“I’ll never change,” smiled a young Lucas Torreira, surrounded by family and childhood friends while enjoying a few days back home in Fray Bentos during January’s winter break.
Torreira was one of several players identified to improve Arsenal’s spine this summer,
“It’s true, people recognise me more now,” he told Ovacion . “In Uruguay I was never known as I left so young.”
Twenty-two-year-old Torreira left home at 17, packing his bags for Italy to join Pescara before having even kicked a ball in his homeland.
A tricky No.10, he’d impressed since moving to the capital to join Montevideo Wanderers in 2013 and was immediately snapped up by the Italian club, who themselves didn’t see much of him before Sampdoria came calling.
Torreira agreed to join Samp in July 2015 but remained at Pescara for a second season, which would prove the making of him. In an increasing trend in European football, Torreira followed in the footsteps of the likes of Leandro Paredes as he was converted from an attacking midfielder into a defensive one.
“It was pre-season training and the club told me to take a look at him and said, ‘If not, we’ll send him back to Uruguay’,” then coach Massimo Oddo told La Repubblica . “I saw in him a football intelligence, personality, physical strength ... but he always wanted the ball at his feet. So, I told him, ‘Why don’t you play as a defensive midfielder instead of the playmaker?’ I put him in the first team immediately.”
Operating deeper, Torreira found the space he needed to conduct the play and led Pescara to promotion, immediately earning comparisons to a former alumni, Marco Verratti.
Torreira barely has an inch on 5'5" Verratti, and has shown the same poise, strength and creativity that earned the latter his big move to PSG.
And, at Sampdoria, Torreira picked up where he left off, stepping up to top-flight European football with what Sampdoria sporting director Carlo Osti labelled 'ridiculous ease'. A mainstay of the side last term, he’s added a defensive grit and tactical discipline to his game that has made him the complete midfielder.
He was Serie A’s top five for tackles last season, making a hugely impressive 2.8 per game. He was also in the league’s top 20 for passes per game with an average of 61 and created 36 chances for his team-mates.
Only eight players in Italy’s top flight drew more fouls than Torreira, who uses his body impressively to earn the free-kicks that he can then hammer towards goal. Two of his four strikes this season arrived directly from set-plays, including one of the goals of the season with a remarkable curling, dipping drive from 30 yards against Chievo.
“If Torreira were 1.8 metres tall, he would already cost €100 million and would be considered among the strongest playmakers in the world,” Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo told Corriere dello Sport. “He can play it short or long, wins the ball back, restarts play and always seems to know where the ball will be. He’ll go to a big club that does not care so much about his stature.”
It appears that club was Arsenal. And little Lucas Torreira is ready to do big things with the Gunners.