Aventuras Américas | Part 9 | Católica #1: Moving to Santiago

New to the series? Go back to the start of our Aventuras Américas journey in the job hunt stage or pick it up at our first club Deportes Puerto Montt.

After three-and-a-half years in Puerto Montt, the first managerial change of Colombian / Brazilian Robinho Lazaró’s career came as he jumped ship to Chilean rivals Universidad Católica. The move came as his Deportes Puerto Montt side had slipped to a controversial relegation from the top-tier.

Who are Universidad Católica?

Club Deportivo Universidad Católica are 15-time champions of Chile and four-time Copa Chile winners, who’ve also twice been runners-up in Copa Libertadores. But they haven’t won the league during this save, having done so in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Santiago-based club was officially founded in 1937 and has a fierce rivalry with Universidad de Chile and Colo-Colo, with whom it forms a so-called “big three,” and a historic rivalry with Unión Espanola. However, it first began when students of Universidad Católica got together to play football, often against students of Universidad de Chile. Over the next few years, ideas of creating a professional club grew and the club made its debut against, you guessed it, Universidad de Chile in the Chilean second-tier. And rivalries between the two, both in sports and academically, grew over the years.

Los Cruzados has traditionally been known for being a club for the higher classes, largely due to the very pleasant neighbourhood its stadium is located in. Católica has also developed a reputation for having one of the best infrastructures in South America and producing young talents, the most famous of which is Gary Medel. In real life, it’s currently managed by Gustavo Poyet, whose son Diego is his assistant. And, by the way, Poyet recently became the manager of Chile in this save.

The club plays at the picturesque 20,000 capacity San Carlos de Apoquindo, which was built in 1988 and sits at the bottom of a mountain range – and, to break from character, is an impressive ground that I’ve been to while I was in Chile two years ago!

Lazaró’s new board wants him to play attacking football, focus on youth and sign young players for the first team. They want him to qualify for Copa Libertadores (top four) and be competitive in Copa Sudamericana. The club has a bank balance of £1.1 million and a transfer budget of just £140,000.

The club also has a saucy light pink third kit that Lazaró was a huge fan of…

Meet the Universidad Católica squad

The Católica squad, unsurprisingly, offers a massive step up in class compared to what Lazaró was working with at Puerto Montt. For example, goalkeeper Miranda was the best player at his old club but was rated a 2-5-star player by his scouts.

The best player at los Cruzados is homegrown 24-year-old Marcelino Núnez, who has two caps for Chile and actually looks like a good player. Not far behind him on quality is Uruguayan attacking midfielder Diego Hernández, goalkeeper Angelo Campos who has three caps for Peru, striker Diego Valencia who has two goals in seven caps for Chile, and centre-backs Tomás Asta-Buruaga and Valber Huerta. While a creative player to look out for is 34-year-old captain and 36-time capped Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez, who’s previously played for Twente and Real Betis.

The club also had several exciting youngsters, with 11 players with at least 4-star potential in the under 21s. The pick of those were midfielders Juan Munoz and Mauricio Vera and goalkeeper Issan Díaz.

Summer transfer activity

Lazaró put his mark on the Católica squad by selling off some of the deadwood and older players, including 31-year-old centre-back Huerta going to Mexico for £240,000. That brought in a total of £950,000 and freed up three of the five non-Chilean player slots.

He struggled to find new players capable of strengthening but did make several centre-back signings. That started with bringing in River centre-back Guido Abadía on loan for a season, who looks like a great player. He also made his first-ever cash signing in promising 18-year-old Colombian Juan Felipe Munoz, who arrived for £250,000 from Atlético Huila. A familiar backup option arrived in Massami Yanez then promising Chilean defender Bastián Roco came in for £4,000.

Having assessed the players at his disposal, Lazaró decided to opt for a more attacking approach with his new club, and initially opted for a 4-3-3 formation that looked like this:

Life with Católica begins

Lazaró’s new side came into the season with the media predicting them to finish fourth at 10/1 to win the league, behind Universidad de Chile (6/4), Colo-Colo (9/1) and Huachipato (9/1).

His first match was a tough one, as they travelled to Antofagasta. Things didn’t start superbly as the hosts scored a screamer early on. But quickfire goals by 5ft 9in lone striker Alexander Aravena and Valencia, both created by Gutiérrez, turned the game on its head, before the hosts got a red card and Aravena doubled his tally just before half-time. And that was enough for a big 3-1 win.

Another away day quickly followed at Melipilla and Gutiérrez was at it again, creating the opener for Hernández. The hosts scored inside 20 seconds of the second half but Aravena went down the other end to restore the lead. Abadía headed home his first goal for the club then Aravena scored again to equal his tally from 27 games in the entirety of last season! They allowed Melipilla back into it but held on for a 4-3 success.

The Católica fans got their first look at Lazaró as they entertained San Luis de Quillota. And they would have been impressed with the quality of the opener by Hernández, who finished off a beautiful team move. Gutiérrez doubled the lead before Hernández doubled his tally for a 3-0 win. The strong start continued at Unión La Calera, who they battered with 18 shots to five and won 3-1, including Nunez’s first of the season and a Valencia stunner.

Next was a home clash with Nublense, who Lazaró still believed should not be in this league. Read the last episode to find out why! He wanted his side to batter them but was satisfied with a dominant 2-0 win thanks to a Valencia brace.

Five wins out of five was well beyond Lazaró’s expectation as he put his winning start on the line against champions Curicó Unido, who’d won four out of five. And the two sides played out a 1-1 draw despite Católica having 23 shots to five.

First taste of Continental football

In his wildest dreams, Lazaró couldn’t have imagined competing in continental competition within four years of becoming a football manager. However, that was the case as Católica had qualified for the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s second continental competition, through their league position.

They entered at the Preliminary Round, only to be drawn against another Chilean side Temuco! The home leg was first and the whole team was awful but only lost 1-0, and nine starters picked up fines. They were nearly as bad in the second leg and lost 2-1 to a side that performed way above their league efforts.

Can the strong league start continue?

A three-week break ended with another big clash as Católica entertained Colo-Colo. They again had all the chances and this time got all three points thanks to a cheeky Aravena chip sealing a 1-0 win. That success saw Lazaró’s side equal the total his Puerto Montt managed all of last season are just seven matches!

They surpassed that tally with another 1-0 win at Everton de Vina del Mar then drew 0-0 at second-place Palestino. An Aravena brace and a brilliant Guiérrez strike had them 3-0 up at home to Huachipato before exciting youngster Vera came off the bench to bag his first senior goal.

The good performances continued as Católica hammered Unión Espanola with 21 shots to two but Nunez and a late Gutiérrez penalty nicked a 2-1 win. A more efficient performance saw an Aravena double inspire a 3-0 win at bottom side La Serena then goals from both centre-halves defeated Copiapó 2-1 despite Aravena picking up an injury.

The only team to have been Católica so far was Temuco, who did so twice in continental football. But they gained revenge with a 3-1 domination with goals from Valencia, Gutiérrez and Hernández, who’d moved up front to fill in for Aravena.

That gave Católica a huge 13-point lead over their arch-rivals Universidad de Chile as the two sides faced off in the Universitario Derby. The derby turned out to be a good attacking game but los Cruzados’ main man Valencia stepped up with a brace then a large Asta-Buruaga header sealed a massive 3-1 win.

That derby day victory took Católica into a six-week break for Copa Chile still unbeaten and with a 14-point lead over Colo-Colo! Their 35 goals was 12 more than any other club and they had the joint-best defence with 11 conceded. Aravena’s nine goals was the third-most in the league and loanee centre-back Arabía had the third-highest average rating of 7.44.

As for Puerto Montt, Lazaró’s former side sat 11th back in the second-tier, with 16 points from 12 games. They’d only scored 13 and conceded 17 in those games, in what generally seemed a very low-scoring league.

Join us next time to see if Robinho Lazaró can maintain his Católica side’s flying form. Can he win the national title in his first season at the club?


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