Nicolas Lodeiro made headlines last weekend in the Netherlands not just for his part in Ajax’s 75th minute equaliser away to AZ, but also for his celebratory scream right after it. The 22-year Uruguayan was on the pitch barely two minutes when his shot from the edge of the six-yard box was deflected into his own net by Danish defender Simon Poulsen. And although the 1-1 draw was far from ideal for the visitors, it did keep them within five points of AZ at the top of the Eredivisie.
Lodeiro’s exuberant celebration met with a degree of curiosity in the local media. Was his scream a release of the frustration that came with starting on the bench for the second successive game after the winter break? For his part, the 5’6 midfielder has said publicly that he is not satisfied with his role as a substitute, but that at the same time he respects the decision of his coach Frank de Boer. Lodeiro also knows he will have to battle hard to win a regular starting berth and insists he has no problems doing just that.
Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for the young Uruguayan, after the recurrence of a foot injury prevented playing a single game for Ajax last season. “Come what may, I’m going to continue fighting with everything I’ve got,” the player told FIFA.com during the club’s recent trip to Brazil for their winter break.
A year without football
Lodeiro is regarded in Uruguay as the country's latest playmaking star and, given his rare attributes, it is not hard to see why. The youngster is adept at dictating games and pulling the strings with his impressive left foot, abilities that earned him a rapid promotion from the national U-20 team to Oscar Tabarez’s senior squad in 2009. He then went on to impress in Uruguay’s play-off win over Costa Rica that took them to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where Lodeiro also featured.
However, it was at that showpiece event in 2010 that the player suffered his first major setback. During a dramatic quarter-final against Ghana, the midfielder broke a metatarsal in his right foot, which not only ruled him out of the semi-final but also sidelined him for the best part of four months. And if that was not bad enough, in his first training session back in late October 2010, he suffered precisely the same injury and spent the rest of the season recovering.
I’ve spent all my life operating in midfield, but what I really like is playing football. So I have no problem being deployed on the wings or up front.
“That was a very difficult period for me but I learned a lot of lessons as well,” said the player, who opted not to return to Uruguay for his rehabilitation. “I never gave up on Europe. I still have a great deal to achieve here and I have to continue on my path.”
Of course, doing this will require not just skill and considerable effort, but also the ability to adapt to both the Netherlands and its football as well the requirements of Ajax. Owing to an injury crisis at his club that has already sidelined Kolbeinn Sighthorsson, Siem de Jong and Dmitry Bulykin among others, an opportunity has presented itself for Lodeiro to play in a more attacking role.
Needless to say, it is not something he had to think twice about. “I’ve spent all my life operating in midfield, but what I really like is playing football. So I have no problem being deployed on the wings or up front. Playing is what matters."
Although the Paysandu native has found goals hard to come by, he has been an influential member of the young side being forged by De Boer, with whom he is able to communicate in Spanish. Thanks to his assists and inventiveness on the wings, Lodeiro has contributed fully to an attack that has scored 47 goals in 18 games this season. Moreover, his new position could also provide a route to get back into contention with La Celeste.
Staying faithful to their tradition and the tactics that earned them fourth place at South Africa 2010, Uruguay continue to populate their midfield with committed and hard-tackling holding players. In front of this group of tireless workers are strikers of the calibre of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan, with the latter capable of operating deeper to link up midfield and attack when necessary.
Lodeiro began last year’s Copa America campaign in the starting XI in what was seen as a ringing endorsement by Tabarez, given the player’s extended period of inactivity. However, by the knockout rounds he found himself out of favour, and he has not featured in the first three fixtures of the qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Having now become accustomed to playing out wide in the Netherlands, Lodeiro could well fit into that group of forwards, who themselves are not lacking in fighting spirit. Perhaps the youngster harbours dream of forming one half of a creative duo with Forlan in the future? “That would be wonderful," he said, "though it'd be difficult to do at present, given the superb form the team are currently in. What matters now is the same as always – which is just playing, no matter where that is.”