Federico Valverde is as irreplaceable for Uruguay as he is for Real Madrid and will be central to his country’s World Cup hopes as a player with youth and experience on his side in a squad blessed with an abundance of both.
Valverde has won 44 caps since his debut in 2017 after emerging as one of the leaders of a new generation of Uruguay players and featured heavily in their qualifying campaign for Qatar, starting 14 of 18 games while chipping in with two goals.
A defensive midfielder by trade, Valverde is a tireless performer and boasts a gift for reading the game but his biggest strength is versatility. At Real, his position has varied from right back to midfield anchor and playmaker to right winger.
More recently, he has also added goals to his repertoire, seemingly taking Carlo Ancelotti’s words to heart after the Real manager joked that he would rip up his coaching badges if Valverde did not find the net at least 10 times this season.
“What surprised me is how little he scores, he only scored one goal last season. I told him that he has a wand of a foot, he has an incredible shot,” Ancelotti said.
Valverde had already bagged eight goals in all competitions by the start of November, having never scored more than three times in his previous five seasons in Madrid.
“There were a lot of people close to me who were quite right that I should take advantage of my shot and I’m doing that now and quite enjoying it,” Valverde said after scoring in Real’s 5-1 thrashing of Celtic in the Champions League.
He played a starring role during Real’s successful LaLiga and Champions League campaigns last season, providing the assist for Vinicius Jnr’s goal that secured their 14th European crown.
Having carried that stellar form into this season, it would not be surprising to see Valverde deployed in more advanced areas of the pitch for Uruguay in addition to his regular position in the heart of midfield.
He will be pivotal to their hopes in Qatar and eager to make up for lost time having missed out on the final 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup after making the provisional selection.
Veteran forward Luis Suarez likened his compatriot to his ex-Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard and while Valverde said the comparison was flattering, he is aiming to make a name for himself at the finals with twice world champions Uruguay.
“It’s spectacular when you are compared to such a player, to a star, a world idol... but one always looks out for oneself,” Valverde said.
“I also want to leave my name and my mark in the world of football, not just at Madrid but in the national team... We have the dream of winning the World Cup and bringing this gift to the whole country.”