Yet to make his first team debut for Nacional, Amaral is nevertheless one of the most highly regarded youngsters in South America. Frighteningly prolific at youth level and voted young revelation of the Sudamericano earlier in the year, the 18-year-old forward will be a key player for Uruguay at the upcoming U20 World Cup in New Zealand.
Who is Rodrigo Amaral?
Born in Montevideo, Amaral came through the famed Nacional academy that has produced the likes of Hector Scarone, Diego Lugano and Luis Suarez and has been finding the back of the net on a regular basis since he started turning out for the U14s back in 2011. In fact, he has already scored over 140 goals at various youth levels, making him already one of the top 10 scorers in the history of Nacional’s youth teams.
Early recognition came in 2012 when he was selected to travel to Liverpool and train with The Reds at Melwood for 10 days alongside fellow prospects Gaston Pereiro, Leandro Otormin and Diego Baldi. Yet another feather in his cap is his impressive record in clasicos against Peñarol, having never lost a match against their bitter rivals. Needless to say, these early signs have got the Bolso faithful eager to see the latest starlet fast tracked into the first team.
While Amaral may not have had his opportunity in the Primera yet, he has quickly made a name for himself at international level. Despite being only 17, Amaral was called up to the Uruguay U20s in June 2014 and made his debut against Paraguay, before scoring a brace in the return fixture two days later in a 2-1 win. In November that year, Amaral scored in the final of the Cuadrangular Internacional as Uruguay beat Panama.
But it was in the Sudamericano U20 early this year that Amaral truly made his breakthrough. Although he started off as an impact substitute, impressive displays from the bench during the initial group stage saw Amaral force his way into Fernando Coito’s starting XI. Well organised and disciplined, Uruguay’s success was built on solid back four, backed up by the colossal Guruceaga in goal, and protected by the tireless midfield duo of Nandez and Arambarri, providing the platform for the likes of Pereiro, Acosta and Amaral to make the difference in the final third.
It was clear from Amaral’s first involvements that the precocious 17-year-old gave the young Charruas attack an extra dimension when they needed it most. In the opener against Colombia, Amaral replaced Baez on 85 minutes with the score at 0-0 before, in stoppage time, providing the vital flick on from the corner for Arambarri to head in the late winner. In the 6-1 plundering of Chile, Amaral lashed in a fine left footed strike from the edge of the area and then against Peru he laid on two assists in his first start of the tournament. Assists against Paraguay and Argentina took his tally to 5 and earned him the prize of young revelation of the tournament.
The only blot on his copybook has been a bit of a contract dispute which, eventually, saw him commit his future to Nacional and sign a 3 year contract. There was talk of a clause that entitled him to double his monthly salary if he wasn’t paid on time each month, although this was denied by the player. Now on the books of agent Daniel Fonesca, who also represents the likes of Fernando Muslera and Giorgian De Arrascaeta, it seems that the path to Europe is already being paved but hopefully he is surrounding himself by people that will keep his feet on the ground.
Style of Play, Strengths and Weaknesses
Primarily a centre forward, Amaral is capable of playing across the forward line and for Uruguay has principally been on the wide left to great effect. His goalscoring record at youth level speaks for itself but he is as much of a creator as a finisher, combined with a work rate and tenacity that has become synonymous with South American strikers.
Amaral boasts all the traits of a player formed in the mythical potreros of the Rio de la Plata; A mixture of strength and technique, invention and cunning, gambetas and goals. Despite only being 18, Amaral is already powerfully built and has great aerial ability for a player measuring in at around 1.79m which makes him a versatile threat. However, what really stands out is Amaral’s silky skills, explosive pace, close control and excellent finishing off both feet, although his left is his strongest. Basically, he looks to be the complete package; a combination of Suarez and Forlan, if you will.
His aforementioned qualities mean that Amaral is capable of scoring all types of goals, which is precisely what makes him such a difficult man to stop. There have been precious few opportunities for a wider audience to catch him in action but they have already been able to provide evidence for his well-rounded goal threat. During the Sudamericano, his goal against Chile showed his impressive shooting ability from range, while his cameo versus Colombia showed his aerial presence and physicality against the tightest defence in the competition. Furthermore, in a recent friendly he scored a beautiful solo effort against France, picking up the ball in the opposition half, driving forward, shimmying to evade two defenders before motoring away from the last man and calmly rounding the goalkeeper to slot in, perfectly demonstrating just what Amaral in full flow can do.
Another impressive characteristic of young Rodrigo is his fearlessness and intelligence when he plays. Not fazed at all when faced with older opponents, Amaral loves to take on and usually beat his man and his confidence in his own abundant ability translates to the pitch. Given his physical attributes he’s not afraid to mix it up and get stuck in, although he can be perhaps a bit hot headed. Usually this can be put down to the impetuous and eagerness of youth but if he can learn to control it, it could become a potent weapon in riling opponents and drawing fouls.
Though possessing all the qualities of your archetypal forward, Amaral is still rough around the edges and as the element of surprise begins to wear off he will need to hone his undoubted talents, whilst maintaining the unpredictability that makes him such a livewire maverick, to keep his opposition constantly guessing. At the moment, we are dealing purely in potential but all signs point an unpolished diamond at the helm of an exciting new generation of young Uruguayan talent.
What does the Future hold?
The sky really is the limit but Amaral needs to keep his feet on the ground for the time being. 2015 promises to be an important one in the formative stages of his career, both domestically and for the national team.
Having recently signed a first professional contract, he will expect to get some first team action at Nacional sooner rather than later. A strong performance at the upcoming U20 World Cup in New Zealand will increase the calls to see him in the Tricolor first team but could also see him gain yet more attention and recognition from abroad and hasten a move abroad.
There are already a few clubs sniffing around with Villarreal, who have already signed compatriot Franco Acosta, one of the teams interested. As Luciano Vietto has shown, it could be a good fit for a young South American cutting his teeth in Europe. Regardless of where and when he moves – and it is a question of when, not if – Amaral is a star in the making. Watch this space.
Written by Tom Robinson