Uruguay have a long and storied history in producing goalkeepers from Roque Maspoli, a key figure in the Maracanazo that saw Uruguay win the 1950 World Cup, and Ladislao Mazurkiewicz in the sixties and early seventies to the moustachioed Rodolfo Rodriguez, a Copa America winner in 1983, and more recently Fabian Carini. Current custodian Fernando Muslera has been the undisputed number 1 since making his debut in 2009 and, still only 29, looks certain to become the country’s most capped keeper.
However, when Muslera does eventually hang up his gloves, Uruguay needn’t worry as in Gaston Guruceaga they look to have an ideal replacement waiting in the wings.
Who is Gaston Guruceaga?
Born on 15th March 1995 in the town of Artigas up in the north of Uruguay near the border with Brazil, Gaston followed in the footsteps of his grandfather by taking up residence between the sticks from a young age. Indeed, football seems to run in the veins of his family as his cousin is full back Matias ‘Vasquito’ Aguirregaray, who enjoyed a brief spell at Palermo and is now back at Peñarol.
Gaston himself was snapped up by the Montevideo giants Peñarol at the age of 13 and has remained with the Aurinegros ever since. During the 2012/13 season, the young goalie was integrated into the first team as fourth choice keeper and made it onto the bench for the first time in a 1-0 victory over El Tanque Sisley. That year he was in the preliminary squad for the Uruguay U-17s but unfortunately did not make the final cut.
Guruceaga would make up for that disappointment by consolidating his position as the number one for U-20s the following year though. And it was at the U-20 Sudamericano on home soil in January 2015 that the young goalkeeper would announce himself to a wider audience. Guruceaga was one of the stars of the tournament as he kept five cleans sheets in eight games and only conceded four goals, earning him the golden glove award and helping Uruguay to qualify for the U-20 World Cup later in the year.
From that point on, at club level Guruceaga found himself promoted to Pablo Migliore’s back up and for the rest of the Clausura was on the bench as Peñarol ended the season as runners up to eternal rivals Nacional. Shortly before his twentieth birthday he also got his first start for Peñarol in a friendly versus Boston River, although he has yet to make his league debut at the time of writing.
Guruceaga was once again in action for the sky blue of the Uruguay U-20 national team. A brilliant performance against eventual champions Serbia in the opening match gave the Charruas a 1-0 win and augured well for a strong tournament.
However, a 2-1 loss to Mexico and a 1-1 draw with surprise package Mali saw Uruguay scrape through, before they were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Brazil on penalties. Nevertheless, his solid performances in goal throughout 2015 for the national team have marked him out as future senior international in waiting.
Guruceaga featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2016.
Style of Play, Strengths, and Weaknesses
What immediately stands out when watching Guruceaga is his imposing physical attributes. Measuring up around 1.94m, with a muscular frame and a shaved head, he is certainly an intimidating presence for opposition players. This gives him a sense of authority which allows him to command his penalty box and means he is unafraid to come out and claim crosses. His physique means he also excels at one-on-one situations and has a Schmeichel-esque ability to stay big and spread himself to snuff out any danger. His goalkeeping coach for Uruguay, Carlos Nicola, puts it down to “the strength he has in his legs, which allows him to hold his position and not commit himself”.
Perhaps his greatest strength though is his character and mentality. His presence between the sticks instils a sense of calm to the defence in front of him and he is a real leader on and off the pitch. His confidence and his physical traits allow him to be a very positive and proactive goalkeeper and he is deceptively quick when bearing down on onrushing opponents. There are occasions of overconfidence but this can be put down to youth and in general this element of his personality is a positive one, both for him and his teammates.
Technically he is also very good and is a great shot stopper, making him a real all round goalkeeper. U-20 coach Fabian Coito rates him exceptionally highly: “He’s vital for us. We’re seeing the emergence of a great Uruguayan keeper of the present and the future.” Manuel Neuer and Marc ter Stegen are obvious reference points but Guruceaga cites Iker Casillas as his idol and his even named his dog after him.
There are still the odd errors in his game such as the occasionally misjudged cross, overzealous charge or for example when he picked up an awkward back pass against Mali, conceding an indirect free kick that lead to their equaliser. Generally though they are few and far between and he is noted for his reliability as a safe pair of hands. Certainly he could be better with the ball at his feet but in general the positives far outweigh the rough edges to his game.
What Does the Future Hold?
Having enjoyed a very productive first half of 2015, Guruceaga now needs to build on this budding start to a highly promising career. After the departure of Migliore at Peñarol, 20-year-old Guruceaga is in line to become Bengoechea’s number one for the upcoming season and the pressure to adapt quickly to first team football will be a true test. The expectation will be high and the arrival of Damian Frascarelli means he can’t afford a slip up.
Peñarol’s decision to withdraw him and midfielder Nahitan Nandez from the Juegos Panamericanos – which Uruguay went on to win – is certainly a sign that both will play bigger roles for the club this season. The recent signing of a 5 year contract with the Manyas also shows just how important a player they consider the young stopper to be, as well as serving a secondary purpose in warding off interest from Italy, where Atalanta, Palermo, Verona and Napoli are all thought to be interested.
On a national team level, there are growing calls for Guruceaga to be fast tracked into the senior team as third choice keeper to gain experience and integrate into the group. At 29, Muslera still has many years ahead of him but Tabarez will be aware of the need for some competition for the number one jersey and will want to consider some future replacements for life after Muslera.
Guruceaga won’t be the only candidate though. Guillermo de Amores – winner of the golden glove at the 2013 U-20 World Cup – will have gained ground after his role in the Juegos Panamericanos triumph following Guruceaga’s withdrawal. Furthermore, Salvador Ichazo has made his move to Torino permanent and is another good prospect while Thiago Cardozo and Martin Campaña will also be in the conversation. The Olympics in Rio next year will be a good indicator of who is in pole position and will be a chance to lay down a marker for a permanent spot in the senior set up.
Either way it’s set to be a big 12 months ahead for Guruceaga as he aims to get some much needed regular first team football under his belt and tie down a place at the Olympics next year.
Written by Tom Robinson