21. Lucas Torreira
In a league where most coaches prefer to train experienced footballers over unestablished youth, it is not easy for promising youngsters to earn playing opportunities and recognition while playing in Italy.
However, the 2016/17 Serie A campaign went against that trend, as many teams incorporated more young talent into their squads, and Italian football witnessed the emergence of many starlets thriving at the elite level.
One of these kids was Lucas Torreira, who was a revelation for Sampdoria last season, and he established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Italian league. The diminutive player only stands at 167 cm, but he did not allow taller opponents to overwhelm him, atoning for his lack of height with tenacity and football nous.
Despite being 21 years of age, the Uruguayan starlet displayed maturity beyond his years, and he frequently kept experienced playmaker Luca Cigarini out of the Blucerchiati starting line-up, playing 35 out of a possible 38 Serie A matches.
It has been a rather rapid rise for the midfielder, who had been playing for Pescara in Serie B for two seasons prior to his arrival in Genoa.
The Delfini acquired Torreira in 2014 from Montevideo Wanderers’ youth team in his native Uruguay. Torreira dipped his feet into Europe by playing for Pescara’s primavera side, before being promoted to the senior squad by coach Massimo Oddo.
Although he had played just five senior matches in 2014/15, Sampdoria acquired Torreira for a reported figure of €2 million, yet decided to leave the promising youngster in Serie B to gain more playing time.
In the 2015/16 season, he played 31 competitive matches for the Delfini, including 26 Serie B games, as they earned promotion into Serie A via the play-offs. Pescara was known for its attacking play under Oddo, and Torreira as well as Italian youth international Rolando Mandragora added defensive solidarity in the middle of the park.
His performances were good enough to merit a return to Sampdoria, and new Blucerchiati coach Marco Giampaolo decided to field Torreira in the centre of his midfield trio in a 4-3-1-2 formation, often with experienced workhorse Edgar Barreto to the right and Polish starlet Karol Linetty to the left.
Whenever the Doriani were defending, the midfield trio would provide cover and support for central defenders Matias Silvestre and Milan Skriniar. While Barreto and Linetty relied on their stamina and work ethic to track back and limit the space for the opposition’s attacks, Torreira was the one who could read the play and anticipate where the ball would go.
According to Squawka, the youngster made 86 interceptions, 38 clearances, seven blocks, and 72 tackles throughout the 2016/17 season. Due to his tenacious play, he was yellow-carded on seven occasions, yet did not receive a single red card. Although he is more of a ball-winner than a playmaker, he was also fouled 91 times.
The Uruguayan midfielder possessed the ability to win the ball back for Sampdoria and regenerate his team’s attacks. There was nothing speculative about his passing; Torreira tends to keep his passes simple and effective, dishing it off to teammates in close vicinity.
To put this type of passing into perspective, Torreira made 1,715 passes with 86 per cent accuracy and his passes were on average 17m long. Only Skriniar was the other regular starter at Sampdoria with a higher passing accuracy, at 92 per cent.
Despite his simplistic distribution, he was able to create 36 chances for his teammates, while only Bruno Fernandes and Luis Muriel created more opportunities during the season, with 52 and 44 respectively. Although he did not score any goals for Sampdoria, he was able to provide three assists over the course of the season.
Holding onto Torreira will be a great challenge for Il Doria, as Serie A rivals Roma and Spanish side Sevilla have apparently shown interest in the Uruguayan starlet, but a report in the Genoese newspaper Il Secolo XIX has suggested that he could possibly become the Blucerchiati captain.
Whether he accepts the decision to become captain or not is a different story, because he has voiced his opinions in recent months about moving to a bigger club to challenge himself.
The summer of 2017 has started with an exodus of footballers at Sampdoria, so keeping hold of any key personnel will be crucial to the club’s Serie A status and anyone eager to lure him away from the Genoese club will be need to pay at least €20m for his services.
If Blucerchiati patron Massimo Ferrero does sell the diminutive Uruguayan, he will be another loss for Giampaolo’s team. It seems that the Samp tactician will have to build another squad from scratch and Torreira was fundamental to the team finishing 10th on the Serie A table.
Finding another Torreira will be hard for Sampdoria, but whoever purchases him will be getting a naturally competitive midfielder who has the potential to be a regular for Uruguay as well as a European giant. Despite his lack of age and height, he is on the road to becoming a midfield titan.
By: Vito Doria/@VitoCDoria