Torreira plays his 50th match for Arsenal tonight. The club’s smallest player has grown in stature beyond compare since this time last year when, still a Sampdoria player, he was celebrating a call-up to Uruguay’s World Cup squad. A successful summer in Russia cemented a £26m (€29.4m) deal to become one of Unai Emery’s first signings after replacing Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal had been crying out for a ball-winning defensive midfielder so it should not come as a surprise how quickly he was accepted in north London. Fiercely competitive yet charmingly self-effacing, Torreira is everything Arsenal had needed to help shield a fragile defence.
Perhaps Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante’s ability to intercept a pass and tackle in close quarters before unerringly releasing the ball to a team-mate is the closest to the South American’s quality and style.
Singing his name to to the ‘Volare’ tune, reserved for previous midfield enforcer Patrick Vieira, the new boy initially did not realise he was receiving one of the highest accolades from the stands when they burst into a chorus of ‘He’s only five foot high, he comes from Uruguay.’
Torreira, 23, said he found the chant inspirational as he prepared for Baku’s Europa League final against Chelsea, a match he believes will crown a decent debut season despite some testing times.
I wasn’t aware it would be my 50th appearance but it’s great to be able to celebrate that milestone, and in a final.
“It hasn’t been easy at all, this first season, but generally speaking it’s been a very good experience. There’s been some great successes, some ups and downs as well, but that’s the case for all teams all seasons. I’ve felt very comfortable here and I want to thank all the people at the club who’ve helped me because it’s not easy to change countries and come to a different league, knowing how difficult this league is.” Emery eased his new boy into the side as he nursed him through the opening weeks of the season after World Cup exertions which included shackling Cristiano Ronaldo during Portugal’s surprise exit from the last-16 stage.
The tenacity he displayed in Russia has translated seamlessly into the Premier League with an aggressive style of play crowds adore — the sort of player who tries to tackle with his head should he be floored in a challenge.
“Where does it come from? It comes from inside, from this body,” Torreira boasted, punching his chest with pride. “I play football because it’s my job but also because I love the game.
“I’m the kind of player who gives 100% for every ball. I like to fight for my dreams, I work very hard, and I invest an incredible amount of time into doing what I love.
“I don’t think height is something that really impedes players from being good footballers. Think about Leo Messi, for example.
He’s one of the greatest players in history and I don’t think he’s very tall. When you’re on the field, the most important thing is your movement, your confidence, and your desire to achieve big things.
Winning trophies and being with his family are two priorities for Torreira who will be cheered on in Baku by his girlfriend and parents, including proud dad Ricky, who would otherwise be running his son’s butchers in their native Fray Bentos. An uncle has also made the pilgrimage to Baku from his Tenerife base.
Other associates are following from Uruguay in the hope Torreira can follow in the footsteps of previous favourite footballing son Diego Forlan, a Premier League winner with Manchester United and who enjoyed Europa League success nine years ago for Atletico Madrid.
Torreira, who has not been ‘home’ since joining Arsenal, added: “For me, the most important thing is to have some of my family there so they can enjoy the spectacle and hopefully have something to celebrate.
“I have seen through social media that loads of people are interested. You see kids, not just in my hometown but all across Uruguay with Arsenal tops on now. At the moment I am the only player from Uruguay left in the Europa League or Champions League so I’m well aware that I’m going to have the whole country following the final and I’m really proud to be able to represent them.
"We are a country of football-lovers and we always keep a close eye on footballers who are playing abroad. Diego Forlan was a massive influence for all footballers who dreamed of going on to play at the highest level, in the biggest leagues. He is an idol.”