Of all the players in Oscar Tabarez’s squad, Diego Lugano perhaps best embodies the famous garra charrua, Uruguay’s famous fighting spirit. Lugano’s tough man-marking, strong aerial ability and commanding voice make him a natural leader and a befitting captain of La Celeste.
La Tota (a nickname he inherited from his father, himself a former centre-back) began his playing days in his native city with Club Atletico de Canelones. Shortly after turning 18 he joined the youth set-up at Montevideo giants Nacional, where he was called up to the first team by coach Hugo De Leon after only a few months, making his official debut in 1999.
Lugano was involved in the Nacional sides that won the Uruguayan Championship in 2000 and 2001, but with limited playing opportunities opted to depart for Plaza Colonia in 2002. This decision, Lugano himself admits, proved crucial in terms of his development as footballer. He was soon made club captain and was a mainstay in the side that achieved qualification for the Liguilla Pre-Libertadores play-offs.
If he returned to Nacional full of expectations in 2003 he would yet again be disappointed as more time on the bench beckoned. It was no surprise then that when Brazilian club Sao Paulo came calling Lugano jumped at the opportunity. Playing in Brazil would present its own problems with Sao Paulo in something of a crisis at the time, but once he established himself in the team a wave of success followed. In 2005, he won the Sao Paulo State Championship, Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup. A year later, Sao Paulo claimed the Brazilian title and were Copa Libertadores runners-up. Lugano was voted top defender in the country in both years and by the time he left for Fenerbache in 2006, he had become an idol in Brazilian football.
In Turkey, Lugano became an instant star: within two years he was the key defensive component in the team that won two league titles and reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League 2007/08.
Jorge Fossati gave Lugano his first full international cap against Paraguay in 2003, in a qualifier for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, and he needed no second invitation to establish himself in the first eleven, losing his place only for the first-leg play-off match against Australia. His efforts, however, were not enough to secure Uruguay a berth at those finals.
Tabarez made him captain upon taking over as coach in 2006 and Lugano has only missed out on one occasion through suspension or injury. He captained the national team at the Copa America in 2007 where Uruguay finished in fourth place and was the backbone of the qualifying campaign this time round, in which he played 15 games, scoring 3 goals; the most important against Costa Rica in the second leg of the qualifying play-off.