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Uruguay Midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur Has Already Proved He Has Big Game Mentality With Juventus

Rodrigo Bentancur has been dubbed in some quarters at the Uruguayan Paul Pogba
Rodrigo Bentancur has been dubbed in some quarters at the Uruguayan Paul Pogba

The fact that Juventus are seeking midfield reinforcements is no secret. With the club barely having time to clean up following the 2017/18 Scudetto celebrations, they are seemingly already hard at work looking to bolster that particular area of the squad and are linked to a raft of potential new signings on almost a daily basis. In the last week alone, Bryan Cristante, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Alessandro Florenzi, Rafinha, Emre Can and Aleksandr Golovin were discussed by various outlets, a list which shows just how keen they are to fill a void which became increasingly apparent last term.

Indeed, over the last few years Juve have been guilty of neglecting their midfield while vastly improving their attack, acquiring Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi yet allowing Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo to move on without bringing in adequate replacements. While Miralem Pjanic has become a key figure under Max Allegri and Blaise Matuidi proved to be a limited but effective performer, the Coach has been forced to call upon Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina and an ageing Sami Khedira alongside them.

Yet even as Director General Beppe Marotta works to correct this error of judgement, it seems he has managed to uncover a potential star along the way. Rodrigo Bentancur arrived in Turin last summer after the Bianconeri exercised their €9.5 million option to sign him from Boca Juniors, a fee agreed as part of the deal which took Carlos Tevez back to the Buenos Aires-based side back in 2015.

At the time that seemed like little more than a token gesture, Bentancur – a graduate of the Boca youth system – having just turned 18 years old and with just six first-team appearances to his name. But over the following two years he became a fixture at La Bombonera, featuring over 60 times and looking increasingly influential, just as he did for Uruguay’s Under-20 national team who he helped win the South American championships in early 2017.

That impressive form not only convinced Juve to hand over the funds necessary to sign him, but also pushed Coach Óscar Tabárez to bring him into the senior national team. “My dream has always been to play in Europe,” Bentancur told JTV as his transfer was completed. “As soon as I had the chance to come to Europe I was very happy and it’s an honour to be at Juventus.

“I was fortunate enough to play for a wonderful club like Boca since I was little, followed by a lot of fans in a very important stadium with a passionate atmosphere,” he continued. “When I heard I was coming to Juventus, the first thing I did was to watch all of Juve’s matches and above all look at the midfielders. I know this is a new football, faster than the Argentine one, but I’m ready to learn everything about Italian football.”

That homework certainly paid off, Allegri pushing him into the starting XI as early as September, with supporters stunned by the maturity displayed by the 20-year-old midfielder. As the campaign progressed so too did Bentancur, admitting in an interview with Sport 890 that he had improved in terms of my “recovery times, marking opponents and as a player overall” thanks to the Bianconeri coaches and players.

He did much the same for Uruguay, making his full debut against Venezuela last October as Tabárez overhauled his stale looking side, now part of a vibrant young midfield that regularly includes Federico Valverde (19), Matias Vecino (26) and Nahitan Nandez (22). Bentancur is vital to this new approach, dictating the rhythm of the game from his central role as he protects the defence, retains possession and supplies the side’s deadly strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.

Versatile and adept with the ball on either foot, his 25 appearances for Juve this term highlighted his very best qualities. Bentancur averaged 2.9 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per 90 minutes, creating 1.3 scoring chances for his team-mates while connecting with 90% of his 76.3 pass attempts.

The numbers are impressive enough, but watching him on the field – whether in heavy defeats to Barcelona and Real Madrid or in crucial victories over Fiorentina, Torino and Inter – it was impossible to ignore his calm, confident demeanour. Arriving from a foreign country as a teenager who does not speak Italian is undoubtedly a daunting experience, as is dealing with the pressure of playing for Juve, yet the highest compliment one can give Bentancur is to admit that he instantly looked like he belonged in the team.

If he needed time to adjust then that certainly wasn't reflected in his play, and the rising star will have no need to fear a World Cup group that sees Uruguay go head-to-head with Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Whether at the Bombonera, Camp Nou or San Siro, he has already proven he can thrive on the biggest stage, and he might even help Juventus overcome their long-standing midfield woes. Rodrigo Bentancur isn’t one for the future, he’s thriving already.

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