By Edward Stratmann.
Since making his Uruguayan Primera Division debut for Danubio at just 17, all it took was another 16 matches and Jose Maria Gimenez was quickly snapped up by Atletico Madrid for around €1 million.
Having signed him just prior to the 2013 U20 World Cup proved a great move by Atleti, for Gimenez would go on to star for Uruguay in the tournament as his team made the final, a game they heartbreakingly lost on penalties to an outstanding French side that included the likes of Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Kurt Zouma, Jordan Veretout, Yaya Sanogo, Lucas Digne and Samuel Umtiti.
While this was a massive disappointment for the youngster, moving to Atletico to play alongside his idol and countryman, Diego Godin, certainly wasn't a bad way to bring back some positivity for him.
Only a matter of months later, in September, Gimenez would go on to make his full international debut. And having suitably impressed La Celeste's manager, Oscar Washington Tabarez, thereafter, he received the honour of being selected for the 2014 World Cup, where he received some valuable playing time against England, Italy and Colombia. Interestingly, by making his World Cup debut vs. England in the group stage, aged just 19 years and 149 days old, he became the youngest Uruguayan player to debut at a World Cup.
Meanwhile, his progress at club level during his first season with Diego Simeone's brilliantly coached outfit was a little slower, mainly due to the fact that Atletico already had a formidable central defensive partnership in Godin and Miranda. But when given his chance, his performances were hugely encouraging, in a season where Atletico spectacularly won the league title and narrowly missed out on taking home the Champions League.
The following season, however, proved to be his breakout campaign, as he seized his opportunity to go past Miranda, who suffered form and injury issues, to nail down a starting berth alongside his idol. When Miranda went down injured while playing for Brazil in November 2014, Gimenez stepped up and made his claim for the starting position, and Simeone clearly loved what he saw, for Gimenez would go on to be an integral member of his team, on his way to amassing a notable 26 appearances.
His performances in the second half of the season, in particular, were so accomplished that Atletico had no qualms about letting Miranda leave for Inter Milan at the end of the season. The club also let the gifted Toby Alderweireld leave too, who's now starring at Tottenham, which served as another glowing reference as to how highly he's rated by the club.
Going into this season, Gimenez still had roughly the same amount of international caps as he had games for Atleti, but that's all changed now. Gimenez's remarkable rise has continued on a similar upward trajectory this campaign, as he and Godin's magnificent partnership and understanding has further flourished. The fact that Atleti have only conceded an astonishing 12 goals in 29 league matches, 10 less than Barcelona, speaks volumes for their individual and collective defensive quality, as well as for their adherence to Simeone's defined structure.
The dogged Argentine manager has undoubtedly had a huge influence on Gimenez's development, for Simeone has placed his complete trust and belief in him. Simeone, a former Atleti player himself, has unquestionably been rewarded suitably, so much so that Gimenez is now the perfect embodiment and epitomisation of his resolute Atletico.
He's aggressive, physical, selfless, determined and is relentlessly committed to doing what's best for the team. Indeed, during his time working under Simeone's expert tutelage he's been transformed into one of the world's best defenders.
Despite being just 21, Gimenez plays with the type of swagger, authority and maturity that belies his tender years. Although he's been prone to the odd lapse and positional error, which is to be expected from a player of his age, more often than not he's an utterly dependable presence in the heart of defence. His decision making and judgement is ever improving, however, so in time expect these minimal weaknesses to be ironed out sooner rather than later.
The physically imperious Gimenez uses his towering 185cm frame and excellent leap to great effect to win the vast majority of his aerial duels. Moreover, his strength ensures he's rarely outmuscled in 1v1 situations, while his rapid speed and acceleration mean he matches up remarkably well against a wide range of attackers.
His mobility, when combined with his ability to read the play, is also a great weapon for his side, for it allows him to quickly notice a blown marking assignment. Whether by jetting across to cover for a defensive colleague or by picking up runners from midfield who slip through the net, these valuable facets of his game have saved, and will continue to save, his team whenever required.
In possession, the Toledo born defender's tidy distribution and underrated range of passing see him contribute admirably to his side in this regard. Moreover, whenever Atletico have a set-piece from a promising location, his menacing presence and vigorous attack on the ball always provides a major nuisance for any opposition.
Touted as a future captain of the club, the way Gimenez led the defensive line two weeks ago vs. Valencia so comfortably, alongside the inexperienced Lucas Hernandez in the absence of Godin and Stefan Savic, gave a great insight into how well he deals with the additional burden of responsibility that inherently comes with leadership duties.
Although he's had the odd hiccup and had to remain patient in the beginning, Gimenez's exemplary attitude and willingness to learn from Simeone's expert tutelage has seen him develop into one of the most complete centre-backs in world football, physically, mentally, technically and tactically.
And at just 21, and in the perfect environment for him to thrive, expect the immensely talented Gimenez to only get better with age. A frightening prospect really upon considering how good he already is at almost every aspect of his craft.
More from Edward at Licence to Roam
Jose Gimenez: One of the Most Complete Centre-Backs in World Football
By Edward Stratmann.