Who is Manuel Ugarte? Man Utd’s potential €60m Casemiro replacement

James Pennington
Manuel Ugarte in PSG and Uruguay kit

Manuel Ugarte has been linked with a move to Man Utd

Manuel Ugarte is a 23-year-old defensive midfielder who is currently contracted to PSG but could be set to depart the French capital after just one season, with Erik ten Hag’s Man Utd ready to strike a deal.

The Uruguayan featured fairly regularly in the Parisians’ side last campaign, making 37 appearances in all competitions with 25 of those being in the league as Luis Enrique’s side romped to another domestic title.

Ugarte only made the switch to the Parc des Princes last summer from Portuguese club Sporting CP for a fee of €60m (£50.8m), with a similar figure for Man Utd to pay being reported.

Erik ten Hag, who has recently signed a new contract to continue at Old Trafford until 2026, has reportedly registered an interest in Ugarte, amid an understanding that Casemiro’s time at the top level may be up.

Ugarte’s career so far

Born in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, Ugarte first started playing football for local club City Park before joining the youth ranks of fellow capital side Fenix.

Ugarte’s excellence was evident from a young age as by the age of 15 he had already been promoted to the first team and was included in the club’s 30-man squad to compete at the 2016 Copa Sudamericana.

In December 2016 Ugarte made his professional debut as an 83rd-minute substitute in a 4-1 win over Danubio and in doing so became the youngest-ever player in the 21st century to play professionally in Uruguay.

Ugarte initially started his playing career as a striker before being converted to midfielder and by the age of 18 he had already become club captain and made a regular fixture in the Fenix team.

In total, Ugarte played 57 games for Fenix before eventually moving to Portuguese side Familicao in December 2020 for a fee of €3 million and making his full debut in January 2021 in a 2-0 over Santa Clara.

The defensive midfielder’s time at the club wouldn’t last long though, as his performances alerted the attention of Portuguese giants Sporting CP, who signed him for a reported fee of €6.5 million in August 2021.

The Uruguayan was initially signed as a backup to Joao Palhinha but began to play more regularly as he impressed and following Palhinha’s switch to English side Fulham in July 2022, Ugarte seamlessly stepped into his place.

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Ugarte continued to impress in the Portuguese capital during the 2022-23 season and by the end of the campaign was attracting interest from all across Europe, but it would be PSG who would pay €60m (£50.8m) to bring him to the French capital in July 2023.

Barely a month after moving to Ligue 1, Ugarte was named the UNFP Player of the Month for August 2023, primarily for his ball-recovering skills in the centre of the park.

At international level, Ugarte has already become a key member of the Uruguayan national team since earning his first cap in September 2021.

Ugarte has started and starred in each of Uruguay’s games at the 2024 Copa America alongside Federico Valverde in midfield under former Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa and helping to knock out the host nation USA in the process.

What is Ugarte like as a player?

In the modern age of football, stats such as goals and assists are often used to determine how good a player is. But to appreciate Ugarte’s brilliance, all you must do is watch the game with your own eyes.

Best deployed anywhere in the middle of the park but primarily played as a defensive midfielder, Ugarte’s tenacity and aggression are what have made him stand out as one of the world’s best ball-winners in the world despite his age.

According to FBrefacross the last 365 days in Europe’s top five leagues, Ugarte ranks in the 99th percentile for both tackles per 90 minutes (4.11) and ball recoveries per 90 minutes (8.14), putting him firmly amongst the world’s elite in his role.

Whilst at Sporting CP, head coach Ruben Amorim often attacked in a 3-1-6 shape, with the one in midfield being Ugarte, further proving the coach’s reliance and belief in him to prevent transitions, make recoveries and retain the ball when in possession.

Not only is Ugarte a monster in duels, but he is also a more than competent passer of the ball and shows a high level of composure and discipline when in possession.

The Uruguayan is not necessarily the player you want to unlock a defence, with progressive passes not being an obvious strength of his, but instead he holds onto the ball and picks out the correct pass to recycle possession.

In high-pressure systems which are becoming ever more common in the modern game, the ability to recycle play and essentially not make the match a game of Ping Pong is crucial and further emphasises his maturity despite his age.

Ugarte’s strength and stamina also enables him to carry the ball forwards and more often than not doing so successfully. This ability to carry the ball up the pitch helps his team to break into the final third without solely relying on elite passing.

Where will Ugarte go?

After only joining PSG last summer it seems a likely possibility that Ugarte could leave the Parc des Princes in the coming months, with Man Utd being the side most heavily linked with the Uruguayan.

The Manchester-based club struggled with injuries consistently last season in almost all areas of the pitch with defensive midfield being no different.

Christian Eriksen, Casemiro, Sofyan Amrabat, Scott McTominay and Kobbie Mainoo all featured in Man Utd’s double pivot at various stages of the season, though only Mainoo will be seen as the future of their midfield moving forward.

Eriksen is now 32 years old, the same as Casemiro, whilst Amrabat was only on loan from Fiorentina and McTominay is not a natural defensive midfielder, meaning recruitment in that position of the pitch is vital for Ten Hag this summer.

This makes Man Utd’s interest in Ugarte clear as he would likely partner Mainoo in a double-pivot, meaning the Red Devils’ midfield two would consist of a 23-year-old and a 19-year-old – a solid base for the future.

The English club’s recent acquisition by INEOS has resulted in extra funds being afforded to Ten Hag, who has been given the green light to pursue a deal for the Uruguayan.

Therefore the €60m (£50.8m) price tag placed upon his head will not be baulked at by Man Utd, who will be more than willing to pay the required fee in order to make Ugarte an important member of the squad in the present and for the future.

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