So I finally got around to watching the Europa League match between Atlético Madrid & Rubin Kazan played mid-week –– and there he was, the answer to La Celeste’s troubles… no not the Colombian Falcão, no ladies and gentlemen, I’m referring of course to Cristian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti aka “El Cebolla” Rodríguez.
Although Atlético lost the match 2 to nothing, El Cebolla was on full display. Looking nothing like the player I remembered in 2009. While this Blog has made whining about the midfield a moral duty, as much as we like to bitch and moan about Uruguay’s midfield woes, we also recognize that there aren’t many realistic options from which Óscar Tabárez can pick and choose from. Selecting Cebolla –– or the Onion for those of you who still haven’t mastered Spanish 101 –– for a starting XI isn’t the worst thing out there. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Cebolla has quietly re-earned his spot, the same spot he lost to Álvaro Pereira in 2010. There are many features of Cebolla’s improved game and current situation at Atlético Madrid which makes him an attractive option for the Uruguay NT.
The situation I’m referring to is that Cebolla –– who finds himself on the 2nd best team of La Liga this season –– will be the one playing in the Champions League next season,and not Suárez or Forlán. An important factor for considering who should be included in a Uruguay XI if Uruguay manages to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Once upon a time though Peñarol branded Cebolla a “rebel” along with Charly “Good” (Carlos Bueno for those who don’t understand VTV play-by-play man, Rodrigo Romano’s penchant of nick-naming footballers). Cebolla wasn’t so much a rebel but a player who wanted to get paid for his services, no harm in that, is there? And so along with Bueno, he went to PSG… way back when, before the club had access to shit-loads of cash. From Paris he went to Benfica and then Porto, where he briefly played with NT players Jorge Fucile and Álvaro Pereira, the man he would lose his spot to on the NT.
At Porto he was played as a classic centre-foward although he fell in and out of favor with the coaching staff and eventually lost his spot to the Brazilian Hulk. A surprise signing with Atlético Madrid last year, and Cebolla who was given his first cap on the national team by Juan Ramón Carrasco as a right-wing midfielder now finds himself played as a wide left winger for Atlético. Not really much of a stretch for Cebolla who played there for Tabárez in the 2010 Qualifiers.
But now there is an improvement to Cebolla’s game. No longer the speed demon who would run out of space and lose control of the ball while jacking up wild crosses, Cebolla has been reborn as a player who treks back, actually plays a little defense, wins back possession, in short he’s a hybrid defensive midfielder-wide attacker.
The improvement to Cebolla’s game hasn’t gone unnoticed. Tabárez has forgiven Cebolla for charging after Gabriel Heinze in the last Qualifier match of the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers – Cebolla was given a four match international ban which excluded him from participating in the 2010 World Cup –– While Cebolla’s absence in the 2010 World Cup allowed Luis Suárez the room he needed to blossom, eventually becoming Uruguay’s Number 2 option in the 2010 World Cup (and eventually the only option in the 2011 Copa America) – back in the 2010 Qualifiers, Cebolla + Forlán was all you needed. Tabárez brought him back in late 2010 for two friendly matches, but then forgot all about him again as he looked towards Lodeiro and Ramírez as possible solutions to Uruguay’s midfield woes. Tabárez brought Cebolla back for the Copa America, but Cebolla looked awkward with Suárez and Forlán and instead opted for a defensive minded 4-4-2 squad.
In late 2011, Tabárez looked towards Cebolla as a bench option, bringing him on late for Qualifier matches, and then in a superb friendly match played with Italy in late 2011, Cebolla looked like he finally understood what was expected out of him. Clearly not a playmaker in the South American reading of the position, Cebolla is more a Wayne Rooney-lite, a sort of midfield holder (which he really isn’t) capable of joining the attack if the need arrises.
For Tabárez, Cebolla’s maturation is a godsend. Tabárez who while in possession of three lethal strikers in Cavani, Suárez and Forlán, has never truly known how to play all three together without resorting to sacrificing one for the good of the squad. It’s Cebolla who may well indeed play an important role in what’s left of the Qualifier matches for 2013. For Tabárez whose Uruguay plays a kick and rush attacking style, the need to revert to an ultra-defensive 4-4-2 is important and always weighs heavy on the mind. As these Qualifiers get mixed with desperation and added pressure, Uruguay will need to rely on players who can actually withstand the heat –– one of these players will undoubtedly be Cebolla.