In recent years at Juventus, there have always been players who can contribute to the cause who are in-and-out of the team for various reasons. Mohamed Sissoko is a clear example – Gigi Delneri famously labeled him a “mysterious object” because he was absent from the team so much due to injuries and, well, family tragedies. Sissoko was an effective player under Ranieri and Ferrara, but was completely missing all season under the Friulian coach.
Martin Caceres was first signed by Alessio Secco to bolster the defense in Ciro Ferrara’s ill-fated season with Juventus. The Uruguayan defender had been signed by Barcelona following a superb season with Recreativo, but couldn’t find space at the Blaugrana and flew to Torino to spend a year on loan at Juventus. His agent, former Juventus striker Daniel Fonseca, was key behind the move. The season played out reasonably well for Caceres – he arrived with technical skills and grinta, but was very tactically raw. Used predominantly as a RB in a 4-man backline, he steadily grew throughout the season, but while 2009-2010 was positive individually for Caceres, it was disastrous for Juventus. As part of the overhaul between Secco and Marotta, Caceres was sent back to Barcelona.
El Pelado was then sent on loan to Sevilla, with the right to buy. Caceres once again established himself as one of the best defenders in La Liga, and the southern Spaniards eagerly activated his 4.5m release clause at the end of the season and signed him in full. The next season, Caceres continued his excellent form and teams across Europe again took notice of the former Barcelona misfit. In November, Uruguay faced Italy in Rome, and there were heavy rumors that Juventus would return for Caceres. Whether the club planned to or not was up to debate, but Martin welcomed the idea publicly, stating:
“I wouldn’t be disappointed with a return to Juventus. I would like the opportunity to demonstrate my true worth, but this is what happens in football sometimes. I don’t really want to add anything else, but I can’t hide my desire of one day going back to Juventus.”
In January, the club obliged and signed him on loan, with the obligation to buy if Juventus finished in the top 7. At this time, Conte and his men were storming to the title, so it was certain the Bianconeri would be in Europe. Caceres marked his return with a brilliant brace against Milan in the Coppa Italia and picked up 11 more appearances in the last half of the season. The Copa America winner (and World Cup semifinalist) picked up his first Bianconero silverware – a Scudetto winners medal.
Unfortunately, the current season has been a step back for Caceres, and strangely so. Antonio Conte was key to El Pelado’s return to Juventus, badly wanting the defender because of the Juventus DNA shown in his career. Despite Conte’s known admiration for the defender, and his versatility, he has featured very little this season. In a 3-5-2, Caceres can capably play as a center-back in defense, or as a wingback on either side, though his left foot is rather poor. Conte has chosen players like Lucio, Peluso, and Marrone ahead of Caceres, who has been restricted to only 3 full 90-minute games before the winter break.
In the few appearances granted, Caceres appeared to regress a bit in his defending. He was a bit shaky, caught in possession, and didn’t look like the grit and steel defender the club twice signed. The infrequent playing time was weighing on him. A break finally came with Giorgio Chiellini’s calf injury – Caceres finally picked up a string of consistent games, and started playing dramatically better. In January and February, he only was omitted from one starting lineup against Sampdoria. Conte picked him to play in the away leg of the Celtic Champion’s League match, a game he played superbly in, and it looked like Caceres was finally back in the XI.
Luck hasn’t been on Caceres’ side in some steps of his career, and bad luck struck again. Just as he was finally returning into a consistent rotation, having been omitted for much of the Fall, Caceres had a minor back injury and missed a few games. Then, just last week, the Uruguayan was involved in a late night car accident. He was kept in the hospital overnight as a precaution, but required 30 stitches and will be out of the lineup for a few weeks. Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabaraz paid tribute to Caceres’ importance to the national team, stating that missing Caceres was “as if we were missing Luis Suarez.”
Fortunately, the accident was not serious and Caceres should be back in action for Juventus soon. With a very busy schedule of games coming up and only 2 months left in the season, it’s fundamental for Conte to put his faith in the Uruguayan when needed. An Uruguyan regular should not (and probably isn’t) satisfied with a very limited role at a club level, and this season has been a step back for Caceres after a positive return to Juventus.
It’s crucial for Juventus to make him feel wanted and to keep him around. Caceres adds great versatility to his backline, has grit and steel, and offers a different style of defending than we have. El Pelado reads the game well and sweeps out of defense with interceptions. And yet, he’s a great man marker – despite his relatively small frame and stature (compared to Chiellini) Caceres is a very physical player and few strikers can beat him in a physical duel.
It’s in all parties interest for Caceres to remain at Juventus and become an integral part of the team. At a time when the media talks about possible interest in Torino’s Ogbonna, or the annual rumors of Bocchetti’s return to Italy, Juventini should remember we have a great (underused) defender in house, one who clearly has Juventus in his heart.