“Of course there’s pressure, but I knew what I was getting myself into,” affable Uruguayan midfielder Manuel Ugarte, who is determined to prove that Paris Saint-Germain made the right choice in recruiting him to boost the team’s prospects, told his club’s official website.
After a difficult season for Parisian defensive midfielders, PSG bought the Uruguayan ball-winner from Sporting Portugal this summer. A 22-year-old with eight caps for La Celeste, Ugarte wants to “learn and continue to progress as a player”, as he explained backstage at the PSG House set up for a week in Osaka, where the club began its Asian tour.
Box to box
“Since we’ve been in Japan, I’ve realised that Paris Saint-Germain is a giant given the number of fans they have here,” he noted before describing his style of play. “I’m a box-to-box player. I’d say I’m a seasoned player who always tries to win the ball back – that’s my main characteristics.”
His new teammates know full well that Ugarte can do a job.
“He’s very strong, he wins a lot of balls and also plays well offensively,” confirmed Portugal midfielder Vitinha, who crossed paths with him when he was at Porto and Ugarte at Sporting Portugal.
However, the Uruguayan believes that he still needs to improve his play on the ball.
“But I think Luis Enrique is the perfect coach for that!” beamed Ugarte. “He has mentioned that I could play as a pivot pivot (defensive midfielder) and also within the defensive line, where the pivot can play. He asks me to vary my game a lot: ‘The ball comes from one side, send it back to the other’.”
In his second match with PSG, against Al-Nassr in Osaka on Tuesday (0-0), Ugarte played the second half on the left of a three-man defence. Against Le Havre AC (2-0), he had played the first half as a defensive midfielder, his preferred position.
‘Ready to face the competition’
“Ugarte is a player who brings a lot to the table, and physically he’s very strong,” commented Portuguese fellow defensive midfielder Danilo Pereira. “He still needs to find his feet with the team, but that will come with hard work.”
In Paris, the young Uruguayan feels “ready to face the competition” and continue his rise. “It all happened very quickly,” he recalls. He arrived at Famalicao at the age of 19, “a great club to grow up at. I’ll always be a fan of Famalicao, the team that opened the doors to Europe for me”.
He then made the move up to Sporting, where he ended up as Portuguese champion in 2022, his “first title, a milestone”.
And now here he is at the mighty PSG.
“I’ve learnt a lot and I need to keep learning,” he noted. “I also have to keep a cool head about everything that’s going on at this big club.”
To help him do so, Ugarte is counting on the famous garra charrúa – that quintessential hallmark of Uruguayanness – to help him make his mark.
“I would describe it as the desire to always have the ball and the hunger for victory. Football in Uruguay is very important throughout the country,” the young star explained. “From a very young age, it’s as if you were born with a ball under your arm [he mimes the ball under his elbow]. I’m very happy and very proud to be Uruguayan. I started with Fenix, a team from the Capurro district of Montevideo,” said Ugarte of his first club, with its purple and white jersey. “The people of Capurro are fanatics for Fenix.”
At PSG, Uruguayan Edinson Cavani left a lasting impression as a warrior – and a man who smashed a then-record 200 goals for the capital club.
“Before I knew I was coming, Edinson and I were talking [about PSG] during a tour here in Japan [with La Celeste],” recalled Ugarte. “Cavani really is a monster!”
And PSG are clearly hoping they have landed another monster from Uruguay!