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Uruguayans To Watch: Three young talents making their way in Europe

Alan Matturo

David Kraakman, the man behind @UruguayanHeroes, has brought three, young Uruguayans to the table we should be keeping a close eye on in 2024.

Agustín Álvarez Martínez: Sampdoria on loan

When Sassuolo splashed out 12 million euros for Agustín Álvarez in the summer of 2022, neither party would have anticipated that 18 months later the Uruguayan would be plying his trade in the Serie B for Sampdoria.

To an outsider, this reality could indicate he wasn't able to step up. This, however, would be an unfair judgement.

The striker, who has represented the Uruguayan national team on 4 occasions - scoring once - featured for less than 400 minutes during his debut campaign in Europe.

Despite struggling to fully adapt to the demands of Italian football, he demonstrated glimpses of his quality which we witnessed in Uruguay with Penarol.

Away to Torino in September 2022 with seconds remaining and the score still goalless, Álvarez evaded his marker, moved into space and received a cross from a difficult angle.

The striker was nonetheless able to connect with the cross and expertly guide the ball into the back of the net. A superb headed finish, indicative of a player who has the goal entre ceja y ceja.

Álvarez has been unable to replicate those goalscoring instincts as an ACL injury cut a frustrating season short and ruled him out until the end of the year.

The striker has since returned to full fitness in recent weeks and has been getting up to speed with Sassuolo’s Primavera side. In search for regular first-team playing, Álvarez has now made a loan move to Sampdoria, who are fighting for promotion in the Serie B.

La Samp were relegated from the Serie A last season after 10 years of consolidation in Italy’s top flight. In pursuit of resuscitation, the club, managed by the legendary Andrea Pirlo, have turned to El Canario to lead them back to the promised land.

For Álvarez this transfer provides him with the opportunity to kickstart his career in Europe, and 2024 could therefore be the year that the 22-year-old starts to deliver on the promise which made him one of the most sought-after strikers of the Américas.

Alan Matturro: Genoa

Possibly the shiniest pearl of a new batch in a seemingly never-ending line of outstanding Uruguayan defenders, Alan Matturro is a footballer with a bright future ahead of him.

Ever since debuting for Defensor Sporting aged 17, Matturro has been performing with a level and maturity beyond his age.

He quickly gathered interest from several European clubs, which eventually led to Serie A side Genoa securing Matturro’s signature for just three million euros in 2022. A real bargain in today’s market.

He proved just that in the summer of 2023.

Deployed as a left-back, rather than his natural position in the centre of defence, Matturro took the U20 World Cup by storm, being one of Uruguay’s most important players in their title conquest on Argentinian soil.

Powerful, aggressive, yet graceful and incisive: the youngster was a sight to behold during the tournament, gloriously dominating the left flank. Matturro was awarded the Silver Ball for his stellar campaign.

With this in mind, many were prophesying a breakout season could be on the cards for Matturro in 2023/24. So far, however, the 19-year-old has been a bit part member of the Genoa squad, featuring on only 6 occasions.

The lack of playing time signifies that Matturro, although very gifted, still requires a period of acclimatisation. This is by no means surprising, as the jump from Uruguayan football to Italian football is considerable.

Nevertheless, 2024 could be the year in which Matturro will cross that bridge and win his place in the Genoa side.

Certainly now leading centre-half Radu Dragusin has left the club to join Tottenham Hotspur, opportunities will arise for Matturro to fill the void in Il Grifone’s backline left behind by the Romanian stalwart.

And if Matturro is able to break into the team and demonstrate his capabilities, it could even put him into contention for Uruguay’s Copa América squad.

All the more incentive for the young Charrúa to make this year, the year of his rise to prominence in Europe.

Santiago Homenchenko: Real Oviedo

Throughout history, Uruguay has experienced mass waves of immigration - mainly from Europe.

The effects of this phenomenon can be seen in the present-day demographic of the South American country, as nearly 96% of Uruguay’s population is of either sole or partial European descent.

But while the vast majority are of Spanish or Italian ancestry, the make-up of the Uruguayan folk is incredibly diverse.

Santiago Homenchenko, son of a Ukrainian father, is a prime example of this. Fortunately for Uruguay the 20-year-old has opted to represent his country of birth so far, even being part, albeit as a substitute, of the U20 side that won the World Cup last summer.

Prior to that tournament, Homenchenko had broken into Penarol’s first-team and soon turned heads due to the combination of technical ability and uncompromising tenacity which characterises his game.

The midfielder boasts a wide passing range, while simultaneously having good tactical awareness out of possession.

The latter might have been a reason as to why Marcelo Bielsa has tried out Homenchenko as a central defender in a preparatory friendly ahead of the South American qualifying tournament for the 2024 Olympic Games. It is indicative of the footballer’s versatility.

The qualities mentioned above have not gone unnoticed by European scouts, who know the Uruguayan market is filled with relatively low cost prospects. Take Ronald Araújo as an example. Currently vice-captain of Barcelona and one of the key figures in Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay, Araújo left the domestic league aged 19.

He was far from the player we recognise now, but the potential was clear so Barcelona, at a fee of roughly five million euros, reckoned it was a punt worth taking. And they were right.

Homenchenko, although about a 9-hour ride from the Camp Nou, will be keen on emulating his compatriot in Spanish football. His adventure starts at Segunda side Real Oviedo, who have recently signed him to reinforce their midfield.

In Asturias, Homenchenko will be encountering an environment which is ideal for his first step on the Old Continent.

The quality and the competitiveness of the league is a step-up from Uruguay’s Primera, but nonetheless gives him the platform to find continuity and keep developing. 


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