“We are talking about a young player who he is already assuming an important role in the team. It has a lot of future “. Ronald Araújo received this compliment at a press conference from Ronald Koeman in mid-December. His words were not empty, the Dutch coach opted for him and since he returned from a muscle injury in November, he has started 14 of the 15 games played. A great responsibility for a 21-year-old footballer who, despite certain failures in the lawn, He is serving with note the difficult task of being central in the Barcelona Football Club. In a season of transition, both sporting and institutional, the Uruguayan explosion is one of the best news for the Blaugranas.
Without having reached the age of majority, Araújo made his professional football debut with Rentistas, a team from the city of Montevideo. There it coincided with Julio Fuentes, who attends El Confidencial to review his compatriot’s first steps as a professional. “Rentistas was going through a difficult situation, had dropped to second and could go to third,” says the former soccer player. That young man from Rivera, a city in the interior of Uruguay, pointed out ways.
“The first thing that surprised me about him was his physical bearingHe was very young, but had a physical presence that was not common. Strong, big, athletic … Now he’s even taller, but slimmer. In his moment he had more weight, but it is logical, he came from playing inside”, Reflects the coach. According to Barcelona himself, Araújo is 1, 88, although his impressive size and corpulence surprises on the pitch.
Fuentes remembers a young man with an attitude and a desire to learn, something that, four years later, Koeman himself points out about his pupil. The Uruguayan coach confesses what his main handicap was: “It’s not like in Spain here, there is a lot of difference between the soccer of the capital and the cities of the interiorThere was no professional football in the city he came from. His training was very precarious, when we arrived at the club, during the time we worked with him, it was to improve their tactical training ”.
“I still see that he keeps making tactical mistakes, he supplements them with his speed, power and strength. It is true that he plays for a team whose defensive line positioning is often mid-court. Barcelona is a team that plays the individual duel, it is a team that does not scale. In that Araújo feels comfortable ”, explains the Uruguayan coach, before pointing out that “For example, when he plays for Uruguay, he’s not doing so well.”
In a brilliant season by Araújo, replacing center-backs such as Gerard Piqué or Clement Lenglet, the Uruguayan also he has had bad times. Certain positioning or concentration failures, such as the famous Eibar goal in which he loses the ball being the last defender before Ter Stegen, typical of his fata of maturity in the field: “He runs backwards and catches up with them, but defending in the zone costs him a lot and that’s how Óscar Tabárez plays. That is why he does not play as a starter in the national team, Diego Godín and Josema (José María Giménez) play, Beyond being good players, they are used to playing that way. Simeone agglutinates behind, when Godín went to Italy, he continued playing in the same way. You have to understand that not your whole life will play with the same system or at Barcelona, at some point, at that level he has to adapt and know, he is still young ”.
Trained to play ahead
“When I worked with him, seeing the tactical difficulties he was going through as a center-back, we put him at the wheel. As he had a very good mid-distance shot, he did well ”, relates Julio Fuentes. Araújo debuted his personal account this season with a spectacular scissor goal against Valencia. The Uruguayan coach precisely highlights the shot as one of his best qualities: “As his position on the field is backward, he has many players from his team in the middle, but he he hits the ball with enormous power ”.
Fuentes, who continues to be very aware of the career of his former pupil both in Europe and in the sky, insists on the margin of improvement that Ronald Araújo has: “Then he went from here to Boston River, who played with a line of three behind . If playing with four defenders is complicated, with three it is much more. He had ups and downs, but they saw his potential and he went to the Barça subsidiary. He has great physical power, but his tactical command must work. Years will pass and you will lose speed, you will require better positioning. When he understands and does it, he is going to be a player of a spectacular level ”.
A committed player, away from bad habits and ‘made in Uruguay’
During the conversation with this newspaper, Fuentes asked to highlight the values he found in the Uruguayan. “He is a very good boy, an excellent human being,” he explains. “He was a great professional, he caught my attention. Araújo came from a city on the border with Brazil, there is a lot of carnival, a lot of night, alcohol … a lot of temptation. It is a place that has its own rhythm. (…) He, however, lived with companions, you didn’t have to tell him what to do, how he had to take care of himself, he always showed up to train in an impeccable way. It is something that must be highlighted being so young “insists the coach.
Araújo was a player project in the Barcelona subsidiary. Although it came without making a sound -all the lights of the quarry pointed to Todibo, recently loaned to Nice after a short-lived stint at Benfica- the Uruguayan made a place for himself in the team led by García Pimienta. In 2019, by the hand of Ernesto Valverde, he made his debut in a match with the first team against Sevilla, he only spent 10 minutes on the field, when he was expelled for a controversial grab.
Already in the 2010/21 season, the losses in defense of players like Gerard Piqué and the low level shown by Samuel Umtiti or Lenglet has allowed Araújo to hit the table. His physical power leads him to be, with Jules Koundé, the center-back with the best aerial game in LaLiga (2.9 duels won per game according to the Whoscored data). Besides transmitting his charrúa personality to a Barça in need of leaders on the pitch: “All Uruguayans carry that. We are born with a ball and inherited two world championships, four if we count the Olympic Games. Here we players are born world champions. It is a story that our ancestors left us and we defend it. Look what Cavani or Luis Suárez does on the field. Here baby futbol (children’s soccer) is played to win, every weekend the boys mobilize and the matches are to the death, even if it is between neighbors. That temperament, beyond the game, the important thing is to win ”.
“You notice that great coaches in the world like Simeone want to add Uruguayan players. Godín left, but now Suárez has arrived, which gives the team a lot of character. Gallardo permanently takes Uruguayans to River Plate ”, points out Fuentes; “We are like that, with thermos and mate and leaving everything in each training session and in each game.” Nothing to better define Araújo, the center-back who has conquered Koeman.