emerging star once again deliver. This time it was unavoidable. Samp secured a stunning 3-2 win over the Serie A champions, Torreira thumping their second goal past Wojciech Szczesny from the edge of the box.
Sitting in front of the defence, he was given the man of the match award by most newspapers, noting that he had made five tackles and connected with 78 passes, both game-high totals despite the quality of the opposition.
That he had only been converted to that role during his second season with Pescara did not go unnoticed, manager Massimo Oddo converting him from an attacking midfielder into a deep-lying playmaker in the mould of his former Milan team-mate Andrea Pirlo. Yet while the Italian’s performances seemed filled with effortless grace, Torreira embodied the fighting spirit found in so many of his high-profile compatriots.
A hot commodity
Previously unknown, he was now a hot commodity. “Torreira has gone from Serie B to Serie A with ridiculous ease,” Sampdoria sporting director Carlo Osti told La Repubblica after those incredible November displays. “It was said that if he scored even just a few goals, he’d be perfect. He’s already scored three and my phone rang continuously on Monday.”
Interest from Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United was soon disclosed, while Italian heavyweights Juventus, Napoli and Inter all began to monitor his progress. So too did Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez, handing Torreira his first cap in March before including him in the final 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia.
His displays there confirmed what many had noticed over the previous campaign; the 22-year-old was running the show from his new position. Torreira will arrive at Arsenal as the genuinely fierce but talented central midfielder the team has lacked since Patrick Vieira left for Italy back in 2005.
He made 101 tackles last term to rank third in Serie A, while only four players managed more interceptions than his tally of 72 and just eight men – six of whom were at Napoli – bettered his total of 2188 completed passes.
He will be a perfect fit for the approach of Unai Emery, who placed his faith in Steven Nzonzi at Sevilla and Marco Verratti and PSG, both men shining in the very role that Torreira and his “garra Charrua” will now hope to fill at the Emirates.
"In Lucas Torreira, we have signed a young player who is a very bright talent in the game," the Spanish manager said as Arsenal announced the deal on the club’s official website. "A midfielder with great quality, I have enjoyed watching his performances for Sampdoria in the past two seasons, and we all saw him do very well for Uruguay in the World Cup.”
The deal marks quite the profit for Sampdoria who, having paid just €1.5m to sign him from Pescara, will reportedly receive around €30m from the Gunners. After that outlay, and the high profile introduction, it’s “time for Torreira” to prove he’s worth it.