Seven years ago, Roberto Nascimento da Silva Lazaró packed his bags and departed his homeland of Colombia to fulfil his dream of becoming a real-life Football Manager. Fast-forward to 2029, his flowing blonde locks had noticeable tinges of grey, but he’d very much succeeded in his goal – considering he now had five trophies and national titles in Chile, USA and Uruguay to his name.
Now very much a well-known name among the Americas footballing communities, Robinho Lazaró hadn’t been back home in that time. But it finally arrived as he jumped at the chance to join Colombian giants América de Cali. With that, his notable career earnings of £650,000 allowed him the opportunity to purchase a nice house in the city and, importantly, a house next door for his mum. So on 3 January 2029, or the first time in seven years, Lazaró bid farewell to Montevideo and jetted off to Cali.
Who are América de Cali?
Sociedad Anónima Deportiva America is a professional club from the city of Cali in the west of Colombia. It plays in the Liga BetPlay Dimayor and has been technically been Colombian champion 19 times. But, like Uruguay, their league system is very confusing. So for simplicity’s sake, América won the first and second phase of the league in 2027 before finishing runners-up to Atlético Nacional last season. The club has a mass of rivalries but its fiercest are with Deportivo Cali, Millionarios and Nácional.
The club initially started when students formed a team known as América FC to compete with other schools. That didn’t last long yet the name remained as the club was founded on 13 February 1927, when it adopted scarlet and white as its colours – having previously worn blue and white inspired by Argentinian side Racing Club.
This is where things get interesting. América have excellent training and youth facilities, good academy coaching and exceptional youth recruitment, along with a continental reputation. That represents a massive step-up to what Lazaró had been working with at River Plate. It also has a £6.5 million transfer kitty and wage budget of £142,000, compared to the £200,000 and £30,000 he had in Uruguay! And América play at the 42,300 Olímpico Pascual Guerrero.
The board expects Lazaró to reach the second round of the Copa Libertadores, which he’d never even managed in before, and reach the final of the Liga BetPlay Apertura. So there was no doubting this was the biggest and most high-pressure role of Lazaró’s career.
Meet the América squad
The best players at América are 21-year-old left-back Andrés Lenis and American/Colombian midfielder Juan Pablo Moreno. Another interesting option is highly technical and ‘flairy’ attacking midfielder Alfredo Riascos, along with holding midfielder/centre-back Jorge Henao and promising winger Gerson Solís.
The club also has a ridiculous amount of potential, including defender Fernando Mora and midfielder Juan Felipe Salazar. The under 20 squad has four players with higher potential in exciting centre-back Edison Murillo and striker Luis Gabriel Mora, winger Jown Garces and centre-back Jhon Alexander Quiróz. That was exciting but two weeks into the job, a youth intake produced three players with even higher potential. The pick is striker Johnatan Ceballos, alongside centre-back Gilberto Valdés and goalkeeper Kevin Romero. In total, the under 20s have 18 players with 4.5-star potential or better!
Lazaró had seen several players decide they want to leave for no particular reason, which left him a little short of options. So, on deadline day, he dipped into the transfer market to sign Colombian defender Andrés Garzón for £200,000 from Atlético Goianiense and loaned in exciting centre-back Batata. He also took a gamble on shelling out £350,000 on young winger Danilo Robles from Barranquilla, which kind of paid off.
Having assessed the squad, Lazaró decided the best approach may be a 4-3-1-2, largely as there was a lack of quality out wide. He was also considering the wider 4-3-2-1 that worked nicely in New York and “la Caosbola” that won the Uruguayan league last season, which became more tempting when his only right-back forced a move to NYRB.
Liga BetPlay Apertura begins
América are predicted to finish 2nd of 20 teams. They are 12/5 to win the title, only behind Nacionál (6/4), while reigning champions Millionarios are 14/1. But it could be a long old season as the league winner often ends up playing in excess of 54 matches!
Life at Lazaró’s fifth club began at home to Bogotá FC and with five starters injured or suspended. That showed in a tepid performance in which Salazar opened the scoring but the visitors equalised.
Lazaró immediately returned to his home city for the first time in seven years to visit (say this quietly) his favourite club Independiente Medellín. The game also saw the first outing of his refined la Caosbola, which worked a treat as Riascos scored early and striker Alejandro Preciado used his majestic 9 heading capabilities to score a stunning header before wrapping up a 3-1 win.
A strong start continued as they went 12 games unbeaten, including a bizarre 3-0 win at Envigado courtesy of two own-goals and a penalty a 5-1 away thumping of La Equidad led by a Salazar brace. That gave them a one-point lead over Nacional ahead of the two sides clashing for the first time. But an exhausted side capitulated to a fairly embarrassing 3-0 defeat, Lazaró’s first in his homeland.
Lazaró picked up his first South American continental cup win as América snuck past Bolivian side Club Bolívar 3-2 on aggregate. Their reward was a tie with Argentine side Defensa y Justicia, who Lazaró was expecting to be tough opposition. But his side defied those expectations as a Preciado double inspired a 3-0 home first-leg win despite having nine shots to the visitors’ 16! And, despite an early scare, they won 3-1 away to send them through to the group stage.
The group stage was tough as they were drawn with River Plate – as in actual Argentinian River Plate – reigning Colombian champions Millionarios and Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann.
It started with Lazaró’s first clash with River Plate and his side began superbly as the in-form Preciado scored after 14 minutes then Riascos smashed home a screamer. Riascos doubled his tally and Salazar added another as América claimed a famous 4-1 battering of the Argentinians. La Caosbola is amazing!
That huge win was backed up by thumping Jorge Wilsterman 6-2 away led by a club-record four goals from backup striker Ricardo Márquez. He scored again in a 2-1 win over Millionarios then they drew 0-0 at Millionarios, which was the first time they failed to score under Lazaró after 19 games in charge. But they confirmed qualification as they racked up 30 shots and won 2-0 at home to Jorge Wilsterman, then nicked 0-0 at River Plate to win the group!
Apertura latter stages
América bounced back from the Nacional defeat by thumping Independiente Santa Fe 4-1 away, in which Garces scored his first senior goal. Lazaró then reached 300 games in management at home to city rivals Deportivo Cali in his first Clásico Vallecaucano derby, and a dreadful game was decided by a late Riascos goal. But they eventually finished second in the Apertura table just one point behind Nacional.
Intriguingly, that took them into a ‘semi-final,’ which are actually two groups in which three teams play each other twice. Clearly, Colombia doesn’t know what a semi-final is. More worryingly, the games were all within three days of each other, which wasn’t ideal for Lazaró’s already exhausted squad. Regardless, they battered Águilas Pereira 6-1 as Preciado scored and assisted three against his former club! And América went on to dominate their group, beating Águila 4-0 in the last game to reach the final against, unsurprisingly, Nacional.
Typically of Colombia, the final was over two legs. Seriously, are they trying to kill their players?! The home leg was up first and América started brightly but nothing happened after the 20th minute and they drew 0-0. They were also the better team in the away leg but Nacional scored twice against the run of play to become Apertura champions.
The star man so far this season has been loanee Batata, who’s averaging a sensational 7.64 from 25 matches having only scored once! Strikers Preciado and Márquez have 22 and 12 goals, while Riascos has 14 goals and a club-high nine assists in behind them.
Join us next time as the seemingly endless games in Colombia continue into the Finalización phase and the knockout stages of Copa Libertadores!