Garra charrúa is the term Uruguayans use for that quality of gritty determination that any self-respecting Uruguay side, especially one preparing for the FIFA World Cup™ finals, must have in their DNA.
The key ingredients are hard work, intensity and some tough tackling, with shielding and sacrifice coveted ahead of touch and technique. In the Uruguay team it falls to the central midfielder more than anyone to match this sterotype, or at least it did before Walter Gargano came on to the scene.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com from Italy, the Napoli midfielder laughs when asked if he is a worthy inheritor of the famed Uruguayan fighting spirit. "It's true that I’m perhaps a more technical player than the classical Uruguayan central midfielder. I like to read the play and then help my team-mates get on to the ball, and open up the play," he explains, before adding the rejoinder: "But don't worry, if I have to get stuck in, I'm not shy."
Gargano takes as his role models Xavi Hernandez and Juan Veron – two players whom he could conceivably end up facing in South Africa. "Xavi because he does not lose a single ball and always ends up giving it straight to a team-mate. And Veron because the bigger the occasion, the more he enjoys playing and the easier he makes it look.
"Among Uruguayan players, I always looked up to Pablo Garcia – he was also a technical player but if he had to put a foot in, he would do," adds Gargano, who turns 26 in July, shortly after the FIFA World Cup's conclusion.
Working under the maestro
Although he is not the tallest player at 1.68m, his style is not down to size alone. “I came out of the Danubio [FC] academy,which has always produced footballers with a good touch. So I'm not afraid to have the ball further up the pitch. In fact, that's what I do for Napoli," says Gargano, who won two Uruguayan titles with the Montevideo-based Danubio before departing for Naples in June 2007.
With his national team, Gargano fills a more defensive role. "El Maestro [coach Oscar Tabarez] wants me to play as a holding midfielder so I do that job first and from there try to bring my own game into it. It's about being a complete player, being able to adapt to the needs of the team. For Uruguay I'd even play at full-back if that's what was needed."
If anyone knows that, it is Tabarez, who handed him his debut in May 2006 in a 2-1 friendly win over Libya in Tunis. Gargano does not hide his admiration for his coach and praises his tactical intelligence. "During qualifying he started out with a 3-4-3 but struggled to make it work. He was able to change it to find the best system for the players he has. That says a lot about him," says the midfielder, who missed seven of Uruguay's 18 qualifiers through injury.
The coach has also been working to ensure the right amound of grit in the Uruguayan blend. "He wants us to be tough but fair. There were several qualifying games where we finished with ten men, and that extra man is a big advantage in football today, especially in a World Cup."
Uruguay's opening fixture against France on 11 June may be drawing ever closer but Gargano's thoughts are currently focused elsewhere – following the recent arrival of his first child, Matias. "It's amazing," he says. "I've not got back into a proper sleeping pattern yet, but it gives you an incredible energy." He can joke that "it's still harder to mark Brazil's central midfielders than to change a nappy", but he knows the mood will become more serious once back in Uruguay. "It's not every day you play a World Cup," he adds
When it comes to assessing Uruguay’s Group A rivals, Gargano gets straight to the point. "It's good that we start against France – that will be key to seeing where we stand. If you win, you're almost halfway through, and if you draw you take confidence from holding the 2006 runners-up. With South Africa, we'll have to try and play on the pressure they face as the home nation – this was something teams used against us in the qualifiers. Mexico have got experienced players, they've been preparing for a while and have grown together. I hope we can go through with them."
On the tournament overall, he adds: "I like the look of Spain, Brazil and Argentina, although England and Holland also have individuals who can hurt any team." And Uruguay? "If we got to the quarter-finals, this would be a great World Cup for us and I'd go home happy. But like every footballer who is going to South Africa, I'm dreaming of the final. The key will be the group stage – if that goes well, we can go far."