By Florencia Simoes with Uruguay
In early 2017, Rodrigo Bentancur was making his international debut at the South American U-20 Championship in Ecuador. Eighteen months on, his career has moved on to a whole new level, with the 20-year-old occupying a starting place in the Uruguay side that has reached the Round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the third straight time that La Celeste have achieved the feat.
Russia 2018 is turning out to be the midfielder’s breakthrough tournament, as he linked up to great effect with Matias Vecino in the Uruguayan engine room during victories over Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Bentancur’s young age has been no impediment to his progress. Voicing praise for the youngster, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said: “He’s got the lot as a player and he’s come on even more because he’s learned things playing overseas.”
Bentancur’s presence in the side is also a sign that Los Charruas are trying to play a more fluid brand of football. “We’re playing much better football now,” Bentancur told FIFA.com after the win over the Saudis, which sent the South Americans into the last 16.
Nicknamed El Flaco (‘The Thin One’), he added: “I’ve come into the team along with Pajarito [‘Little Bird’, aka Federico Valverde, who did not make Uruguay’s final 23-man squad] and Mati [Vecino], and we’ve brought a little more football with us. We’re trying to get the ball to the forwards as smoothly as possible, so they can do their thing in the [attacking] area.”
A leading light of the new generation of Uruguayan midfielders, Bentancur is a gifted ball player, who likes to link up with his team-mates. “I like to get hold of the ball and keep it,” said the youngster, who plays his club football for Italian giants Juventus.
His arrival in Italy in the middle of 2017 proved another major career boost, as he took the fast track to the top. In the space of three months, Bentancur played in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017, made his Juventus debut, and earned his first full international cap that September.
“It was amazing to wear the jersey with the U-20s,” he explained. “Everything went crazy after that because I went to play in Italy and got called up by the national team. It was all very, very special though.”
Seal of approval
His arrival in the senior squad, and that of his peers, has been made all the easier by the welcome they have received from Uruguay’s established stars like Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, Cristian Rodriguez and Luis Suarez.
Together with Tabarez, those seasoned campaigners have completely transformed Uruguay’s fortunes. Absent from every World Cup between USA 1994 and Germany 2006, La Celeste have reached the Round of 16 at the last three world finals.
“They show their confidence in us the whole time,” explained Bentancur. “They make it very clear to us that we don’t have to prove anything, which has helped us so much.”
Such is his ambition, that the midefielder has already told his girlfriend what he will do, should Uruguay go on to lift their third world title: “I’ll be dyeing my hair sky blue.”