How things have changed in the career of Sebastian Washington Abreu. Over the course of 13 years, the Uruguayan who made his debut for Defensor Sporting in 1995 has gone from an ungainly eccentric to a present-day goal-machine at top Argentinian club River Plate. Now 31, el Loco (the Crazy One) is very much a leader, both at his new club and with the Uruguay national team, a quality which comes to the fore whenever he speaks.

However, some things have remained unchanged for the Uruguayan: his preference for the No13 shirt, his good humour on and off the pitch and his hunger for goals - the latter evidenced by the 270 strikes he has racked up during stints in the Uruguayan, Argentinian, Brazilian, Mexican and Spanish leagues.

Abreu took a break from the serious business of battling for the Argentinian league and Copa Libertadores for an exclusive interview with Among the topics under discussion were his return to Argentina, violence on the terraces, his relationship with the press and the low down on both his teams, River Plate and Uruguay. Sebastian, after many years on the road, you finally decided to return to Argentinian football. Have you found anything different on your return?
Sebastian Abreu: I've found an abrasive, impassioned brand of football, where every game is like a cup final. This element has always been there but I've also noticed that the fans are more fiery, and not necessarily in a good way. When people go to matches to find an outlet for their problems, to let off some steam, you're talking about a social issue which goes beyond football. I don't understand why some fans behave the way they do, but it's something we have to put up with. That's the one change that struck me the most.

You used to play for another Argentinian side, San Lorenzo de Almagro, and now you're with River Plate. How do you find it?
River Plate are a top club, not just in Argentina or Latin America, but on the world stage. You can see that in their popularity, and in the press coverage they get. A lot of things gets written in the tabloid press here, which is not a road you want to go down. Not only do you have to be well prepared to play for River Plate, you must also be able to stand up for yourself and speak up. But I can't complain; I'm doing what I love the most and I'm playing for a team which is a frontrunner in both our domestic league and the Copa de Libertadores.

In that context, how do you handle the press? It can be trickier for, say, a 20-year-old than for someone of your own age.
Experience teaches you how to handle the media. The journalists that show up at training sessions are always the same, so you know who everyone is. In football today, you have to know how to speak to the press. So you say to the younger players, 'if you don't feel ready, don't say anything that might compromise yourself at the start of your career'. It makes sense to have five or six players who are able to give solid, specific answers to the media and free the younger players of that responsibility, particularly in difficult times for the club.

It is clearly something that you are comfortable with. Has this always been the case?
Yes it has, and I've always tried to be measured and analytical in my statements to the press and avoid clichés. I don't understand why some people deal with a question by just wheeling out the same old response. I want to offer something worthwhile for the person who reads or listens to what I say. I love watching football and analysing the play, so I make the most of any opportunity I get to talk about it.

Did the close proximity ofUruguayplay a part in your decision to return toArgentina?
It's something I thought about afterwards, but not at the time I accepted River's offer. I was playing in Mexico at the time, but I decided to put sport ahead of money for the chance to play for a club like this, where the coach had plans for me and there were new, exciting challenges. Being close to my family and the national team were advantages which were apparent later, but in making my decision I concentrated on other factors that are fundamental for a sportsman.

You do get the feeling though that a lot of younger players do not give priority to these factors...
Club owners play a very important role these days. They are the people who are in constant contact with young players and who perhaps sometimes put financial interests before sporting ones. So when you are in a position to give advice, you have to do so. I tell young players to seek out other people's opinions, but ultimately to decide for themselves on what they think is right. That way they can have no regrets later on, even if they make mistakes. You have to make decisions in life, and I much prefer putting my hands up and admitting I was wrong than wondering what might have been. But I strongly believe you can't judge people on the personal decisions they make.

With such an analytical mind, it would be no surprise to see you involved in coaching at some point. Is it something that has crossed your mind?
Yes, it's definitely something I want to do, but everything in its own good time. Whenever you focus on one thing, you begin to lose track of another. And if I think about being a coach now, I'll soon lose my focus as a footballer. Right now I'm only interested in improving as a player, particularly in terms of tactics and getting the basics right.

What is in store for Uruguay in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers?
We're in good shape. A new generation of footballers has come along and this has had a positive effect on the squad. Right now we're a dynamic, attacking team that plays good football at home or away, regardless of who we face. We're delighted with the job el Maestro (coach Oscar Tabarez) is doing, which has brought organisation and structure to the team. Uruguay has a proud history, but we want to write our own as well.

Have any of the newUruguayplayers surprised you?
They haven't surprised me because I tend to stay abreast of these things, but it was great to see these guys pulling on the jersey and producing under pressure. It's not easy when the whole country is watching you, along with the press, so there is a lot of responsibility. Even so, they've performed and have shown that they are born to wear the jersey.

You now faceVenezuelaandPeruinMontevideo, your own backyard. Is this crunch time forUruguay's qualification hopes?
If we take all six points we'll be in the top four, and then staying there will be in our hands. It's a great opportunity to gain some momentum and improve further. The qualifiers are very long and we still haven't achieved anything, but we're entitled to be hopeful about making it to South Africa.

At this stage of your career, do you still have dreams to fulfil?
Lots of them! When you're still actively involved in something, you will always have dreams on the horizon. But we're trying to make these dreams come true as a group, because they're not individual dreams. I share them with my team mates at River Plate and the national team, which makes them even sweeter still.

One gets the impression that you really love football.
Of course, I'm obsessed with football, almost pathologically so. I watch a lot of it, especially teams that I might come up against in the Copa Libertadores, the World Cup qualifiers or the domestic league. My family puts up with a lot because they constantly have to watch sports programmes that feature a lot of analysis. I like these programmes because I learn from them. By its very nature, football analysis is not an absolute science.

Given that you watch so much football, is there any particular team in history you would like to have played in?
The words "what if" don't exist in my vocabulary, but if it's just for the sake of dreaming, I would have liked to have played with the Uruguay team that won the 1950 World Cup - an incredible achievement. Another would be the Nacional side which won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup in 1980. But as that's not going to happen, the only thing I can do, if I go back to Nacional, is prepare myself mentally to try [to emulate] that. The same goes for the national side: you have to beat the odds to achieve those kind of dreams.