Who is Manuel Ugarte? Sporting CP midfielder on the move this summer
The 2022/23 season has proven to be a true breakout campaign for Sporting CP’s Manuel Ugarte.
As well as helping his side to another steady finish in Liga Portugal Bwin — albeit behind rivals Benfica and FC Porto — the defensive midfielder has also proven himself countless times on the biggest stage with some impressive performances in both the Champions League and Europe League this season.
As a result, some of the biggest teams in football now circle this summer, looking to pluck the 22-year-old from Leões and bring him to the highest level of the sport.
Born in Montevideo in 2001, Ugarte is the next player on the long list of talented midfielders that Uruguay has produced in recent years as a nation.
Starting his professional career with Centro Atlético Fénix in his home town, the midfielder made history by becoming the youngest ever player this century to play professionally in Uruguay’s top-flight at just 15 years of age.
He’d go on to make 53 senior appearances for the Montevideo club before a transfer materialised that saw him move over to Portugal.
That original transfer saw him join Famalicão for a fee of just €3million on a five-year deal in December 2020. His first team debut came less than a month later and he’d go on to make 20 appearances for a side who he helped transition from relegation candidates to European qualification hopefuls the same season.
Such was his dramatic rise during his first half a season in Portugal, Sporting CP came calling the following summer.
A €7million transfer fee proved enough to secure his services and ever since, Ugarte has arguably become one of Sporting’s most important players, holding down the club’s central midfield which helped them to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals this campaign.
In short, Ugarte has proven himself to be one of the best defensive midfielders plying his trade in Europe this season.
Not only has he shown that constantly in the Portuguese top-flight this season but he's also showcased his elite ability when playing in both the Champions League and Europa League this campaign.
Normally deployed alongside a creative force in the midfield of a 3-4-3 set up, Ugarte has allowed his teammates unprecedented freedom by holding down the space in front of his centre backs.
No player in the Portuguese league recorded more interceptions and tackles per 90 than the Uruguayan midfielder, 6.82 to be precise.
Ugarte is also an expert at resisting pressure in the middle third which is a huge plus, especially if he moves to an even bigger European club. Dropping deep in order to gain possession, he often brings the ball out of the backline and into the midfield before distributing with accuracy thanks to his solid vision.
It bears similarities to West Ham's Declan Rice, a player who loves to maraud through the midfield in possession when offered the freedom to do so.
Ugarte has also excelled this season with his reading of the game.
From a simple eye test in most of his matches this season, if you watch the midfielder, he always seems to be in the correct position in order to either receive the ball or dummy defenders into covering him which allows space for his teammates elsewhere.
That was especially true when he aided Sporting in their penalty shoot-out victory over Arsenal in the Europa League knockout rounds. Despite being sent off late due to a lack of concentration — perhaps one of his biggest flaws but his young age somewhat explains it — Ugarte proved a thorn in The Gunners' side throughout the tie, putting together an eye-catching performance which highlighted that he's ready for the next step in his career.
To this point - as of early June 2023 - it seems like every major club across Europe’s top five leagues have shown solid interest in approaching Sporting for Ugarte this summer.
From Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, Newcastle and Aston Villa in the Premier League to PSG and Barcelona elsewhere, every day brings another new potential landing destination for the Uruguayan midfielder.
At present it seems as though there are two main frontrunners in the chase for the 22-year-old midfielder; PSG and Chelsea.
The French champions look to have the upper hand according to the latest reports, apparently offering Ugarte a much larger contract which Chelsea are reluctant to match.
In truth, a move to PSG could be preferable from a playing point of view.
In a midfield two, Ugarte would undoubtedly strike up a fantastic partnership alongside Marco Verratti as at least on paper, both compliment each other perfectly. PSG are also performing at the highest level in terms of winning titles and playing in the Champions League each season, something the London side cant offer after a poor 2022/23 campaign.
In truth, whichever club signs Manuel Ugarte this summer will be an improved side next season. The all-action 22-year-old midfielder is undoubtedly one of the best on the market this off-season and with a release clause sitting at around €60 million, could prove a steal at that price.
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28 of September 2023