Marcelo Bielsa took the job as Uruguayan national team manager almost a year ago with the mission of bringing La Celeste back to their feet.
Luckily for him, there's a new generation of players coming that's ready to take Uruguay back to their glory days.
One of the players of this new top crop and one of the youngest in the group is 17-year-old Thiago Helguera, from Nacional, whose 2024 promises to be special.
Nathalia Tavares is on hand to provide her thoughts on the 17-year-old.
Thiago Helguera: Player Profile
Helguera started his career at his local side Sportivo Independencia, representing the club at the under-13 national finals in 2019 before joining Nacional's academy the following year.
In January 2023, at 16 years of age, Thiago signed his first professional contract and was promoted to the first team. He made his professional debut on 30th April 2023 as a second half substitute during Nacional's win over La Luz in the Uruguayan Primera División.
A year later, he has 13 professional appearances under his belt and was part of Bielsa's training camp with Uruguay under-20s and under-23s ahead of the 2024 CONMEBOL pre-Olympic tournament, being one of the youngest in the group.
The 17-year-old’s ability to read the game is truly impressive as his work rate. Helguera is aware of his surroundings, constantly scanning when in and out of possession to make sure he has multiple options at all times.
Knowing how to position himself is one of the main duties of a defensive midfielder, and one in which Helguera excels at.
He’s an accurate tackler, who isn't shy when it comes to getting stuckinto challenges and pressing opponents. The midfielder often times his tackles to perfection and has the confidence in 1v1 defensive duels.
The 17-year-old shows good decision-making and is sensible when on the ball. His passing ability is very good, and remains composed under pressure.
However, at the moment he tends to makes horizontal or backward passes. There's work to be done in terms of his progressive passing, which could help him have a bigger impact as a controller in midfield.
On the other hand, his progressive carries are very strong. The Uruguayan has great pace and physical strength and, because of that, he covers a lot of space.
He is comfortable moving forward with the ball at his feet, and can often surprise the opponent's defence with his late runs when out of possession. Work could be done on his mid- and long-range shooting, but that will come with more experience.
Overall, Thiago Helguera is a well-rounded and tactically intelligent defensive midfielder. Given his age and the stage of his development, there aren't any overly concerning areas in his game.
In fact, it’s more about refining his game so that he can take it to the next level.
Of the youngster’s 13 first team games, in six of them he’s come off the bench, averaging about 65 minutes per game.
It is to be expected that as he is integrated and gets more playing time within the first team, he will smooth out the rough edges of his game and take a further step in his development and on his way to becoming a world-class player..
What does the future hold?
At this moment, Helguera wouldn't be an immediate solution for a European team. However, he would be an amazing gamble at a low coast. Top clubs around the world should be willing to look ahead.
Monaco, Inter Milan and the City Group seem to have understood that, and have made contact with National inquiring about the midfielder. Although Helguera is on the radar of European clubs, given his career has just started, he has to take the right steps.
The right step seems to be looking to stay at least another season in Uruguay, where he'll have a platform to develop further and establish himself at the professional level.
In July 2023, Helguera signed a new three-year contract. This shows how much Nacional values the talent they have in hand. It also indicates that the Uruguayan club is not in a rush to sell one of their most valuable assets.
Helguera's potential is obvious, but he is just getting started. That means he needs stability and patience, two key things Nacional can offer him.
Not only that, his boyhood club looks ready to make him a regular in the first team as Nacional hopes for a better run in the Libertadores and in the domestic competitions.
It seems we are set to see another Uruguayan gem taking center stage in 2024 and pave his way to become one of the best sales in the history of his nation's football sooner rather than later.